> Martin Carthy > Songs > The Barley Straw
> Shirley Collins > Songs > The Barley Straw
> The Young Tradition > Songs > The Barley Straw

The Barley Straw

[ Roud 19112 ; Ballad Index K188 ; trad.]

Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams The Foggy Dew Vaughan Williams in Norfolk Volume 2 Songs of the West

The Barley Straw is a song from the repertoire of Norfolk singer Harry Cox. A live performance at the Windmill in Sutton, Norfolk, was recorded by E.J. Moeran and broadcast on the BBC Third Programme in late 1947. It was also included in 2012 on the Snatch'd from Oblivion CD East Anglia Sings. And Alan Lomax recorded Harry Cox singing The Barley Straw in London in November 1953. This recording was included in 2000 on Harry Cox's Rounder anthology What Will Become of England?. Peter Kennedy noted in the latter album's booklet:

Here’s a song, like The Farmer’s Servant (Rap-a-Tap-Tap), of the bawdier kind that Harry enjoyed singing to shock the pretty young ladies. In 1895, the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould had asked his literary collaborator, Fleetwood Sheppard, to rewrite the text for publication in their Songs of the West, but in 1975 we included it, as sung by Harry, in Folksongs of Britain and Ireland. It was the tenth song that Harry recorded for the BBC at the 1947 session at The Windmill, and he sang it immediately after Charger Salmon’s The Rigs of the Time.

Other versions were collected in 1910 by Ralph Vaughan Williams at Southwold, Suffolk, and more recently in the 1970s by Peggy Seeger and Ewan McColl from Nelson Ridley, an English Gypsy [collected in 1974; printed in 1977 Travellers' Songs from England and Scotland, #18]. We also recorded it from the great Scottish ballad singer Jeannie Robertson, as Davy Faa. As far as we know, to date no version from Ireland has appeared.

Sam Larner sang a fragment of The Barley Straw to Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker in 1958-60. It was included in 2014 on his Musical Traditions anthology Cruising Round Yarmouth.

Denny Smith sang The Barley Straw (Davy Faa) in his caravan at Walham Tump beside the river Severn at Gloucester on 8 May 1966. Biggun Smith sang the same song in The Fisherman bar at Beachley Ferry, Gloucestershire, on 3 January 1967. Both recordings made by Peter Shepheard were included in 2000 on Wiggy Smith and the Smith family's Musical Traditions anthology Band of Gold. Rod Stradling noted:

This is, of course, the same ballad as the Gaberlunzie Man, Clinkin’ o’er the Lea, Jolly Beggarman, etc. It was supposedly written about (even, some traditions would have it, by) King James V of Scotland—which would date it at around 1525 … quite an old song, then! Well over half of Roud’s 119 instances are from books, with surprisingly few broadsides. Does this mean that it was of more appeal to folklorists than to commercially-minded printers with a living to make? There are also surprisingly many (30) sound recordings—some quite recent.

As a Scottish song, it’s obvious that we should find most of the big names north of the border with it in their repertoires, and that it’s well known to Travellers—but I’d not expected the likes of Harry Cox or Shepherd Haden to have sung it. Only a handful of versions have crossed the Atlantic, despite all the Scots in North America.

These two present versions are extremely unusual as English songs in that, together with only Sharp’s 1909 collection of Shadrach Haden, they name the beggar as David Faa. Might he have some connection with that Faa who, in 1540, obtained from James V of Scotland a decree granting Gypsies various rights and privileges?

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 noted on the original album:

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 noted:

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 noted on the album's 1973 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.

Ken Wilson sang The Barley Straw on his 2018 CD Portraits. He noted:

I got this song from the singing of The Young Tradition, who recorded it in 1973. They cite Harry Cox as their source.

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.

Lyrics

Denny Smith sings The Barley Straw (Davy Faa)

Now there was a noted farmer lived near the sycamore tree
He had the finest daughter that ever your eyes did see
That neither time nor night nor day but he had her in his mind
An’ a many a darling sweetheart shall bear his company.

Now he dressed hisself as a tinker, the budget at his back
And for to seek his lodgings he goes to the farmer’s gate
“Oh have you any pots or pans or candlesticks to mend
Or have you any lodgings for I’m a single man?”

Now the farmer gave him lodgings and little he thought any harm
And for to make this tinker’s bed this maid goes to the barn
But for to make this tinker’s bed it being a fellow content
She played this young man’s fancy and her father’s discontent.

Now this young man he being a nimble young man he nimblye barred the door
He caught this fair maid by her waist to fling her on the floor
He caught this fair maid by her waist to fling her on the floor [amongst the barley straw]
No nor he would not let her go to [’til] he had his will of her.

“Now its pray you’ve had your will of me, oh pray tell me your name
And when the baby that is borned it may be called the same.”
She softlye whispered in his ear, she named it David Faa
In remembrance of a long merry night in amongst the barley straw.

Now it’s about sixteen weeks been spent and gone, this maid looked pale and wan
Now her mother tamed afflictions as first it did her begun
Saying, “Who is this my daughter dear that has done you this harm?”
“I’m afraid it been the tinker as slep’ in our barn.”

“Now he been the bravest tinker that ever your eyes did see
He gave me forty guineas to pay the nurses wi’
But if it chanced to be a boy though it shall be as much more
In remembrance of a long merry night and the barring of the door.”

Biggun Smith sings The Barley Straw (Davy Faa)

Now there was an eldred farmer lived near the sycamore tree
He had the finest daughter dear that ever your eyes did see
With neither night nor time, me boy, that I had her in my mind
An’ a merry a gallant sweetheart would bear my company.

Sure he dressed hisself as a tinker and his budget at his back
And for to seek his lodgings he goes to the farmer’s door
“Have you any pots or kettles or candlesticks to mend
Sure have you any lodgings for I’m a single man?”

Sure the farmer gave him lodgings but little he think any harm
For whose to make the tinker’s bed the maid goes to the barn
This tinker being an able young man he simplye barred the door
And he tore the fair maid by the waist and flung her on the floor.

“Sure he was the bravest tinker boy that ever your eyes did see
He gave me forty guineas to pay the nurses wi’
An if it chance to be a boy it shall be his much more
In the merifance [remembrance] of a long merry night amongst the barley straw.”

Sure the baby was bornt and baptised and namèd David Faa
The baby was bornt and baptised and namèd David Faa
In the merifance [remembrance] of a long merry night amongst the barley straw.

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 from the singing of Martin Carthy by Garry Gillard.