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Dabbling in the Dew / Rolling in the Dew / The Milkmaid's Song

[ Roud 298 ; G/D 4:812 ; trad.]

Shirley Collins sang Dabbling in the Dew, accompanying herself on autoharp, in a recording made by Peter Kennedy on the 1955 HMV album Folksong Today. This track was also included in 2002 on her Fledg'ling anthology Within Sound. The original album's sleeve notes commented:

Shirley, who works in a London coffee bar, learnt most of her songs at home in Sussex. She is a young girl with a modern approach to folk music, laying an automatic zither across her knee and pressing buttons to select accompanying chords:—

Oh, where are you going to, my pretty little dear
With your red rosy cheeks and your coal black hair?

Bob Copper recorded Rolling in the Dew from Leslie Johnson for the BBC in between 1954 and 1957. This recording was included in 1977 on the Topic album Songs and Southern Breezes: Country Singers from Hampshire and Sussex.

George ‘Pop’ Maynard sang Rolling in the Dew at home in Copthorne, Sussex, on December 3, 1955. This recording made by Peter Kennedy for the BBC was released in 1976 on Maynard's Topic album Ye Subjects of England: Traditional Songs from Sussex. Another recording made by Reg Hall and Mervyn Plunkett in The Cherry Tree in Copthorne on February 4, 1956 was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology Who's That at My Bed Window? (The Voice of the People Series Volume 10). A third recording made by Brian Matthews on May 18, 1960 at The Cherry Tree was included in 2000 on Maynard's Musical Traditions album Down the Cherry Tree, and in 2001 on the Musical Traditions anthology Just Another Saturday Night. Rod Stradling commented in the latter album's booklet:

There are 109 Roud entries for this song, 16 of which are sound recordings, though only five singers contributed to this total. The vast majority of entries are from England (63) with those from Shropshire, Staffordshire and Lincolnshire being the most northerly. Sussex and Somerset account for most of the others, but all the latter were collected by Sharp, so this could be somewhat misleading. However, Scotland can boast 11 versions and the USA, 17.

Unusually, most of the entries refer to a named singer, but of the 80 or so of these only a very few will be known to most readers—Pop, Jeannie Robertson, Joseph Taylor, George Dunn … that's about it. I've heard of very few of the others. Maybe this is an easy song to learn and remember, so that someone who didn't know anything else could trot it out for the roving collector … or maybe it was one of the titles Mr Sharp listed when he asked the singer “D'you know any of those old folk songs? You know, songs like Rolling in the Dew?” I offer this suggestion purely on the evidence that he collected 31 of these examples!

Jeannie Robertson sang Rollin' in the Dew on her 1960 Collector album, Lord Donald. Hamish Henderson commented in the album's sleeve notes:

Scotland, like Ireland, has a rich store of English folksongs which have found their way into alien surroundings and have become acclimatised to a greater or lesser extent among the bens, glens and bothies. Rollin' in the Dew is a curious example of a song which is in process of assimilation, and still bears unmistakeable marks of its southern origin… In 1958, in the Royal Festival Hall, Jeanne made a hit with this song after Sussex veteran, Pop Maynard, had given his own fine traditional version.

Danny Brazil sang Rolling in the Dew at The Pelican, Gloucester, on January 5, 1967. This recording by Peter Shepheard was included in 2007 on the Brazil Family's Musical Tradition anthology Down By the Old Riverside.

George Dunn sang Rolling in the Dew in a recording made by Roy Palmer on June 5, 1971. It was published in 2002 on Dunn's Musical Traditions anthology Chainmaker.

John Kirkpatrick and Sue Harris sang The Milkmaid's Song in 1974 on their Topic album The Rose of Britain's Isle.

George Withers sang Dabbling in the Dew at Horton, Somerset in 1995. This recording was originally released on a Veteran cassette, and was included in 2005 on the Veteran CD It Was on a Market Day—One. Mike Yates commented in the liner notes:

The theme of this song dates back to the 14th century and in some versions, it is ‘strawberry leaves’, not ‘dabbling in the dew’, that ‘makes the milkmaids fair’. In the 19th century it became popular all over Southern England and was published in Nursery Rhymes of England by J.O. Halliwell in 1842. George Butterworth found in it Sussex, Ralph Vaughan Williams noted it down in Cambridgeshire and Herefordshire and Cecil Sharp discovered it to be particularly popular in the West Country: between 1904 and 1907 he noted it down from nine singers in Somerset alone. In Inglesham, Wiltshire the song was also used as a finale to the Christmas Mumming play.

Jon Loomes sang Rolling in the Dew in 2005 on his Fellside CD Fearful Symmetry.

Andy Turner learned Rolling in the Dew from Pop Maynard's version. He sang it as the September 13, 2014 entry of his blog A Folk Song a Week.

Lyrics

George ‘Pop’ Maynard sings Rolling in the Dew

“Oh where are you going to, my pretty fair maid
With your red, rosy cheeks and your coal-black hair?”
“I'm a-going a-milking, kind sir,” she answered me,
“For rolling in the dew makes the milkmaid fair.”
“I'm a-going a-milking, kind sir,” she answered me,
“For rolling in the dew makes the milkmaid fair.”

“Oh may I go with you? …”
“Why surely you can please yourself …”

“Then supposing I should lie you down …”
“Why surely I'd get up again …”

“Then supposing I should dirt your gown …”
“Why surely it would wash again …”

“Then supposing you should have a child …”
“Why surely you would father it …”

“Then what should we do for a cradle my darling
Oh what should we do for a cradle, my dear?”
“My father is a basket maker, kind sir …”

“Then what should we do for linen my darling
Oh what should we do for linen, my dear?”
“My brother is a linen-draper, kind sir …”

“Then supposing I should run away …”
“May the devil fetch you back again …”

George Withers sings Dabbling in the Dew

“Oh where are you going to my pretty little dear
With your red rosy cheeks and your coal black hair?”
“I'm going a-milking, kind sir,” she answered me,
“And it's dabbling in the dew makes the milk maids fair.”

“Suppose I were to feed you my pretty little dear
With dainties on silver the whole of the year?”
“Oh no sir, oh no sir, kind sir,” she answered me,
“For it's dabbling in the dew makes the milk maids fair.”

“Suppose I were to clothe you my pretty little dear
In silks and in satins the whole of the year?”
“Oh no sir, oh no sir, kind sir,” she answered me,
“For it's dabbling in the dew makes the milk maids fair.”

“Suppose I were to carry you my pretty little dear
In a chariot with horses a gay gallant pair?”
“Oh no sir, oh no sir, kind sir,” she answered me,
“For it's dabbling in the dew makes the milk maids fair.”

“Ah but London's a city my pretty little dear
And all men are gallant and brave that are there.”
“Oh no sir, oh no sir, kind sir,” she answered me,
“For it's dabbling in the dew makes the milk maids fair.”

“Oh fine clothes and dainties and carriages so rare
Bring grey to the cheeks and silver to the hair.
What's a ring on the finger when rings are round the eyes
For it's dabbling the dew makes the milk maids fair.”