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The Pretty Ploughboy

[ Roud 186 ; Laws M24 ; G/D 1:170 ; Ballad Index LM24 ; trad.]

Harry Cox of Catsfield, Norfolk, recorded The Pretty Ploughboy at the Decca Studios, London, for the EFDSS in 1934. It was released on a 78rpm disc then, and was included in 1998 both on the EFDSS anthology A Century of Song and on the Topic anthology My Ship Shall Sail the Ocean (The Voice of the People Volume 2). Another recording, made by Peter Kennedy in London in December 1953, was published in 2000 on Cox's Rounder CD What Will Become of England?. A third version, recorded by Charles Parker and Ewan MacColl in the mid-1960s, was included in 2000 too on Cox's Topic anthology The Bonny Labouring Boy. Steve Roud commented in the latter album's notes:

A somewhat conventional story-line of faithful and persistent love has not prevented this being an extremely popular song, with versions collected all over England, Scotland, and Ireland, and others in Canada and the USA. The Edwardian collectors, such as Sharp, Merrick, Greig, and Vaughan Williams noted it often, and more recent recordings include those from Walter Pardon and Fred Jordan. It was equally popular on broadsides, with examples from nearly all the well-known 19th century printers, including Catnach and Pitts, which prove its existence in the 1820s, but there is no evidence of it being any older.

Peter Shepheard recorded Lemmie Brazil singing The Pretty Ploughing Boy in May 1966, and Harry Brazil in October 1967. Both versions were included in 2007 on the Musical Traditions anthology of the Brazil Family, Down By the Old Riverside.

Royston Wood sang The Pretty Ploughboy in 1967 on The Young Tradition's second album, So Cheerfully Round. He also sang it on November 17, 1968 at the Young Tradition concert at Oberlin College, Ohio, that was published in 2013 on their Fledg'ling CD Oberlin 1968. He commented in the original album's liner notes:

I learned The Pretty Ploughboy from an archive recording of that superb old stylist, Harry Cox. This kind of ballad is a challenge to a singer; it dares you to experiment, to decorate, but gives you plenty of scope to accept its challenge. In this sort of ballad you are a narrator and singer; and to tell the story convincingly is as important as to be able to sing. For a busy suburban revivalist singer, material such as this, from singers of Harry Cox's quality, is a vital part of learning one's trade.

Packie Manus Byrne sang The Jolly Ploughboy in a recording made by Tony Engle and Mike Yates in London in 1974. It was released in 1977 on his Topic album Songs of a Donegal Man. Mike Yates commented in the sleeve notes:

Packie Byrne once told me that he recalled seeing broadside sellers in the west of Ireland peddling their sheets at country fairs as late as 1935. The Jolly Ploughboy was one such song which was printed over and over again. Many Irish printers called it The Irish Ploughboy and one version appeared in P.W. Joyce’s Old Irish Folk Music and Songs (1909). Packie’s words are similar to those in Joyce’s book and also to the set which Daniel O’Keefe included in his First Book of Irish Ballads (1955) although his tune, which came from his mother, appears to be unique. Packie’s version of this song, which has always proved popular in the folk clubs, was recently included in a collection of occupational songs, The Iron Man, edited by Michael Dawney in 1975.

Walter Pardon sang The Pretty Ploughboy in a home recording by Bill Leader on February 12, 1977 on his Leader LP Our Side of the Baulk and in another Bill Leader recording from June 8, 1974 on his Topic CD A World Without Horses.

Bob Lewis sang The Pretty Ploughboy to Mike Yates at Patcham, Sussex in 1989. This recording was released in 1990 on his Veteran Tapes cassette A Sweet Country Life, and was included in 2005 on the Veteran anthology of English traditional folk singers, It Was on a Market Day—One. Mike Yates commented in the booklet notes:

Bob had this well-known and well-loved song from his mother. It's one of those songs about true lovers overcoming all that is put in their way, so that the couple can be united at the end. Just about every known 19th century broadside printer issued the song (the earliest being from around 1820) and versions have been collected from singers throughout Britain, Ireland, Scotland, Canada and America.

Fred Jordan sang The Jolly Ploughboy on his 1991 VWML cassette, In Course of Time.

Eliza Carthy sang and played an abridged version of Pretty Ploughboy in 2002 on her record Anglicana together with John Spiers, melodeon, Jon Boden, fiddle, Barnaby Stradling, acoustic bass, and Donald Hay, drums, percussion, hammer and girders. She commented in the album's sleeve notes:

I love the fact that she grabs him at the end of the song and doesn't let go; not only does she go find her true love and rescue him from the press gang, but she pays for him as well, and we all know how girls are with bargains. Harry Cox sang this.

Mike Bosworth sang The Simple Ploughboy in 2004 on his CD of songs from the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould collection, By Chance It Was. He commented in his liner notes:

From the singing of J. Masters of Bradstone, Devon. There were broadside versions of this but Sabine claimed how superior this version was from an unlettered countryman

Bill Whaley and Dave Fletcher sang The Pretty Ploughboy, and Bruce Molsky sang The Simple Ploughboy, in 2005 on the Fellside anthology of English traditional songs and their American variants, Song Links 2.

Stephanie Hladowski sang The Pretty Ploughboy in 2012 on her and Chris Joynes' CD The Wild Wild Berry. They give as their source Harry Cox's recording from 1934.

Note: The Copper Family's The Brisk Young Ploughboy, also sung by the Watersons as The Brave Ploughboy, is quite another song with a harvest supper theme.

Lyrics

Harry Cox sings The Pretty Ploughboy

It's of a brisk young ploughboy, he was ploughing on the plain,
And his horses stood down in yonder shade.
It was down in yonder grove, he went whistling to his plough,
And by chance there he met a pretty maid, pretty maid,
And by chance there he met a pretty maid.

So the song that he sang as they walked along,
“Pretty maid, oh, you are of high degree.
If I should fall in love and your parents they should prove,
Oh, the next thing they would send me to the sea, to the sea,
And the next thing they would send me to the sea.”

So when her aged parents they came for to know
That her love he was ploughing on the plain,
They sent for the press gang and pressed her love away.
And they sent him to the wars to be slain, to be slain,
And they sent him to the wars to be slain.

So she dressed herself up all in that's her best
And her pockets had been well lined with gold.
You should see her trudge the streets with a tear all in her eye.
She was searching for her jolly sailor bold, sailor bold,
She was searching for her jolly sailor bold.

So the first that she met was a jolly sailor bold.
“Have you seen my pretty ploughing boy?” she cried.
“He's just across the deep and he's sailing for the fleet.”
And he said, “My pretty maid, will you ride, will you ride?”
And he said, “My pretty maid, will you ride?”

So she sailed until she came to the ship her love was in
And unto the Captain did complain.
She said, “I'm come in search for my pretty ploughing boy,
Who was sent to the wars to be slain, to be slain,
Who was sent to the wars to be slain.”

So five hundred bright guineas she then did lay down,
And so freely she told them all o'er,
Until she got her pretty ploughboy all in her arms,
And she hugged him till she got him safe on shore, safe on shore.
And she hugged him till she got him safe on shore.

She set those bells to ring and so sweetly she did sing,
Just because she'd saved the lad that she adore, she adore,
Just because she'd saved the lad that she adore.

Royston Wood sings The Pretty Ploughboy

It's of a brisk young ploughboy, was ploughing on the plain,
And his horses stood down in yonder shade.
It was down in yonder grove, he went whistling to his plough
And by chance there he met a pretty maid, pretty maid,
And by chance there he met a pretty maid.

Then this young lad did sing as they walked along,
“Pretty maid, oh, you are of high degree.
If I should fall in love the mind your parents disapprove
And the next thing they would send me to the sea, to the sea,
And the next thing they would send me to the sea.”

And when her aged parents they came for to know
That her love he was ploughing on the plain,
They sent for the press gang and pressed her love away
And they pressed him to the wars to be slain, to be slain,
And they pressed him to the wars to be slain.

So she dressed herself up all in her best
And her pockets had been well lined with gold.
You should see her trudge the streets with a tear all in her eye;
She was searching for her jolly sailor bold, sailor bold,
She was searching for her jolly sailor bold.

So the first man that she met was a jolly sailor bold.
“Have you seen my pretty ploughing boy?” she cried,
“Oh, he's just across the sea and he's sailing for the fleet.”
He said, “My pretty maid, will you ride, you ride?”
He said, “My pretty maid, will you ride?”

So she sailed until she came to the ship her love was in
And unto the Captain did complain.
She said, “I've come in search for my pretty ploughing boy,
Who was pressed into the wars to be slain, to be slain,
Who was pressed into the wars to be slain.”

So four hundred bright guineas she then did lay down,
And so freely she told them all o'er
Until she got her pretty ploughboy all in her arms,
And she hugged him till she got him safe on shore, safe on shore.
And she hugged him till she got him safe on shore.

And she set the bells to ring and so merry she did sing,
Just because she's saved the lad that she adore, she adore,
Just because she's saved the lad that she adore.

Eliza Carthy sings Pretty Ploughboy

It's of a brisk young ploughboy, he was ploughing on the plain,
And his horses stood down in yonder shade.
It was down in yonder grove he went whistling to his plough,
And by chance there he met a pretty maid, pretty maid,
And by chance there he met a pretty maid.

And when her aged parents they both came for to know
That her love he was ploughing on the plain,
They sent for the press gang and sent her love away,
And they sent him to the wars to be slain, to be slain,
And they sent him to the wars to be slain.

So she sailed till she came to the very ship she thought her love lay in
And unto the Captain she did complain.
She says, “I'm come in search for my pretty ploughing boy,
Who was sent unto the wars to be slain, to be slain,
Who was sent unto the wars to be slain.”

So four hundred bright guineas with her hand she did lay down,
And so freely she told them out all o'er,
Until she got her pretty ploughboy all in her arms,
And she hugged him till she got him safe on shore, safe on shore.
And she hugged him till she got him safe on shore.

And she set those bells to ring and so sweetly she did sing,
Just because she saved the lad that she adored, she adored,
Just because she saved the lad that she adored.

Acknowledgements

Eliza Carthy's version was transcribed by Kira White. Thank you!