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The Factory Girl

[ Roud 1659 ; Ballad Index K221 ; Bodleian Roud 1659 ; Wiltshire Roud 1659 ; trad.]

Margaret Barry sang The Factory Girl in a 1952 recording by Peter Kennedy on the Rounder CD I Sang through the Fairs (1998); in a March 1955 recording by Ewan MacColl on her Riverside LP Songs of an Irish Tinker Lady (1956) and on the anthology Folk Songs and Ballads (2007); and in a recording by Bill Leader between 1955-57 on her and Michael Gorman's Topic LPs Street Songs and Fiddle Tunes (1957) and Her Mantle So Green: Irish Street Songs & Fiddle Tunes (1965, reissued on CD in 1994), and in 2009 on the Topic 70 years anniversary anthology Three Score and Ten.

Sarah Makem sang The Factory Girl in 1968 on her Topic album Ulster Ballad Singer. This track was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology Who's That at My Bed Window? (The Voice of the People Series Vol. 10). An earlier version recorded by Diane Hamilton in 1955 was included in 2012 on her Topic anthology The Heart Is True (The Voice of the People Series Vol. 24). Sean O'Boyle commented in the first album's sleeve notes:

In this song the poetry of eighteenth century Gaelic Ireland joins hands with the love songs of the industrial revolution. The verse has faint reminiscences of the stereotyped Gaelic “Aislinq” (vision poetry)—the poet, as he walks out in the early morning, sees a maiden “more fairer than Venus”, with lily-white skin and rose-red cheeks, a Goddess in form and feature. But here the Goddess is on her way to a factory, a poor girl not ashamed of her poverty nor afraid to resist the advances of a young gallant. To me the factory bell in this song seems to toll the knell of the “maypole” type of folk song.

The air in the Soh Mode is particularly attractive and is related to The Unspoken Farewell (Gems of Melody, Pt. 1., Hardebeck).

Sandra Kerr sang The Factory Girl in 1968 on the Critics Group's album The Female Frolic and in 1983 on her own LP Supermum. The former album's notes commented:

In songs prior to the Industrial revolution, a squire might set his fancy on a shepherdess or milkmaid and, through her sense of class pride and her consciousness of the consequences in social terms, he might be rebuffed. This theme has extended itself into industrial song—it is a kind of sense of fitness and knowledge that certain class attitudes would never mix even in the marriage bed. Although The Factory Girl is primarily a love song, it is also an expression of this declaration of independence, i.e. that a woman, no matter how poor or humble, is still her own master and needn't marry to have money or peace of mind.

The first printed version of this song was called The Country Girl, published in 1843. The text here, however, is probably earlier than 1843, and is from the singing of Mrs. Cunningham of Annalong, Co. Durham. Verse 4 and the melody is from Robert Butcher of Downhill, Co. Derry.

Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill sang The Factory Girl in 1970 on the Bothy Band's album Out of the Wind, into the Sun.

Marie Little sang Factory Girl (Ralph McTell?) in 1971 as the title track of her Argo album Factory Girl.

Bill Cassidy of Co. Wicklow sang The Factory Girl in 1973 to 1975 to Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie. Ir was included in 2003 on their Musical Tradition anthology of songs and stories from Irish Travellers in England, From Puck to Appleby. Carroll and Mackenzie commented in the accompanying booklet:

The Industrial Revolution in Britain, and the consequent shift from the home-based ‘cottage’ trades to the factories, gave rise to a number of songs extolling the virtues of one form of employment over the other. In The Weaver in Love, the home-based hand-loom weaver declares his love for the factory maid and says:

And if I could but her favour win,
I’d stand beside her and weave by steam.

Frank Purslow, in his note to The Factory Girl, suggested that it dates from the end of the eighteenth century and claimed it to be of Northern Irish origin, and, while he did not say why he was of this opinion, it was certainly current there, having been found in Counties Armagh, Down, Tyrone and Fermanagh. It was also recorded from Elizabeth Cronin of Ballyvourney, Co Cork and from Traveller Margaret Barry.

Different versions of the song seem to fall into two endings: one where, after a dialogue, the couple marry, the other with the man being rejected and wandering off in despair. Bill Cassidy’s text seems to be of the latter type, but lacks the penultimate verse in which the would-be suitor is rejected.

Ref: Music and Tradition in Early Industrial Lancashire, Roger Elbourne, Folklore Society Mistletoe Series, 1980;
The Constant Lovers, Frank Purslow, EFDSS Publications, 1972.

Packie Cunningham of Co Fermanagh sang The Factory Girl in 1977-1983 to Keith Summers. This recording was included in 2014 on his Musical Traditions anthology of traditional songs from around Lough Erne's shore, I Pray You Pay Attention.

Frankie Armstrong sang The Factory Girl in 1980 on her album And the Music Plays So Grand. She commented in the album notes:

At one level this simply is a beautiful song of unrequited love, like thousands of lyrical country songs. However there is a new element in the familiar story. It is the factory looming in the background. The introduction of machinery into the textile industry in particular revolutionised women's lives. For the first time, in large numbers, they worked outside the home and had some economic independence. It is the clear consciousness of this on the part of the woman here that makes this into a song of significance in relation to women's history. The tune here is from Sarah Makem of Armagh in Ireland. The text is a collation from a number of Irish versions.

Louis Killen sang The Factory Girl in 1980 on his Collector album Gallant Lads Are We: Songs of the British Industrial Revolution. He commented in the sleeve notes:

Working class girls were often the prey of the idle sons of the rich, though most songs of this type follow the “rags to riches” dream. The girl here has a much better grasp of reality.

Alison McMorland & Peta Webb sang The Factory Girl in 1980 on their eponymous Topic LP, Alison McMorland & Peta Webb, and Alison McMorland returned to it in 2010 on her and Geordie McIntyre's CD Where Ravens Reel.

June Tabor and John Jones sang Factory Girl in May 2004 live at Bush Hall, London on the Oysterband's Big Session Volume 1.

Hannah James learned The Factory Girl from her mum and sang it in 2012 with Maddy Prior and Giles Lewin on their CD 3 for Joy and in 2013 on Lady Maisery's CD Mayday. The latter album's notes commented:

Social class is also at the heart of The Factory Girl, a traditional song of Irish origin which we learnt via 1980s female pop trio, The Roches. The factory girl's work is a source of her independence, strength and identity, and so she rejects the rich man who would turn her into a ‘lady’ who need never work again.

Rhiannon Giddens sang Factory Girl on Kronos Quartet's 2017 CD Folk Songs.

The Factory Girl on Barry Lister's WildGoose CD of 2006, Ghosts & Greasepaint, is not this traditional song but one written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Lyrics

Sarah Makem sings The Factory Girl

As I went a-walking one fine summer's morning,
The birds on the branches they sweetly did sing.
The lads and the lasses together were sporting,
Going down to yon factory their work to begin.

I spied a wee damsel more fairer than Venus,
Her skin like the lily that grows in the dell,
Her cheek like the red rose that grew in yon valley.
She is my own only goddess; she's a sweet factory girl.

I stepped it up to her, it was for to view her,
When on me she cast a proud look of disdain.
“Stand off me! Stand off me and do not insult me,
For although I'm a poor girl, I think it no shame.”

“I don't mean to harm you or yet, love, to scorn you,
But grant me one favour: pray where to you dwell?”
“I am a poor orphan without home or relations
And besides I'm a hard working factory girl.”

Well, now to conclude and to finish these verses,
This couple got married and both are doing well.
So, lads, fill your glasses and drink to the lasses
Till we hear the dumb sound of the sweet factory bell.

Sandra Kerr sings The Factory Girl on The Female Frolic

As I went out walking one fine summer's morning
The birds in the bushes did warble and sing.
The lads and the lasses in couples were sporting,
Going down to yon factory their work to begin.

I spied one among them more fairer than any,
Her cheeks like the red rose that none could excel,
Her skin like the lily that bloomed in yon valley
And she was a hard working factory girl.

I kindly stepped to her all thinking to view her,
On me she cast a look of disdain.
Saying, “Young man, have manners and do not come near me.”
The more you're a poor girl I think it no shame.

“It's not for to scorn you, fair maid, I adore you.
Come grant me one favour, love, where do you dwell?”
“Oh young man, excuse me, for now I must leave you,
For yonder's the sound of my factory bell.”

“Well I have fine houses adorned with ivory,
Gold in my pockets and silver as well.
And if you'll go with me, a lady I'll make you
And no more will you need yon poor factory bell.”

“Love and temptation are our ruination,
Go find you a lady and may you do well.
For I am an orphan, neither friend nor relation,
And forbye, I'm a hard working factory girl.”

With these words she vanished and then she did leave me,
And all for her sake I'll go wander away,
And in some deep valley where no one will know me
I will mourn for the sake of my factory girl.

Packie Cunningham sings The Factory Girl

Well as I went a-walking one fine summer's morning
The birds in the bushes did warble and sing,
Gay laddies and lasses in couples were sporting
Going down to factory their work to begin.

I spied one among them was fairer than any
Her cheeks like the red rose that none could excel,
Her skin like the lily that grows in yon valley,
And she was a hard working factory girl.

I stepped up beside her, more closely to view her
And on me she cast such a look of disdain,
Saying “Young man have manners and do not come near me,
Although I'm a poor girl, I think it no shame.”

“I have land, I have houses adorned there with ivy.
I have gold in my pocket and silver as well.
And if you come with me, a lady I'll make you
No more need you heed on old factory bell.”

“Loving sensation rules manys the nation
Go marry a lady and may you do well.
I'm only an orphan with ne'er a relation
And besides I'm a hollow* old factory girl.”

With those words she turned and like that she had left me,
And all for her sake I'll go wander away.
In some lonesome valley where no-one will know me
I'll mourn for the loss of my factory girl.

* The usual lyrics are ‘hard-working”. Packie uses the word hollow here as an adjective. For example: a hollow victory - meaning worthless, useless, etc.

Frankie Armstrong sings The Factory Girl

As I was a-walking one midsummer morning
The birds in the branches so sweetly did sing,
The lads and the lasses together were sporting,
Going down to yon factory their work to begin.

I spied one amongst them more fairer than any,
Her lips like the red rose that none could excel.
Her skin like the lily that blooms in the valley
And besides she's a hard working factory girl.

I stepped up to her, it was for to view her,
When on me she cast a bright look of disdain.
“Oh young man, have manners and do not insult me
For although I'm a poor girl I think it no shame.”

“It's not for to scorn you, fair maid, I adore you.
Come grant me one favour, love, where do you dwell?”
“Oh young man, excuse me, for now I must leave you,
For yonder's the sound of my factory bell.”

“Oh I have fine houses adorned with ivory,
Gold in my pocket and silver as well.
And if you'll come with me, a lady I'll make you
And no more will you heed yon poor factory bell.”

“Oh love and temptation are our ruination,
Go find you a lady and may you do well.
For I am an orphan with ne'er a relation
And besides I'm a hard working factory girl.”

Louis Killen sings The Factory Girl

As I went a-walking one fine summer's morning
The birds in the bushes so sweetly did sing.
The lads and the lasses together were sporting,
Going down to yon factory their work to begin.

I spied one among them was fairer than any,
Her skin like the lily that grows in the dell
Her cheeks like the red rose that grows in yon valley,
And she's my one only hard working sweet factory girl.

I stepped up unto her, it was for to view her,
When on me she cast a proud look of disdain.
“Stand off me, stand off me, and do not insult me.”
For although I'm a poor girl I think it no shame.”

“I don't mean to harm you no yet, love, to scorn you.
But grant me one favour, pray where do you dwell?”
“I am a poor orphan without home or relations,
And besides I'm a hard-working factory girl.”

“I have land, I have houses adorned with ivy,
I have gold in my pocket and silver as well.
And if you'll go with me, a lady I'll make you
So try and say yes, my dear factory girl.”

“Now love and sensation rules many a nation,
to many a lady perhaps you'll do well.
My friends and my comrades would all frown upon it
For I m only a hard-working factory girl.”

It's true I did love her but now she won't have me
And all for her sake I must wander awhile
Over high hills and valleys where no one shall know me
Far away from the sound of the sweet factory bell.