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A Blacksmith Courted Me / The Blacksmith

[ Roud 816 ; Ballad Index K146 ; VWML LEB/5/267/1 , RoudFS/S393817 ; Bodleian Roud 816 ; trad.]

Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams The Idiom of the People The Folk Handbook The Seeds of Love Traveller's Joy Travellers' Songs from England and Scotland The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs

Phoebe Smith sang A Blacksmith Courted Me to Peter Kennedy in her home in Melton, Woodbridge, Suffolk, in 1958. This recording was included in 1994 on the Saydisc album Songs of the Travelling People. Another recording, made by Paul Carter and Frank Purslow in Melton in 1969 was included in 1970 on her LP Once I Had a True Love.

80 years old Tom Willett from Ashford, Middlesex, sang The Blacksmith Courted Me to Ken Stubbs in 1960 [VWML RoudFS/S393817] . A recording made in 1962 by Bill Leader and Paul Carter was released in the following year on the Willett Family's Topic album The Roving Journeymen. The album's notes commented:

This widely known English love song has been noted by Cecil Sharp and many other collectors. A version with somewhat similar text and tune, collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams [in 1909 from Mrs Ellen Powell of Westhope near Weobley, Herefordshire], appears in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. (It was from yet another set of this song that Vaughan Williams adapted the hymn tune Monksgate, used for To Be a Pilgrim.) Mr Willett sings verses two and three as three line stanzas. This practice of omitting a second line is fairly common amongst country singers.

The interesting tune is handled in masterly fashion by the aged singer, and is perhaps the prize piece of the record. Basically it is an aeolian-type hexatonic (six-note scale) melody; the seventh step appears only once and then as a passing note merely, and constitutes what ethnomusicologists, borrowing a term from Chinese theory, called a ‘pyen’ note.

Shirley Collins recorded this song three times with each time quite different verses. The first version she learned from Phoebe Smith and she recorded it in 1963 as A Blacksmith Courted Me for her EP Heroes in Love. Like all tracks of this EP, it was included in her compilation Fountain of Snow and on the CD reissue of The Sweet Primeroses. Her original EP's sleeve notes comment:

This well-loved lyric piece has often been collected, even very recently. […] Shirley's tune is based on a recording of the singer Phoebe Smith, collected by Peter Kennedy. A textual variant of the blacksmith theme is found as the song Our Captain Calls, and versions of this have tunes similar to the present one. It is from a set of the latter that Vaughan Williams developed the hymn tune Monksgate. Shirley introduces the final half stanza from a version of Our Captain Calls collected by Sharp.

Later, this track was also included in the Topic anthology English Originals and on the Shirley Collins compilation The Classic Collection.

Shirley Collins' second version with the generic title The Blacksmith is part of the Song Story (a.k.a. the Anthems in Eden suite) on her 1969 album Anthems in Eden. She is accompanied by a host of early instrument players. The whole Anthems in Eden suite was also part of her 1976 album Amaranth.

And Shirley Collins recorded this a third time during the Adieu to Old England sessions, accompanied by her sister Dolly on piano. But this recording was shelved and had to wait until 1992 for restricted release on the EP accompanying the Ptolemaic Terrascope Magazine Vol. 10 and until 1992 for it becoming a bonus track of the For As Many As Will CD reissue. Both the Anthems in Eden version and this recording were also included in 2002 on the Shirley Collins anthology Within Sound.

Danny Brazil sang A Blacksmith Courted Me to Peter Shepheard at Over Bridge, Gloucester on 9 May 1966, Harry Brazil did it three days later at the same place, and Tom Brazil sang it to Peter Shepheard at Newent, Gloucester on 14 May 1966. Theses three recordings were included in 2007 on the Brazil Family's Musical Traditions anthology Down By the Old Riverside. The anthology's booklet noted:

This was also sung by Hyram and Lemmie [Brazil]—so it's another Family favourite. It's a song much loved by English Gypsies; all of Roud's 51 entries are from England and the majority of the named singers have Gypsy surnames. It appears only to be found in the South—although that may just be the result of where collectors were active—and to have been rarely printed as a broadside; otherwise, I'm sure it would have been more widely known.

Another recording of Harry Brazil singing A Blacksmith Courted Me to Mike Yates in 1978 was included in 1979 on the Topic anthology of songs, stories and tunes from English Gypsies recorded by Yates, Travellers, and in 1998 on the Topic anthology My Father's the King of the Gypsies (The Voice of the People Volume 11). He noted:

The Rambling Irishman is a popular and well-loved song among travellers, as is A Blacksmith Courted Me. Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger have identified a verse from the latter as being part of a 17th-century broadside, A Dialogue Between a Town Spark and His Miss, which Tom D'Urfey included in his Pills to Purge Melancholy (1719). Harry's tune, as is usual, is similar to that found in Sussex by Ralph Vaughan Williams and subsequently used by him for his setting of the Bunyan him To Be a Pilgrim.

Queen Caroline Hughes sang A Blacksmith Courted Me to Peter Kennedy in her caravan near Blandford, Dorset, on 19 April 1968. This recording was included in 2012 on the Topic anthology I'm a Romany Ray (The Voice of the People Volume 22). Shirley Collins noted:

It certainly was a popular song with the Gypsy singers and is one of the finest love songs in the English tradition. Caroline invariably brought something intriguing to a song, and this is no exception, as she sings “he makes the sparkles fly all around my middle”.

Sandra Kerr sang The Blacksmith in 1968 on The Critic Group's Argo album The Female Frolic.

Louis Killen recorded The Blacksmith in 1968 for his 1973 LP Sea Chanteys. He also sang in in a live recording at Caffe Lena (owner Lena Spencer), Phila St., Saratoga N.Y., that was released on the 1972 album Welcome to Caffe Lena.

Barbara Dickson sang The Blacksmith in a live folk club recording made in 1969-73 on her 2013 “folk club tapes” anthology B4 Seventy-Four.

There are quite a lot of Steeleye Span recordings of The Blacksmith, too. The first two line-ups of Steeleye Span recorded it for their albums Hark! The Village Wait (1970) and Please to See the King (1971). On the first recording, Maddy Prior's harsh tones are backed by Gay Woods' softer harmonies between the verses. The second version is tougher and more radical with Martin Carthy's slashing electric guitar chords instead of Gay's concertina; Maddy sounds rather more vengeful than sad. The first album's sleeve notes commented:

Collected in 1909 by Ralph Vaughan Williams from a Mrs. Powell in Herefordshire. Maddy collected this version from a number of texts in the Folk Song Journals. This Southern English song, like the better known Twanky-Dillo, uses the “blacksmith” as an epitome of virility with the hammer filling the bill as a phallic symbol. A close variant of this tune is used to the John Bunyan hymn, To Be a Pilgrim.

A live version of this song recorded in 1986 was released on the album Steeleye Span in Concert. Another live recording from The Forum, London on 2 September 1995 was released on the CD The Journey and a further live recording from Maddy Prior, Family & Friends Christmas tour of 1999 on the CD (but not the DVD) Ballads and Candles. Maddy Prior recorded another version of this song in 1992 for the Fellside anthology of English traditional songs, Voices; it was also included on the label's 30th anniversary anthology Landmarks.

Dave Burland sang The Blacksmith in 1971 on his first Trailer album, A Dalesman's Litany, and in 1996 on his CD Benchmark.

The Trugs sang The Blacksmith in 1971 on their Traditional Sound album And Boldly Go to Sea.

Planxty sang The Blacksmith in 1973 on their first, eponymous album Planxty.

Derek Sarjeant and Hazel King sang The Blacksmith on their 1976 album Hills & Dales.

Pentangle sang The Blacksmith in 1989 on their album So Early in the Spring.

Jo Freya sang A Blacksmith Courted Me in 1992 on her Saydisc album Traditional Songs of England. The liner notes commented:

This glorious tune was adapted by Vaughan Williams from the singing of Mrs. Verrall, formerly of Monksgate, Horsham, Sussex in 1904. He used it for his setting of Bunyan’s Pilgrim (‘He who would valiant be’) where it has now become immortalised as the hymn tune Monksgate. The blacksmith is sometimes a shoe-maker in variants collected in other parts of England. In a Herefordshire version the blacksmith has ‘his good black billycock on, decked with primroses’ which is somewhat more believable than the ‘He’s gone across the sea gathering primroses’ of verse 3. Another form of the song exists as Our Captain Calls which adopts the man’s viewpoint and raises the possibility that this is really an extended duet-type love song incorporating both songs.

The Hamburg-based group Boreen sang The Blacksmith in 1997 on their CD Enchanted Ways.

Hen Party sang The Blacksmith in 2002 on their WildGoose album The Heart Gallery.

Lisa Knapp learned The Blacksmith from the singing of Maddy Prior. She sang in 2002 on Gerry Diver's CD Diversions and in 2007 on her album Wild and Undaunted; this was also included on the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2008 anthology.

Seriouskitchen sang The Blacksmith on their 2002 CD Tig. They noted:

Nick [Hennessy] first heard this sung by Maddy Prior who will always be, for him, the voice of English Traditional song. Having heard her when he was a child, it would be true to say that she was his first real experience of unaccompanied singing, and her impact has endured. The power of her voice and the ruthlessness with which she sings this song were of particular inspiration to his own style. This version is cooked up and served in a new spicy way…

Martin Simpson played A Blacksmith Courted Me in 2005 on his Topic album Kind Letters. He noted:

The two instrumental pieces here are very different in nature. A Blacksmith Courted Me is well known as the air for To Be a Pilgrim, also known as Bunyan's Hymn. This version is based largely on the singing of the English Gypsy, Phoebe Smith who can be heard on Veteran Records. I drove from Sheffield to Robin Hood’s Bay on one occasion, listening to nothing but her performance and I think it is amongst the most virtuosic pieces of English traditional singing. In the studio I played the recorded air to Nancy Kerr and asked her to imagine that she was accompanying an old lady singer. Her viola and violin performances move me enormously.

Jane and Amanda Threlfall sang The Blacksmith on their 2007 CD Revisited. They noted:

From the singing of Shirley Collins.

The Blacksmith was very popular in the South of England at the beginning of the 20th century.

There are two distinct tunes to the song. This version:of the melody was collected from Mrs Jones of Weobley, Herefordshire, in July 1909 by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Emma Leather [VWML LEB/5/267/1] . Vaughan Williams remarked at the time that the tune was very similar to that of Our Captain Cried All Hands. However, he failed to collect any words.

The betrayer is a shoemaker in some versions.

Jon Boden sang A Blacksmith Courted Me as the 27 July 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He noted in the blog:

Having studied Old Norse literature at university I’m interested in the idea that the character of the blacksmith (who crops up in many folk songs) may be an oral-tradition descendant of Volundr (or Weland) the smith—a very significant cult figure on Norse and Anglo-Saxon heathenism. Certainly blacksmiths in folk song seem to have a slightly ‘outlandish’ other-worldly feel to them, whether they are jilting lovers or severing hands of rival suitors.

Paul and Liz Davenport sang A Blacksmith Courted Me in 2011 on their Hallamshire Traditions album Spring Tide Rising.

David Gibb and Elly Lucas recorded The Blacksmith in 2012 for their debut CD Old Chairs to Mend. Their promo video of this song can be found on YouTube:

Blowzabella sang Strange News (The Blacksmith) as the title track of their 2013 CD Strange News.

Nick Dow sang The Blacksmith in 2013 on his CD Old England's Ground.

Andy Turner sang The Blacksmith from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs as the 25 September 2014 entry of his blog A Folk Song a Week. He sang Tom Willett's version of The Blacksmith Courted Me as the 1 February 2020 entry of his blog A Folk Song a Week.

Damien O'Kane sang The Blacksmith on his 2015 album Areas of High Traffic.

Kim Lowings and the Greenwood sang The Blacksmith in 2015 on their CD Historia.

Stick in the Wheel sang The Blacksmith on their 2015 CD From Here.

German duo The Hoodie Crows learned The Blacksmith from the playing of Andy Irvine. They sang it on their 2016 CD On the Wing.

Lyrics

Danny Brazil sings A Blacksmith Courted Me

A blacksmith courted me nine long months and better,
At first he won my heart wroted me a letter;
With his hammer in his hand, he strike both neat and clever,
If I was with my love I would live for ever.

“Don't talk of going abroad, fighting for strangers,
You stay at home young man, free from all danger;
You stay at home young man, with your lovely jewel,
And fold me in your arms, love and don't be cruel.”

“You promised to marry me when you first laid by me,
You promised you'd marry me love, you'd not deny me.”
“If I promised to marry you it was only to try you,
Go and fetch your witness here, love, I won' deny you.”

“ Oh witness have I none, save the sky above me,
And you' be rewarded well for the slighting of me.”
Her lips grew pale and white, it made her poor heart tremble,
To think she loved that one that proved deceitful.

“ Now when I had gold in store, you seemed to like me,
But now I'm low and poor, all you're going to dislike me;
You courted me for a while, just to receive me,
But now my heart you have won, Love, you're going to leave me.”

My true love's across the sea, with a bunch of posies.
My true love's across the sea, with his cheeks like roses.
I'm afraid the rising sun will spoil his beauty,
If I was with my love, I would do his duty.

Sad news have come to tell, sad news is carried,
Sad news have come to tell that my true love's married;
I wish him well to-do, although he ain't here to hear me,
I would never die for love, young girls, believe me.

Down on the ground she fell, syphing and crying
Throwing her arms abroad like one a-dying;
There is no belief in a man, if it's your own brother,
So young girls when you love one, you love one each other.

Caroline Hughes sings A Blacksmith Courted Me

Oh, I courted a blacksmith's son, oh, nine months, oh, no longer,
Well, I proveded a child by he, oh, and that no other.
Oh, Willie was his name, and that no other.

With the hammer in his hand, cold iron in t'other,
Well, he made the sparkles fly all around my middle.

Oh, now, girls, If you proves in love, oh, love one each other.
Don't chuck your hands abroad, oh, and chuck your hearts to thousands.
If you're proper in love, love your own brother, too.

Well, I looked on into the glass; there my face was a-fading.
To think I loved a man which is so false-hearted,
And to think how I'd been served by loving of he.

Oh, you'll bring your witness, love. I blush like the roses.
Oh, witness I've got none but my Lord All-a-mighty,
And won't God punish you for slightening of me.

Oh, my love's gone across the fields fighting over strangers.
My love's a *** the hills, love, all in danger.
Well I'm 'fraid that the sun'll rise and spoil his beauty.

Now, young girls, you're in love, love one each other.
Don't chuck your hands abroad not to too many strangers,
And how happy I will be at our next now a-meeting.

(spoken:) A real Romany song. Every song I singing is a real Romany old-fashioned song.

Phoebe Smith sings A Blacksmith Courted Me

For a blacksmith he courted me, just nine months or better
Until he won my heart, wrote to me a letter.
With his hammer in his hand, strikes his blows so neat and clever
And if I were with my love, I'd live forever.

Now he talks about going abroad, fighting for strangers
And he'd better stay at home, and keep from all dangers
For you stay at home with me, my dearest jewel
And you stay at home with me, and don't prove cruel.

My true love's gone across the sea, gathering fine posies
My true love's gone across the sea, with his cheeks like roses
I'm afraid that broiling sun will spoil his beauty
And if I was with my love, I would do love's duty.

For it's once I had gold in store, they all seemed to like me
But now I'm low and poor, they all seem to slight me.
For there ain't no belief in a man, nor your own brother
So it's: girls, whenever you love, love one each other.

Shirley Collins sings A Blacksmith Courted Me on Heroes in Love

For a blacksmith courted me, nine months or better.
And he who gained my heart wrote me a letter.
With his hammer in his hand strikes his blows so clever
And if I was with my love, I'd live forever.

Now he talks of going abroad, fighting for strangers,
But he'll stay at home with me and free from dangers;
I'm afraid the broiling sun might spoil his beauty,
And if I was with my love, I'd do love's duty.

For when I had gold in store, you did invite me;
But now I'm low and poor, you mean to slight me.
For there is no trusting men, not my own brother,
And it's girls, if you would love, love one each other.

But dry off your brandy tears, and leave off weeping,
For it's happy we shall be at our next meeting.

Shirley Collins sings The Blacksmith on Anthems in Eden

Oh, a blacksmith courted me, I loved him dearly.
He played upon his pipes both neat and trimly,
With his hammer in his hand he strikes so steady
He makes the sparks to fly all round the smithy.

I love to watch my love with his hammer swinging,
I love to hear it fall on the anvil ringing.
The note is loud and clear, the sparks are flying,
My love is handsome then, there's no denying.

Where is my lover gone with his cheeks like roses?
He's gone across the fields gathering primeroses.
The sun doth shine too bright, it'll burn bis beauty
I will go seek my love to do my duty.

Strange news has come to town, strange news is carried,
Sad news flies up and down, my love is married.
I wish him well though he's my love no longer,
And yet I love him still, my blacksmith yonder.

What's the promise that you made me when you lay beside me?
You promised you'd marry me and not deny me.
It's witness I have none but the Almighty,
And he will punish you for slighting of me.

I looked in a glass, my head I shaked,
To think I loved a lad who was false-hearted.
I wish him well to do, he does not hear me,
I shall not die for love, he need not fear me.

Shirley Collins sings The Blacksmith Courted Me on For As Many As Will

For a blacksmith courted me, oh, for nine months and better.
And he fairly gained my heart, he wrote to me a letter.
With his hammer all in his hand which he strikes so mighty and clever
And if I was with my love, I'd live forever.

There my love is gone across the fields, gathering primeroses,
There he goes across the fields with his cheeks like roses.
I'm afraid the burning sun, oh, would scorch and spoil his beauty
But if I was with my love, I'd do love's duty.

Sad news has come to town, sad news is carried,
Sad news flies up and down that my love is married.
Still I wish him all both joy, oh, but he's not here for to hear me
I shall never die for love, love none relieve me.

What's the promise that you made me, oh, when you first knowed me?
You promised you'd marry me, you only said it to deny me.
Still I wish you all both joy, oh, but you're not here for to hear me
I shall never die for love, now men don't fear me.

Steeleye Span sing The Blacksmith

A blacksmith courted me, nine months and better.
He fairly won my heart, he wrote me a letter.
With his hammer in his hand he looked so clever
And if I were with my love I would live forever.

Oh where has my love gone with his cheeks like roses?
He's gone across the sea, gathering primroses.
I'm afraid the shining sun might burn and scorch his beauty
And if I were with my love I would do my duty.
Lala lalala lalalalala

Strange news has come to town, strange news is carried.
Strange news flies up and down that my love is married.
Oh I wish them both much joy though they don't hear me
And if I were with my love I would do my duty.

Oh what did you promise me when you lay beside me?
You said you'd marry me and not deny me.
If I said I'd marry you it was only to try you
So bring your witness love and I'll not deny you.
Lala lalala lalalalala

Oh witness have I none save God Almighty.
And may He reward you well for the slighting of me.
Her lips grew pale and wan, it made her poor heart tremble,
For to think she had loved one and he'd proved deceitful.

(repeat first verse)

Boreen sing The Blacksmith

A blacksmith courted me, nine months and better.
He fairly won my heart, wrote me a letter.
With his hammer in his hand he looked quite clever
And if I was with my love I'd live forever.

But where is my love gone, with his cheeks like roses?
And his good black billycup gone decked round with primroses.
I'm afraid the scorching sun will shine and burn his beauty
And if I was with my love I'd do my duty.

Strange news has come to town, strange news is carried.
Strange news flies up and down that my love is married.
I wish them both much joy though they can't hear me
And may God reward him well for the slighting of me

Don't you remember when you lay beside me?
And you said you'd marry me and not deny me.
If I said I'd marry you it was only for to try you
So bring your witness love and I'll not deny you.

Oh witness have I none save God Almighty.
And may He reward you well for the slighting of me.
Her lips grew pale and wan, it made her poor heart tremble,
To think she'd loved the one and he proved deceitful.

(repeat first verse)

Seriouskitchen sing The Blacksmith

A blacksmith courted me, nine months and better,
Well he fairly won my heart, he wrote me a letter.
With his hammer in his hand, oh he looked so good and clever
And if I were with my love, I would live forever.

I love to see my love with his hammer swinging,
I love to hear it fall on the anvil ringing.
For the note is loud and clear and sparks they go a flying,
My love is handsome then, there is no denying.

Oh but where is my love now, with his cheaks like roses,
And his big black billy cock on, decked with primroses?
Well I fear the shining sun would scorch and burn his beauty,
If I were with my love I would do my duty.

Strange news has come to town, strange news is carried,
Strange news flies up and down that my love is married.
I wish them both much joy though they do not hear me,
Oh if I were with my love I would do my duty.

What did you promise me when you lay there beside me?
Oh you said you'd marry me and you'd not deny me.
Well if I said I'd marry you, well it was only for to try you,
So bring your witness love and I will not deny you.

Oh but witness have I none, save God almighty
and may he reward you well for the slighting of me.
Well her lips grew pale and wan and her heart it did a tremble
To think she had loved one and he proved deceitful.

(repeat first verse)

References

See also the Mudcat Café discussion Origins: The Blacksmith