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The Watercress Girl

[ Roud 1541 ; VWML COL/3/2C ; Bodleian Roud 1541 ; trad.]

Harry Cox sang The Watercress Girl in a recording made by Charles Parker and Ewan MacColl in the mid-1960s [VWML COL/3/2C] that was finally included in 2000 on his Topic 2 CD box The Bonny Labouring Boy. Steve Roud commented in the liner notes:

Several 19th century songs had watercress themes, and two were regularly sung by traditional singers. Harry's song probably dates only from the later 19th century as its only known appearance on broadsides were on sheets printed by Such (London) and Sanderson (Edinburgh). In more recent years, the song was also recorded from George Dunn (Warwickshire) and Johnny Doughty (Sussex), and others.

George Dunn sang The Watercress Girl in a recording made by Roy Palmer in 1971. It was included in 1980 in Palmer's Everyman's Book of British Ballads and in 2002 on Dunn's Musical Traditions anthology Chainmaker.

More Victorian sentimentality, with the working class girl again snapped up by (we gather) an affluent man. Water Cresses or The Watercress Girl, published in 1863, was sung (and probably written by) Harry Clifton (1832-72). Clifton also wrote The Calico Printer's Clerk, My Rattling Mare and I and Jemima Brown, all of which entered oral tradition.

Johnny Doughty of Sussex sang The Watercress Girl to Mike Yates on June 8, 1979. This recording was released on the Veteran Tapes cassette of English traditional singers, The Horkey Load Vol 2 (VT109). It was also included in 1993 on the Veteran CD anthology Stepping It Out!.

John Kirkpatrick sang The Watercress Girl with Umps and Dumps in 1980 on their Topic album The Moon's in a Fit. This track was also included in 1994 on his compilation CD A Short History of John Kirkpatrick. He commented in the liner notes:

A bequest from John Tams (a member of the original line-up of Umps and Dumps), who found it all in a hotch-potch of fragments noted down by Roy Palmer from the West Midlands singer George Dunn, published in the EFDSS Journal in 1973.

Tommy Morrissey from Padstow sang The Watercress Girl on his and Charlie Pitman's Veteran Tapes cassette of “songs of two Cornishmen”, Pass Around the Grog (VT122). This track was also included in 2004 on the Veteran CD anthology of folk songs sung in the West Country, Old Uncle Tom Cobleigh and All. John Howson noted:

The song dates back to the late 19th century and is one of two songs with watercress themes that were popular with traditional singers. It was published on broadsides by Such of London and Sanderson of Edinburgh. Roy Palmer collected a version from the Staffordshire singer George Dunn, Norfolk’s Harry Cox sang it […] as did Sussex’s Johnny Doughty.

Flowers and Frolics sang The Watercress Girl in 2000 on their CD Reformed Characters.

The Fraser Sisters sang The Watercress Girl in 2001 on their No Masters CD Going Around.

Lyrics

Harry Cox sings The Watercress Girl

As I strolled out one morning down by a running stream,
The waterlilies growing, it was a lovely scene;
And, as I was a-walking, a damsel I espied,
She was gathering watercresses down by the streamlet side.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Her hair it hung in tresses,
Down by the stream that led to the mill;
She was gathering watercresses,
My own little watercress girl.

I asked her if not lonely, she answered with a smile:
“Kind sir, I am not lonely, this is my daily toil.
I have to rise up early my cresses for to sell.”
She said her name was Martha, known as the watercress girl.

We oft-times strolled together down by that running stream,
For since that time, my Martha she has become my queen.
Although she's poor, she proved to be a very useful pal,
A right good wife is Martha, my little watercress girl.

George Dunn sings The Watercress Girl

One day I took a ramble down by a running stream,
Where the water lilies gambol - it was a lovely scene;
And there I saw a maiden, a maiden from the dell,
She was gath'ring watercresses, 'twas Martha, the watercress girl.

Chorus (after each verse):
And her hair it hung in tresses,
Down by the stream that's close to the mill
She was gath'ring watercresses,
'Twas Martha, the watercress girl.
('Twas my little watercress girl.)

I asked if she was lonely, she answered with a smile,
“Kind sir, I am not lonely, for here I daily toil.
I have to rise up early my cresses for to sell.
My christian name is Martha, they call me the watercress girl.”

The day is not far distant when Mary will be mine,
And on our wedding morning it will be nice and fine.
I'll have to rise up early and dress up like an earl
To go and marry Martha, the sweet little watercress girl.

John Kirkpatrick sings The Watercress Girl

One day I took a ramble, oh, down by a running stream
Where the waterlilies gambol, oh, it was a lovely scene;
And there I spied a maiden, a maiden from the dell;
She was gathering watercresses, was Martha, the watercress girl.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
And her hair hung down in tresses,
Down by the stream that's close to the mill;
She was gathering watercresses,
Was Martha the watercress girl.

Oh, I asked if she was lonely, she answered with a smile:
“Oh sir, I am not lonely, for here I daily toil.
I have to rise up early my cresses for to sell;
My Christian name is Martha, they call me the watercress girl.”

Well, the day will not be long now till I will make her mine,
And on our wedding morning, oh, it will be nice and fine.
I'll have to rise up early and dress me like an earl,
To go and marry Martha, my sweet little watercress girl.

Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Req: Martha the Watercress Girl.