At school in the 1950s we sang in all innocence this version of A-Roving, collected and ‘cleaned up’ by Cecil Sharp. It has none of the rousing, bawdy original, but of course we liked it anyway, never questioning what the lady’s trade was or why roving had caused the young man’s ruin.
In the folk clubs of the 1960s the versions were slightly more robust, but never ventured much further than ‘I put my hand upon her toe, She said, Young man you’ve far to go.’
The Three Ravens was first printed by Thomas Ravenscroft in 1611, but the song is thought to be much older. It survives to this day in several versions, particularly in Scotland. I sang ‘lack’ rather than lake in verse 4 for the sake of the rhyme. Leman in the final verse means sweetheart or truelove.
Edward Frederick Brewtnall painted The Three Ravens in 1885.
George Dowden of Lackington, Dorset sang Peggy & The Soldier to Henry Hammond, who with his brother Robert cycled a series of long tours in Dorset collecting over 600 songs in the early 1900s.
The prolific Charles Dibdin’s 1790 theatre production ‘The Wags’ was a huge success. Jack In His Element was one of the 26 musical items he wrote for it and which, in the fullness of time, found its way onto the humbler broadside presses.
Frederick Fennemore, Portsmouth Workhouse, Hampshire, sang The Dockyard Gate to George Gardiner on August, 1907. ‘The Seven Dials Rapscallions’ provide a shudderingly realistic picture of 19th century dockyard life that matches the song.
The Sheep-Stealer, from Mrs Edith Sartin, Corscombe, Dorset and George Dowden, Lackington, was collected by Robert & Henry Hammond, 1905.
Many thanks to Adriana Aprati for her apt and evocative photograph.
Sung to Cecil Sharp by Walter Locock (78) at Martock, Somerset, 22 January 1906.