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The Spotted Cow

[ Roud 956 ; Ballad Index K142 ; Bodleian Roud 956 ; Wiltshire 967 ; trad.]

The Spotted Cow is a song from the repertoire of Norfolk singer Harry Cox. Peter Kennedy recorded him singing this song at home in Catfield, Norfolk, in October 1953. This recording was included in 1965 on his EFDSS LP Traditional English Love Songs and in 2000 on his Rounder CD What Will Become of England?.

Peter Bellamy sang The Spotted Cow on his third solo LP, The Fox Jumps Over the Parson's Gate. He accompanied himself on Anglo concertina. A.L. Lloyd commented in the album's sleeve notes:

This innocent idyllic tone and the bits of literary phrase—“cot”, “swain” and such—suggest that this song wasn't made by a country labourer but by an educated amateur writing “in the folk manner”. And so on examination it proves to be. It was written for the London pleasure gardens, appearing on a Vauxhall Gardens song-sheet in the 1740s and again at Ranelagh Gardens in the 1760s (with the locale fashionably moved to Scotland so that it concerns a swain named Jamie on the banks of the Tweed). It reappeared as a Regency parlour ballad in Fairburne's Everlasting Songster. It dropped out of fashionable use by the mid-nineteenth century, but country-folk retained their affection for it right up to the present, and it has turned up in Devon and Somerset, in Oxfordshire and Yorkshire, and of course in Norfolk, where Peter Bellamy found it in the repertoire of Harry Cox.

The Spotted Cow is printed in both The Copper Family Song Book and in Bob Copper's book A Song for Every Season John Copper sang it on the Copper Family's 1971 four-album box set A Song for Every Season.

Steeleye Span learned Spotted Cow from the singing of Harry Cox too and recorded it in 1972 for their third album, Below the Salt. A live recording from Perth Concert Hall in 1985 was released in 2001 on the CD Gone to Australia. Another version recorded live in 1986 was released on both the Progressive Records / Park Records CD reissue of the album Back in Line and on the CD Steeleye Span in Concert.

The Below the Salt sleeve notes set the mood with:

I first saw her through the swirling mists that rose from the Thames, her body illuminated by the gas-lamp beneath which she stood. Her imitation jewellery reflected the hissing flame and I could just discern the long slit in her skirt and the badly applied rouge on her cheeks. As I neared her she turned towards me in a practised manner. “I've lost my spotted cow,” she said in a voice coarsened by the inclement weather but still retaining the charm of a country accent. I looked at her, suddenly moved. “What brought you to this sorry state?” I asked.

Bob Arnold sang The Spotted Cow on the 1973 Argo Records compilation The World of Folk Vol. 2.

Frank Hinchliffe sang The Spotted Cow at home in July 1976 to Mike Yates and Ruairidh and Alvina Greig. This recording was included a year later on his Topic album of traditional songs from South Yorkshire, In Sheffield Park, and in 2001 on the Musical Traditions anthology of songs from the Mike Yates Collection, Up in the North and Down in the South. Mike Yates commented in the latter album's booklet:

The Spotted Cow was printed in The Vocal Library in 1822, although this may not have been its earliest printing. Originally a stage song for the Pleasure Gardens of the late 18th century, it has remained popular with folksingers down the ages; 85 examples are shown in Roud, including 11 sound recordings. Joseph Taylor, the Copper Family, Bob Lewis and Harry Cox all sang it. […]

Frank [Hinchliffe] believed that several generations of his family had sung it—and Frank Kidson heard it in Yorkshire from Charles Lolley at the turn of the last century. This performance is an excellent example of the truly expressive quality of Frank's singing, in both tone and phrasing.

Bob Lewis sang The Spotted Cow on the 1995 Veteran CD of traditional singing from the South East of England, When the May Is All in Bloom. John Howson commented in the album notes:

The Spotted Cow first appeared in print in a garland (an eight-page booklet) of the second half of the eighteenth century. It is mentioned in Thomas Hardy's 1891 Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Tess heard her mother “singing, in a vigorous gallopede, the favourite ditty The Spotted Cow while simultaneously wringing out the washing and rocking a child in its cradle.” Bob learned the song from his mother.

It is often thought of as the archetypal idyllic rural folk song although it was town-made. It was certainly popular in rural areas and has been collected all over the country by all the major collectors over the past hundred years, including Baring-Gould (1889 in Devon), Kidson (1891 in Yorkshire), Sharp (1904 in Somerset), Hammond (1907 in Hampshire), Grainger (1908 in Lincolnshire) and Williams (1923 in Wiltshire).

The most well known version is that of of Norfolk's Harry Cox which can be heard on What Will Become of England while Mike recorded it from South Yorkshire's Frank Hinchliffe and [in] Sussex the song was also well documented: a classic recording was made of Jim Copper singing it; and Bob Copper recorded it from George Attrill at Fittleworth, 1954.

Sally Dexter sang The Spotted Cow in 1995 on the Mellstock Band's album Songs of Thomas Hardy's Wessex. Andy Turner, who had been singing other songs on this album too, said he learned The Spotted Cow from Steeleye Span's album and from Bob Copper's book A Song for Every Season. He sang it as the May 3, 2015 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Celtic Brews sang The Spotted Cow in 1997 on their CD Could Be Worse.

Danny Spooner sang The Spotted Cow on his 2013 CD Gorgeous, Game Girls. He noted:

A gentle amorous encounter instigated by the young woman. The song appears in a number of versions in various traditional song collections of the British Isles, including that of the Copper Family of [Rottingdean] in Sussex.

The Dollymopps sang The Spotted Cow in 2011 on their album of traditional songs from the Isle of Wight collected by W.H. Long, Long Songs.

This video shows Matt Quinn singing The Spotted Cow at the Singing Together club in Doncaster early in 2017:


John Copper sings Spotted Cow

One morning in the month of May
As from my cott I strayed
𝄆 Just at the dawning of the day
I met with a charming maid 𝄇

“Good morning, fair maid, fair weather,” said I,
“And early tell me now.”
𝄆 The maid replied, “Kind Sir,” she said,
“I've lost my spotted cow.” 𝄇

“No longer weep, no longer mourn,
Your cow's not lost, my dear,
𝄆 I saw her down in yonder grove,
Come love and I'll show you where.” 𝄇

Then in the grove we spent our time
And thought it passed too soon,
𝄆 At night we homeward made our way
When brightly shone the moon. 𝄇

Next day we went to view the plough
Across the flowery dale,
𝄆 We loved and kissed each other there
And love was all our tale. 𝄇

If I should cross the flowery dale
All for to view the plough,
𝄆 She comes, she calls me, “Gentle swain,
I've found my spotted cow.” 𝄇

Peter Bellamy sings The Spotted Cow Steeleye Span's Spotted Cow

One morning in the month of May,
As from my cot I strayed,
Just at the dawning of the morn
That's I met with a charming maid.

One morning in the month of May,
As from my cot I strayed,
Just at the dawning of the day
I met with a charming maid.

“Good morn, fair maid, and wither d'you stray
So early? Tell me now.”
This maid replied, “Kind sir,” she cried,
“I have lost my spotted cow.”

“Good morning to you, wither?” said I,
“Good morning to you now.”
The maid replied, “Kind sir” she cried,
“I've lost my spotted cow.”

“No longer weep and no longer mourn,
For your cow is not lost, my dear,
I saw her down in yonder grove,
Come, love, and I'll show you where.”

“No longer weep, no longer mourn,
Your cow's not lost, my dear,
I saw her down in yonder grove,
Come, love, and I'll show you where.”

“I must confess and you're so very kind,
You're so very kind,” said she.
“It's there you're sure your cow to find,
Come, sweetheart, and walk with me.”

“I must confess you're very kind,
I thank you, sir,” said she.
“We will be sure her there to find,
Come, sweetheart, go with me.”

And in the grove they spent the day,
They thought it passed to soon.
At night they homeward bent their way,
While brightly shone the moon.

So if I cross the farther's glen
Or go to view the plough,
She's sure to call her gentle swain,
“I have lost my spotted cow.”

If he should cross the flowery dale
Or go to view the plough,
She comes and calls, “You gentle swain,
I've lost my spotted cow.”


Thanks to Patrick Montague for correcting the lyrics.