> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > Pretty Polly

The Knife in the Window / Nancy and Johnny / Pretty Polly

[ Roud 329 ; Ballad Index RL033 ; trad.]

Harry Cox sang Nancy and Johnny to Peter Kennedy in Catfield, Norfolk, in 1953. This recording was released in 1965 on his eponymous EFDSS album, Harry Cox. It was also included in 2000 as The Knife in the Window on the Rounder CD reissue of the Caedmon anthology Songs of Seduction. The accompanying booklet commented:

When Cecil Sharp published O Sally, My Dear, a version of this song, he wrote that the words had “of necessity to be somewhat altered” and a completely rewritten text was published in his Somerset collection and also in the Select Edition of 1921. They first saw print when James Reeves included them in his The Idiom of the People and The Everlasting Circle in 1958 and 1960.

A.L. Lloyd sang Pretty Polly on the 1966 theme album The Bird in the Bush: Traditional Erotic Songs. He commented in the album's sleeve notes:

A zestful anthem, this one, of little sentiment but much satisfaction. A good time is had, and the girl is pleased with the baby. The song is the very reverse of these joyless sterile pieces made in barrack rooms, passed round in rugger dressing-rooms, and bawled my the mock-hearty company who wear their male supremacy like a jockstrap. In sundry forms the song is well-rooted in East Anglia (Harry Cox has a good version). Cecil Sharp noted a slightly jumbled specimen at Bridgwater, Somerset (“may be a comedy of sexual impotence” says James Reeves, quaintly).

Bill Whiting sang The Knife in the Window in his home in Longcot, Berkshire, in 1972 to Mike Yates. This recording was included in 2001 on the Musical Traditions CD of songs and music from the Mike Yates collection, Up in the North and Down in the South. Mike Yates commented in the accompanying booklet:

A song that has survived best in East Anglia and the south west. Cecil Sharp, who collected at least eight versions of it, called it Sally My Dear and also found it associated with the song Hares on the Mountain (see Cecil Sharp's Collection of English Folk Songs edited by Maud Karpeles, Vol. 1, pp. 430-36) which Bertrand Bronson suggested was derived from the ballad The Two Magicians (Child 44). In 1980 I collected a similar version—minus the Hares on the Mountain verse—from the Appalachian singer Dan Tate, and this version was included on the double cassette Crazy About a Song—Old-Time ballad singers and musicians from Virginia and North Carolina (Vaughan Williams Memorial Library 007). Other recordings include those by Louie Hooper, Jeff Wesley and Alec Bloomfield, while those by Dickie Lashbrook and Harry Cox on Rounder 1778 are the only others on CD.

Ernest Austin sang The Knife in the Window in a recording made by Tony Engle at Bentley, Essex in November 1973. This recording was published in 1974 on the Topic anthology Flash Company.

Martin Simpson sang Pretty Polly in 1976 on his Trailer album Golden Vanity.

Mick Ryan and Paul Downes sang The Knife in the Window in 2013 on their WildGoose CD When Every Song Was New. Mick Ryan commented in the sleeve notes:

Every once in a while, the club, which met on Fridays, would decamp en-masse to the small village of Longcott, near Farringdon, Oxfordshire, on a Saturday evening, for a session. At some point in the evening the cry would go up, “Give us Knife in the Window, Bill!” Whereupon a very elderly gentleman called Bill Whiting would get up and give us this song, a very local, and unique as far as I know, version of the widely known Hares on the Mountain. It felt, somehow, important to me to be getting a song from a field singer. Whether there is really any difference between the ‘field’ and the ‘revival’ singer now seems to me less clear, and less important, but I still have an affection for the song.

Molly Evans learned Lovely Polly from the singing of A.L. Lloyd and sang it in 2015 on her debut EP Molly Evans.

Lyrics

Harry Cox sings Nancy and Johnny / The Knife in the Window

Last Saturday night young Nancy laid sleeping,
And into her bedroom young Johnny went a-creeping,
With his long fol-the-riddle-i-do right down to his knee.

He said, “Lovely Nancy, may I come to bed to you?”
She smiled and replied, “John, I'm afraid you'll undo me
With your long fol-the-riddle-i-do right down to your knee.”

His small clothes fell from him and into bed tumbled,
She laughed in his face when his breeches he fumbled
With his long fol-the-riddle-i-do right down to his knee.

“My breeches fit tight, love, I cannot undo them.”
She smiled and replied, “John, you must take a knife to them
With your long fol-the-riddle-i-do right down to your knee.”

“My knife will not cut, love, it ain't worth a cinder.”
She smiled and replied, “John, there's two on the window
With your long fol-the-riddle-i-do right down to your knee.”

He picked up the knife, and he unlaced his breeches.
He un'ressed his breeches, and into bed he tumbled
With his long fol-the-riddle-i-do right down to his knee.

All the long night how they rolled and they tumbled.
Before daylight i' the morning Nancy's nightgown he crumbled
With his long fol-the-riddle-i-do right down to his knee.

Now nine months being past, it fell on a Sunday,
A child it was born with a knife-mark in the window
With a long fol-the-riddle-i-do right down to his knee.

A.L. Lloyd sings Pretty Polly

“Pretty Polly, pretty Polly, it's I've come a-wooin';
Pretty Polly, pretty Polly, it's I've come a-wooin'.”
She says, “Creep and crawl through the window then and let's get doin'
And lay your leg over me, over me, do.”

“Oh, my britches is tight and I cannot undo 'em,
My britches is tight and I cannot undo 'em.”
“There's a knife on the window sill, love, take it to 'em,
And lay your leg over me, over me, do.”

Well the knife it was got and the britches cut asunder,
The knife it was got and the britches cut asunder;
And then they went to it like lightning and thunder,
Cryin', “Lay your leg over me, over me, do.”

About forty weeks after, the fine baby come bawlin',
About forty weeks after, a fine baby come bawlin';
But she never regretted that creepin' and crawlin',
And cryin',“Lay your leg over me, over me, do.”

Bill Whiting sings Knife in the Window

Now if maidens were sheep, love, and they fed on the mountains,
Now if maidens were sheep, love, and they fed on the mountains,
Then all the young men they would go and feed with them.
Sing fol-the-ri-li-do, sing fol-the-rol-day.
Then all the young men they would go and feed with them.
Sing fol-the-ri-li-do, sing fol-the-rol-day.

“Oh Molly my true-love, may I come to bed to you?”
“Oh yes”, she replied, “you can come to bed with me.”

“Now the door it is bolted and I cannot undo it.”
“Oh now”, she replied, “you must put your knee to it.”

So I put my knee to it and the door flew asunder
And upstairs I went, like lightning and thunder.

“Now your small things are tight, love, and I cannot undo it.”
“Oh now”, she replied, “there's a knife in the window.”

Now her small things fell off her and I into bed tumbled,
And I'll leave you to guess how we young couple fumbled.