> Folk Music > Songs > The Flower of London

The Flower of London / The Rich Merchant's Daughter

[ Roud 548 ; Laws M19 ; Ballad Index LM19 ; VWML LEB/2/32 , LEB/2/34/3 ; Wiltshire Roud 548 ; trad.]

Vaughan Williams in Norfolk Volume 2 Songs and Southern Breezes

Jumbo Brightwell sang The Flower of London in his home in Leiston, Suffolk, in Spring 1975 to Tony Engle. This recording was released in the same year on his Topic album of traditional songs and ballads from Suffolk, Songs from the Eel's Foot. Keith Summers and Mike Yates noted:

Although Jumbo calls this song The Flower of London it is far better known either as The Young Sailor Bold or as The Rich Merchant’s Daughter. John Pitts printed it in the early 1800s and John Ashton reprinted a broadside text in his book Modern Street Ballads (1888). Lucy Broadwood collected the song in Sussex in 1901 [VWML LEB/2/32, LEB/2/34/3] and printed it in the following year’s Folk Song Society Journal, while subsequent sets have been noted in Nova Scotia, Michigan and New York State.

George Dow of Saxmundham, Suffolk, sang The Flower of London to Keith Summers in 1977. This recording was included in 2007 on the Musical Traditions anthology of songs collected by Summers in the 1970s in Suffolk, A Story to Tell. Rod Stradling and Keith Summers noted:

More often called The London Merchant, this song is frequently confused with several others which start in much the same way, but then diverge; The Old Miser (Roud 3913), The Silly Young Maid (Roud 17190), and the much more well-known Silk Merchant’s Daughter (Roud 552).

We don’t know where George Dow learned the song, but Jumbo Brightwell told Keith: “Percy Smith from Walberswick sang The Flower of London … then I heard a bloke, Will Whiting, he came from Dennington way, sing it. He kept the Mill here in Leiston and I used to go round and drink his home-made wine, and I soon picked it up.”

The Dovetail Trio sang Flower of London on their 2019 CD Bold Champions. Matt Quinn noted:

Found on the Musical Traditions release A Story to Tell: Keith Summers in Suffolk 1972-79, this was sung by George Dow of Saxmundham in 1977. A tragic tale, where a man strongly disapproves of his daughter’s choice of boyfriend. Needless to say, it doesn’t end well.

Lyrics

George Dow sings The Flower of London

It was of a rich merchant in London did dwell
He had only one daughter such a beautiful girl.
Forty thousand bright guineas was her fortune we're told
Until she fell in love with a young sailor bold.

As soon as her father these tidings did hear
Upon this young man he had ventured to snare,
Saying, “No more shall your true love go and plough the salt sea
For before tomorrow morning his butcher I'll be.”

So a suit of fine sailor's clothes she found out complete
And she dressed her own self from the head to the feet.
With a ring on her finger and a cane in her hand
She met her honest William as she marched down the strand.

“Oh William, oh William, oh William, my dear,
My father, cruel father, sought your life in despair.
So straight away to Dover I will have you appear
And in less than forty-eight hours I will meet you there.”

As she was a-walking home down on the strand
She met her own father, saying, “You are this man.”
And a sword from his side he then instantly drew
And her beautiful body he pierced it right through.

As soon as her father saw that it was she
His lips they did tremble and his eyes scarce could see.
Saying, “Wretched cruel monster, oh what have I done?
I have murdered my only daughter, the flower of London.”

As soon as young William these tidings did hear
He died broken hearted in grief and despair.
There was father and daughter and a young sailor bold,
All died an untimely death for the sake of bright gold.

The Dovetail Trio sing Flower of London

It was of a rich merchant in London did dwell
He had only one daughter such a beautiful girl.
Forty thousand bright guineas was her fortune we’re told
Until she fell in love with a young sailor bold.

As soon as her father these tidings did hear
Upon this young man he had ventured to snare.
He said, “No more shall your true love go and plough the salt sea
For before tomorrow morning his butcher I’ll be.”

So a suit of fine sailor’s clothes she found out complete
And she dressed her own self from her head to her feet.
With a ring on her finger and a cane in her hand
She met her honest William as she marched down the strand.

“Oh William, oh William, oh William, my dear
My father, cruel father, sought your life in despair
So straight away to Dover I will have you appear
And in less than forty-eight hours I will meet you there.”

As she was a-walking home down on the strand
She met her own father, saying, “You are this man.”
And a sword from his side he then instantly drew
And her beautiful body he pierced it right through.

As soon as her father saw that it was she
His lips they did tremble and his eyes scarce could see.
Saying, “Wretched cruel monster, oh what have I done?
I have murdered my only daughter, the flower of London.”

As soon as young William these tidings did hear
He died broken hearted in grief and despair.
There was father and daughter and a young sailor bold,
All died an untimely death for the sake of bright gold.