> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > The Demon Lover
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The Demon Lover / The House Carpenter

[ Roud 14 ; Child 243 ; G/D 2:332 ; Ballad Index C243 ; Old Songs HouseCarpenter ; Bodleian Roud 14 ; trad.]

Sabine Baring-Gould, H. Fleetwood Sheppard: Songs of the West Nick Dow: Southern Songster Alexander Keith: Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs James Kinsley: The Oxford Book of Ballads John Morrish: The Folk Handbook James Reeves: The Everlasting Circle Jean Ritchie Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians Stephen Sedley: The Seeds of Love

Lee Monroe Presnell on Ballads and Songs of Tradition Frank Browne: Early Ballads in Ireland 1968-1985 Doug Wallin on Far in the Mountains Volume 3 Andy Irvine on BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 20011 Gavin Bavenport Brief Lives Andrew Stewart on Hamish Henderson Collects Volume 2 Robin Holcomb & Todd Rundgren on The Harry Smith Project Jon Bickley on Live at the Invisible Folk Club No 9 Maggie Holland Still Pause Martha Tilston The Sea Nimrod Workman on Meeting's a Pleasure Volume 2 Carolina Tar Heels, Clarence Ashley My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean The Big Session Volume 1 Paul & Liz Davenport Songbooks Pete Seeger Pete Seeger in England Sara Grey Boy, She's a Daisy Texas Gladden Ballad Legacy Mrs Oscar Allen When Cecil Left the Mountains Geraldine MacGowan & Friends Timeless

A.L. Lloyd sang The Demon Lover in 1956 on his and Ewan MacColl's Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Volume IV. Like all of his recordings from this series it was reissued in 2011 on his Fellside CD Bramble Briars and Beams of the Sun. He recorded this ballad again in 1964 on his and Ewan MacColl's Topic album English and Scottish Folk Ballads. This track is also on the expanded CD reissue of 1996 and on the compilation Classic A.L. Lloyd. Lloyd noted:

In the 17th century a very popular ballad was printed by several broadside publishers, entitled: A Warning for Married Women, being an example of Mrs Jane Reynolds (a West-country woman), born near Plymouth, who, having plighted her troth to a Seaman, was afterwards married to a Carpenter, and at last carried away by a Spirit, the manner how shall be presently recited. To a West-country tune called The Fair Maid of Bristol, Bateman, or John True. Samuel Pepys had this one in his collection also. It was a longish ballad (32 verses) but a very poor composition made by some hack poet. Perhaps the doggerel writer made his version on the basis of a fine ballad already current among folk singers. Or perhaps the folk singers took the printed song and in the course of passing it from mouth to mouth over the years and across the shires they re-shaped it into something of pride, dignity and terror. Whatever the case, the ballad has come down to us in far more handsome form than Pepys had it. Though very rarely met with nowadays, it was formerly well-known in Scotland as well as in England. For instance, Walter Scott included a good version in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1812 edn.). Generally the Scottish texts are better than the English ones, none of which tell the full story (we have filled out our version by borrowing some stanzas from Scottish sets of the ballad), but none of the Scottish tunes for it are as good those found in the South and West of England. Our present tune was noted by H. E. D. Hammond from Mrs Russell of Upway, near Dorchester, Dorset, in 1907. Cecil Sharp considered it “one of the finest Dorian airs” he had seen. Dr Vaughan Williams made a splendid choral setting of the opening verses of this ballad, which he called The Lover's Ghost.

Annie Watson, accompanied by Gaither Carlton on fiddle, sang The House Carpenter in 1963 on the Watson Family's Folkways album The Doc Watson Family. The album's booklet noted:

The House Carpenter (Child 243) became a very popular song during the 1960's and worked its way into the repertoires of many well-known performers during the folk revival, notably Joan Baez. Folksong collector, Francis James Child traced the song back to a London broadside ballad licensed 21 February 1657. Annie Watson learned this version as a child.

Hedy West sang The House Carpenter it on her 1966 Topic album of Appalachian Ballads, Pretty Saro. She noted:

This is the commonest collected version of The Demon Lover (James Harris) in the United States. The oldest known printed version is entitled A Warning for Married Women in which the “heroine” is identified as Mrs. Jane Reynolds, born near Plymouth. The date of the broadside is 1685. A.L. Lloyd says it was almost surely in oral tradition long before that. In the original British forms the returning lover was a ghost who wreaks a terrible revenge on the girl who wouldn't be faithful to his memory. This is on of the first songs Grandma and [grand uncle] Gus remember hearing their mother sing.

Sweeney's Men sang The House Carpenter in 1968 on their eponymous first Transatlantic album, Sweeney's Men. This track was also included in 2002 on the Topic anthology The Acoustic Folk Box.

LaRena Clark sang The House Carpenter in 1969 on her Topic album of folksongs from the province of Ontario, A Canadian Garland. She noted:

The earliest version of the ballad now generally known as The House Carpenter was in the Pepys collection as ‘A Warning for Married Women, being an example of Jane Reynolds (a West country woman), born near Plymouth, who plighted her troth to a Seaman, was afterwards married to a Carpenter, and at last carried away by a Spirit.’ Dr Child gives this and seven other versions apparently derived from it under the title of James Harris (The Demon Lover), and mentions that “An Americanised version of this ballad was printed not very long ago at Philadelphia, under the title of The House Carpenter.” This and a similar broadside printed by De Marsan in New York about 1860 set the pattern for most of the versions reported from tradition in the last century. The ballad is much commoner in North America than in Britain. American singers have dropped the supernatural elements and simplified the plot. For full references, see A Garland of Ontario Folk Songs.

Pentangle learned The House Carpenter from the singing of Jean Ritchie and sang it in 1969 on their third Transatlantic album, Basket of Light. Jacqui McShee's Pentangle recorded it again in 1998 for their Park album Passe Avant. This track was included in 1999 on the Park sampler A Stroll Through the Park and in 2002 on the Park anthology Women in Folk.

Cyril Tawney sang The Carpenter's Wife in 1969 on his Polydor album of traditional ballads from Devon and Cornwall, The Outlandish Knight.

Carole Pegg sang The House Carpenter in 1971 on Mr Fox's Transatlantic album The Gipsy.

Ewan MacColl sang James Herries in 1972 on his Argo album Solo Flight and in 1986 on his and Peggy Seeger's album Blood & Roses Volume 5. He noted:

The earliest copies of this ballad are English broadsides belonging to the Restoration period. Pepys included one in his ballads collection, sub-titled:

“A warning for married women, being an example of Mrs Jane Reynolds, a West-country woman, born near Plymouth, who, having plighted her troth to a seaman, was afterwards married to a carpenter, and at last carried away by a Spirit, the manner how shall presently be recited to a West-country tune, etc,”

The ballad appears to have no parallel in European tradition. Child gives eight versions, seven of which are Scots. Less than a hundred years later, Bronson was able to assemble one-hundred-and-forty-five versions, the bulk of which are North American.

Dorothy Rorick of Galax, Virginia, sang The House Carpenter to Joe Wilson on 11 August 1972. This recording was included in 1978 on the Blue Ridge Institute album in their Virginia Traditions series, Ballads from British Tradition.

Steeleye Span recorded Demon Lover in 1975 with quite different verses for their seventh album, Commoners Crown. Their source seems to be Child 343 E which is from Motherwell's manuscripts.

The Wassailers sang The Demon Lover in 1978 on their Fellside album Wassailers. This track was also included in 2006 on Fellside's 40th anniversary anthology The Journey Continues. They noted on the original album:

James Morris, the Demon Lover, to give its full title, appears in the Child collection and must be on of the most widespread ballads in the English language.

Peter Bellamy sang this song as The Housecarpenter on his 1979 album Both Sides Then. He noted:

This version learned from a recording of the Watson family of Deep Gap, North Carolina, with additional verses from a forgotten source.

Nic Jones sang Demon Lover in a live performance from the late 1960s that was included in 2006 on his Topic CD Game Set Match.

Brian Peters sang The Demon Lover in 1985 on his Fellside album Persistence of Memory and in 2008 on his album of Child ballads, Songs of Trial and Triumph.

Geordie McIntyre sang The Daemon Lover in 2003 on his and Alison McMorland's Tradition Bearers album Ballad Tree. He noted:

Hamish Henderson informs us that the earliest recorded version of this is an English Broadside dated 1685 and is “a clear example of how, in this instance, a stilted and prosaic broadside has been transformed into strong poetry by virtue of oral transmission”.

The ghost of a dead sailor returns to claim his expected bride. The now married woman is enchanted on board a phantom ship where malevolent intent and his true identity is revealed. A terrible revenge is enacted. The victim's final sea-bed destination relates to the ancient belief of a pre-Christian hell—a cold place lying to the North.

I learned this from the singing of Bert Lloyd (A.L. Lloyd) about forty years ago. Bert was a masterful and inspiring singer of tales. I was privileged to know him.

Ed Rennie sang Little House Carpenter in 2004 on his Fellside CD Narrative.

Martin Simpson sang The House Carpenter in 2005 on his Topic album Kind Letters, in 2006 on his Sound Techniques DVD Guitar Maestros, and in 2020 on his Topic album Home Recordings. He noted on the last album:

The banjo part on House Carpenter is in the same tuning I used for the clawhammer version on Kind Letters but down a whole step. With the capo at the second fret the notes are FDADE, giving you a wonderful minor 3rd drone against an open Major 2nd… instant creepiness. I have recorded the ballad three times now. It is also known as James Harris or The Demon Louer, and is Child Ballad number 243.

Emily Portman sang The Demon Lover in ca. 2005 as the title track of The Devil's Interval's EP Demon Lovers, and in 2014 on The Furrow Collective's album At Our Next Meeting. She noted on the latter album:

A.L. Lloyd gives me goose bumps in his version of this 17th century ballad. I've since heard many beguiling variants but I always return to this one for its poetic turns of phrase and eerie tune (collected from Mrs Russell of Upway, Dorset). It may have started out as a moral tale but I like the ambiguity of this retelling.

This video shows The Furrow Collective at The Glad Cafe in Glasgow on 22 February 2014:

Cara recorded The House Carpenter for their 2007 album In Between Times and on their 2008 DVD In Full Swing—Live. They noted:

This is a haunting version of an old ballad which has been done by many singers including Bob Dylan. It is also called James Harris or The Demon Lover (Child coll. #243) and dates back to a song by London-based ballad writer Laurence Price in 1657. The original title was A Warning for Married Women and is based on the story of Mrs. Jane Reynolds, “a West-Country Woman, born near Plymouth; who having plighted her troth to a Sea-man, was afterwards Married to a Carpenter, and last carried away by a Spirit...” It has everything a good ballad needs: a lovely lady, a husband, a lover, ships, heartbreak, death and the devil—what more can you ask for? Sandra found this version on an album by Mick McAuley.

Frankie Armstrong sang Demon Lover on her 2008 Fellside CD Encouragement.

James Findlay sang Demon Lover in 2009 on his first album, As I Carelessly Did Stray. He noted:

This version is almost a “short and sweet” take on the Child Ballad Jane Reynolds and James Harris. In that take on the story Jane is a young lass from around Plymouth. Now Jane’s just getting married to her “comely proper youth” James, when in bursts the press-gang right on cue. So off he trots to sea for three years, and then dies. Jane then marries a carpenter. Four years, three kids down the line who appears on the scene; yeah it’s Jimbo the friendly ghost. After a short bit of banter she decides sod the kids, the husband the house and the car, “I'm off to sea with my dead ex”. And they were never seen again. Then the poor old carpenter hangs himself. In fact that version’s just so much more interesting than mine. Sorry.

Andy Irvine sang The Demon Lover on his 2010 album Abocurragh. He noted:

Not for the faint hearted! This is another Child Ballad—#243. Though the basic elements of this song have often been found in Appalachia, as The House Carpenter, the song seems to have died out in Britain and Ireland.

Hence the tune is my own, though just what is the time signature, is beyond me. I remember singing this—to the House Carpenter tune—back in the sixties at The Green Lounge, a long vanished pub and folk club in Dublin. When I got to the verse about the cloven foot, the frightened intake of breath from the audience nearly sucked me and my guitar off the stage!

Alasdair Roberts sang The Daemon Lover in 2010 on his CD Too Long in This Condition.

Jon Boden sang The House Carpenter as the 22 May 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He noted in his blog:

Learnt this recently—I'm a bit torn whether to use the ‘sinking’ verse or not as I quite like the ‘what hills’ verses being more abstract—more like he's an actual demon taking her directly to Hell. I've left it in for now though.

Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys sang The Shining Ship on their 2017 CD Pretty Peggy. They noted:

A dark tale in which a lady's lover, long lost at sea, returns to her and persuades her to come away with him to a distant land. After boarding the ship, she realises that not all is as it seems…

Lyrics

A.L. Lloyd sings The Demon Lover

“Well met, well met, my own true love,
Long time I have been absent from thee.
I am lately come from the salt sea
And it's all for the sake, my love, of thee.”

“I have three ships all on the sea
And by one of them has brought me to land.
I've four and twenty seamen on board
And you shall have music at your command.”

She says, “I am now wed to a ship's carpenter,
To a ship carpenter I am bound.
And I wouldn't leave my husband dear
For twice the sum of ten hundred pound.”

“Well I might have a king's daughter,
And fain she would have married me.
But I forsook her crown of gold
And it was all for the sake, my love, of thee.”

“So I pray you leave your husband, dear,
And sail away with me.
And I'll take you where the white lilies grow
All on the banks of Italy.”

“And this ship wherein my love shall sail
Is wondrous to behold.
The sails shall be of shining silk
And the mast shall be of red beaten gold.”

So she dressed herself in her gay clothing
Most glorious to behold,
And as she trod the salt water's side
Oh she shone like glittering gold.

They hadn't sailed a day and a day
And a day but barely three,
She cast herself down on the deck
And she wept and wailed most bitterly.

“Oh hold your tongue, my dearest dear,
Let all your sorrows be.
I'll take you where the white lilies grow
All on the bottom of the sea.”

And as she turned herself roundabout,
So tall and tall he seemed to be,
Until the tops of that gallant ship
No taller were than he.

And he struck the topmast with his hand,
The main mast with his knee,
And he broke that shining ship in two
And he dashed it into the bottom of the sea.

Ewan MacColl sing James Herries

“O, are ye my faither or are ye my mither
Or are ye my brither John?
Or are ye James Herries, my ain true love
To Scotland com again”

“I'm no' your faither, I'm no' your mither,
I'm no' your brither John.
But I am James Herries, your ain true love
To Scotland com again.

“O, see ye no' yon seiven ships?
The eigth brocht me to land,
I've merchandise and mariners
And wealth on every hand.”

“But I am married to a carpenter,
Earns his breid upon dry land,
And I hae borne him a bonnie young son
And wi' you I winna gang.”

“O, ye maun leave your husband dear
And come awa' wi' me,
I'll tak you whaur the white lilies grow
On the banks o' Italy.”

Then she has gane tae her bonnie young son
And kissed baith cheek and chin,
And syne tae her husband, sleepin' soond,
And done the same wi' him.

They had nae sealed a league, a league,
A league but barely three,
When she minded her man and her bonnie young son
And grat maist bitterly.

“O, haud your tongue, my sprightly flooer,
Let a' your mournin' be,
I'll tak ye whaur the blind fishes swim
At the bottom o' the sea.”

And aye he grew and higher he grew
And sae tall he seemed to be
Till the topmost mast o' that bonnie ship
Nae taller was than he.

He struck the topmast wi' his haund
And kicked the mainmast doon,
And he broke that bonnie ship in twa
And a' the folk were drooned.

Steeleye Span sing Demon Lover

“Where have you been, my long lost love,
This seven long years and more?”
“Seeking gold for thee, my love,
And riches of great store.”

“I might have married a king's daughter
Far, far beyond the sea.
But I refused the golden crown
All for the love of thee.”

“What have you to keep me with
If I with you should go?
If I forsake my husband dear
And my young son also?”

Chorus:
𝄆 I'll show you where the white lilies grow
On the banks of Italy,
I'll show you where the white fishes swim
At the bottom of the sea. 𝄇

“Seven ships all on the sea,
The eighth brought me to land,
With four and twenty mariners
And music on every hand.”

She set her foot upon the ship,
No mariners could behold.
The sails were of the shining silk,
The masts of beaten gold.

Chorus

“What are yon high, high hills
The sun shines sweetly in?”
“Those are the hills of heaven, my love,
Where you will never win.”

Chorus

“What is that mountain yonder there
Where evil winds do blow?”
“Yonder's the mountain of hell,” he cried,
“Where you and I must go.”

He took her up to the topmast high
To see what he could see.
He sunk the ship in a flash of fire
To the bottom of the sea.

Chorus

Peter Bellamy sings The Housecarpenter Jon Boden sings The House Carpenter

“Well met, well met, my own true love,
Well met, well met,” says he,
“I've just returned from the salt, salt sea
And it's all for the love of thee.”

“Well met, well met, my own true love,
Well met, well met,” cried he,
“I've just returned from the salt, salt sea
And it's all for the love of thee.

“So come in, come in, oh my own true love,
And have a seat with me.
It's been three-fourths of a long long year
Since together we have been.”

“Oh I can't come in nor I won't sit down,
For I have but a moment's time.
For they say you are married to a house carpenter
So your heart would never be mine.

“And yet I could have married some king’s daughter fair,
And she would have married me,
But I forsaked her crowns of gold
And it’s all for the love of thee.

“Oh I could have married the king's daughter dear
And she would have married me,
But I have refused the crown of gold
And it's all for the love of thee.”

“If you could have married the king's daughter dear
I'm sure you are to blame,
For I am married to the house carpenter
And he is a fine young man.”

“So it's won't you forsake on your house carpenter
And come along with me?
I’ll take you where the grass grows green
On the banks of Italy.”

“Oh, if you'll forsake your house carpenter
And come along with me,
I'll take you to where the grass grows green
On the banks of Italy.”

“If I forsake my house carpenter
And come along with thee,
Oh, what have you got to maintain me upon
And to keep me from slavery?”

“Oh, I've six ships sailing on the salt sea,
A-sailing from dry land,
And a hundred and twenty jolly young men
Shall be at your command.”

So she's lifted up her little young son
And kisses she's gave it three, saying,
“Stay right here my darling little babe
And keep your papa company.”

She picked up her poor wee babe
And kisses she gave him three,
Saying, “Stay right here with the house carpenter
And keep him company.”

Oh, she picked up her poor wee babe
And kisses she gave him three,
Saying, “Stay right here with the house carpenter
And keep him company.”

Now they'd not been on board above two weeks,
I'm sure it was not three,
When his true love began to weep and moan
And she wept most bitterly.

They had not been two weeks at sea,
I'm sure it was not three,
When this poor maid began to weep
And she wept most bitterly.

“Are you weeping for your silver and your gold?
Are you weeping for your store?
Or are you weeping for your house carpenter
Whose face you'll never see no more?”

“Oh do you weep for your gold,” he said,
“Your houses, your land, or your store?
Or do you weep for your house carpenter
That you never shall see no more?”

Oh, a curse, a curse on the sailor she cried,
Yes a curse, a curse she swore,
“You've robbed me of my little young son
So I never shall see him no more!”

“I do not weep for my gold,” she said,
“My houses, my land, or my store.
But I do weep for my poor wee babe
That I shall never see more.”

They had not been three weeks at sea,
I'm sure it was not four,
When in their ship there sprang a leak
And she sank to the ocean floor.

“Oh what hills, what hills art those, my love,
Those hills that shine like gold?”
“Those are the hill of Heaven, my love,
Where you and I can't go.”

“What hills, what hills are those, my love,
That are so bright and free?”
“Oh, those are the hill of Heaven, my love,
But they're not for you and me.”

“And what hills, what hills art those, my love,
Those hills so dark and cold?”
“Those are the hill of Hell, my love,
Where you and I must go.”

“What hills, what hills, are those, my love,
That are so dark and low?”
“Oh, those are the hills of Hell, my love,
Where you and I must go.”

Now they'd not been on board above three weeks,
I'm sure it was not four,
Before there came a leak in the ship
And she sunk and the never rose more.

Geordie McIntyre sings The Daemon Lover

“Whaur hae ye been my long lost lover
These seven long years or more?”
“I've been seekin' gowd for ye my love,
An' riches in great store.

“Now I've come for the vow ye promised me,
Ye promised me long ago.”
“Well now my vow ye must forgive
For I've become a wedded wife.”

“Och, I might hae mairret a Kings dochter
Far ayont the sea,
But I forsook that crown o'gowd
All for the sake my love of ye.”

“If ye could hae mairret a Kings dochter,
It's yersel ye hae tae blame.
For noo I‘m wedded tae a ship's carpenter
An to him I hae a son.”

“Come awa wi me lass,
Come awa wi me.
I'll show ye whaur the lillies grow
On the banks o‘ fair Italy.”

“Hae ye ony ship tae put me in
If alang wi' ye I should gang?”
“I hae seven ships all on the sea,
All loaded tae the brim.

“I hae seven ships all on the sea,
The eighth ane brought me to land,
Wi' four an' twenty mariners guid
An' music at every hand.”

She stepped her fit intae yon ship
Tae hear the music play,
The masts were o' the bright beaten gowd
An' the sails o' silken grey.

They hadna' sailed a league, a league,
A league but barely three,
When cauld an' watery blew the wind
An' gurly grew the sea.

They hadna sailed anither league,
A league but barely three,
When she spied his cloven foot
An' she wept most bitterly.

“O haud yer tongue my love he cried
Why weep ye sae mournfully?
I said I would show ye the wee lillies growin
On the banks o' fair Italy.

“I said I would show ye the lillies grow
On the banks o' fair Italy,
But now I'll show ye the wee fish swimmin'
In the bottom o' the sea.”

Then he struck yon topmast wi' his airm,
The foremast wi‘ his knee,
An' he sank yon ship in a flash o' fire
Tae the bottom o' the sea.