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The Barley Straw

[ Roud 19112 ; Ballad Index K188 ; trad.]

The Barley Straw is a song from the repertoire of Norfolk singer Harry Cox. Alan Lomax recorded him singing this song in London in November 1953. In 2000, this recording was included on Harry Cox's CD What Will Become of England?.

Martin Carthy sang The Barley Straw on his and Dave Swarbrick's 1967 album Byker Hill; and it was included in 1971 on their compilation album This Is… Martin Carthy. Martin Carthy commented in the original recording's sleeve notes:

Besides being the obvious mound, The Barley Straw is also the name given to the love-knot made of wearing stalks of barley bound together. There are Scottish versions of the song (such as Davy Faa) and the theme is related to stories of the King Jameses of Scotland who used to relax by going around the countryside dressed as a beggar (it is alleged) calling on young girls while their men were out in the fields and leaving assorted children dotted about the place. This version was recorded by Peter Kennedy from the singing of Harry Cox.

In the same year, Shirley Collins recorded The Barley Straw for her album The Power of the True Love Knot, She commented:

When he was a boy, Harry Cox sat outside the pubs in Norfolk and listened to his grandad singing with his friends inside. This was how, with perfect recall, he started to build up his great repertory of traditional songs. It includes this sly and sardonic account of the ingenious seduction methods of the idle gentry. The farmer's daughter seemed to enjoy it, too, but had a price to pay beyond the nurse's fee. Dolly has great fun here with a “country-fair” organ sound.

The Young Tradition sang The Barley Straw in 1968 on their last LP, Galleries. Heather Wood commented in the sleeve notes of the 1973 album reissue:

From the singing of Harry Cox of Norfolk, this is a typical song of rural seduction. Harry Cox's recent death was a great loss to the British tradition.

Compare this to the related song The Barley and the Rye on Martin Carthy's first album Martin Carthy. Both songs have nearly identical first two lines.

Cyril Tawney recorded Down Among the Barley Straw in 1971; however the same-named album Down Among the Barley Straw wasn't published on the Leader label until 1976. He claimed in his sleeve notes that this song was a different one than the song discussed here:

Baring-Gould tells us that this lusty agricultural item was taken down from G.H. Hurrell, the blind organist of Chagford, [on] September 30, 1890. Mr Hurrell had heard it about 30 years previously from a Mr Beare, a carpenter at Torquay. Not to be confused with a different song entitled The Barley Straw.

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sings The Barley Straw Shirley Collins sings The Barley Straw

Oh it's of a jolly old farmer
Who lived in the West Country,
He had the finest daughter
That ever me eyes did see.

So it's of a jolly old farmer
Lived in the West Country,
He had the finest daughter
That ever my eyes did see.

'Tis of a rich young squire
Was living there close by,
And he found he wouldn't be easy
Until he had a try.

It's of a rich young squire
Was living there close by,
And he found he couldn't be easy
Until he had a try.

So he dressed himself as a tinker
And he travelled on his way,
Until he come to the farmer's house
'Twas a-standing there close by.

So he dressed himself as a tinker
And travelled on his way,
Until he came to the farmer's house
Was standing there close by.

“Oh, have you got any kettles
Or pots or pans to mend?
Oh, have you got any lodgings,
Me being a single man?”

“Oh, have you got any kettles
Or pots or pans to mend?
Oh, have you any lodgings,
Me being a single man?”

“Oh no,” replied this pretty fair maid,
“No pots, no pans to mend,
Nor have we got any lodgings
You being a single man.”

“Oh yes,” replied this pretty fair maid,
Not thinking any harm,
“Oh you can stay with us all night
If you sleep in our old barn.”

“But then,” replied this pretty fair maid,
Not thinking any harm,
“You can stay with us for just tonight
If you sleep in our old barn.”

So after tea was over
And she went to make his bed,
The tinker following after
He stole her maidenhead.

So after tea was over,
she went to make his bed;
The tinker followed after
To steal her maidenhead.

Oh, the tinker he being nimble,
He jumped up and he barred the door;
And she spent all night in the tinker's arms
Amongst the barley straw.

The tinker, being in bed,
Jumped up and barred the door;
And she slept all night in the tinker's arms
Among the barley straw.

“Oh since you've slept with me all night,
Don't think of me none the worse.”
He's put his hand in his pocket
And pulled out a heavy purse.

“Now since you've slept all night with me,
Don't think me none the worse.”
He put his hands in his pocket,
Pulled out a heavy purse.

“Here's fifty pound I will give to you
To pay the nurse's fee;
And if ever I came this way again,
Fair maid, I will marry thee.”

“Here's fifty pound I will give you
To pay the nurse's fee;
And if ever I come this way again,
Fair maid, I'll marry thee.”

“Oh since you cannot now marry me,
Pray tell to me your name,
Likewise your occupation
And where and whence you came.”

“So now you cannot marry me now,
Come tell to me your name,
Likewise your occupation
And from where and whence you came.”

He's whispered softly in her ear,
“Oh they call me Davy Shore,
And if ever I came this way again
You'll remember the barley straw.”

He whispered low into her ear,
“They call me Davy Shore,
And if ever I come this way again
Remember the barley straw.”

Now six month being over
And the nine month coming on,
This pretty little fair maid
Was the mother of a son.

Now seven month being over
And nine month being come,
This pretty little fair maid
Was the mother of a son.

Her father cried, “Oh daughter dear,
Who has done you this harm?”
“Oh I'm afraid it was the old tinker
Who slept in our old barn.”

Her father cried, “Oh daughter dear,
Who has done you this wrong?”
“I'm afraid it was the old tinker
Who slept in our old barn.”

Acknowledgements

Transcribed by Garry Gillard.