Willie o' Winsbury / Tom the Barber
Robert Cinnamond sang this ballad in a recording made by Diane Hamilton, probably in County Antrim and probably in 1961. It was included in 1975 with the title The Rich Shipowner's Daughter on his Topic LP You Rambling Boys of Pleasure and in 1998 as There Was a Lady Lived in the West on the Topic anthology It Fell on a Day, a Bonny Summer Day (The Voice of the People Series, Volume 17). Proinsias Ó Conluain noted:
“There was a lady lived in the west”, the first line of this song, introduces quite a number of different ballads. This one, in fact, is a version of Child 100; Willie O Winsbury. In some versions the young lady’s lover is named Willie Winchberrie, in others, Johnny Barbary.
It’s of interest that a Donegal version of the song, recorded by Dr. Hugh Shields (Folk Ballads from Donegal and Derry [see below]) has the title John Barbour—the surname very similar to the one used by Robert Cinnamond. In England, through mishearing, the lover is Tom the Barber.
Sweeney's Men—Andy Irvine, Johnny Moynihan and Terry Woods—recorded Willie o' Winsbury in 1968 for their first LP, Sweeney's Men. Johnny Moynihan's then girlfriend Anne Briggs recorded this ballad too in 1971 for her first solo album, Anne Briggs. A.L. Lloyd noted on her album:
English singers have called this Johnny Barbary or Tom the Barber, but from Somerset to Aberdeen its distinguishing feature is that the seduced girl's father—often, as here, the king—is so taken by the young man's looks that he forgives all. Cecil Sharp, publishing a West country version, suppresses this amiable but equivocal motif. Ah well. For those who care, this ballad is listed as Child 100. Johnny Moynihan adds his bouzouki to Anne's in the accompaniment.
As all recordings of Anne Briggs' album, this track was reissued on her Fellside and Topic compilation CDs, Classic Anne Briggs and A Collection. It was also included in the Topic compilation English and Scottish Folk Ballads and on the 2 CD anthology The Legend of Sweeney's Men.
Joe McCafferty of Co. Donegal sang John Barbour to Hugh Shields on 24 August 1969. This recording was included in 1975 on the Leader album Folk Ballads from Donegal and Derry.
Barbara Dickson sang Lord Thomas of Winesberry and the King's Daughter in 1971 on her album From the Beggar's Mantle… Fringed With Gold.
Pentangle sang Willie o' Winsbury in 1972 on their album Solomon's Seal.
John Goodluck sang Willie o' Winsbury in 1974 on on his album The Suffolk Miracle. Producer Brian Horsfall noted:
When the word got around that John was about to make his recording debut, the universal question was, “You'll be doing Willie, won't you?” Apart from being one of the best-loved in his repertoire, the song is worthy of note; if only because the hero, faced with a choice between a shotgun wedding and the hangman's rope, has the good sense to know when he's well off—unlike many another in folk song!
Staverton Bridge sang Tom Barbary in 1975 on their eponymous Saydisc album Staverton Bridge. This recording was included on 2001 on the Fellside anthology of English traditional songs, Voices in Harmony. Paul Adams commented:
The idea of a courtship being conducted in disguise by a prince or a rich man's son is the common stuff of oral tales the world over. In Tom Barbary it makes for a remarkably amiable ballad with smiles, forgiveness and fortunes all round at the end of the story. It is a version of Willie o' Winesbury (Child 100). Prof. Child's Scottish versions all have him as Willie or Thomas of Winsbury (or Winesberry), Tom (or John) Barbary (or Barber) seems to emanate from the West Country.
Dick Gaughan sang Willie o' Winsbury in 1978 on his Topic album Gaughan. He commented in his sleeve notes:
I couldn't have imagined myself singing this a few years back, but I found a couple of verses for the middle which change the whole emphasis of the song. I first heard it sung by Anne Briggs to a different tune, but don't remember where I got this tune. The guitar is tuned DADGAD and the accompaniment is from an idea my wife Dorris gave me.
Hazel King sang Willie o' Winsbury in 1978 on her and Derek Sarjeant's album English & Scottish Folksongs and Ballads.
Dave Burland sang Willie o' Winsbury in 1979 on his album You Can't Fool the Fat Man. His version is from Maud Karpeles' book Folk Songs of Newfoundland.
Tony Rose recorded Tom the Barber in 1982 for his fourth album, Poor Fellows. As his albums weren't available any more, he re-recorded it in 1999 for his CD Bare Bones. He noted on the original album:
For some 200 years, dating from the mid-17th century, the Barbary coast of North Africa—present day Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria—was notorious pirate territory. ‘Barber’ seems to derive from ‘berber’, but whether this is the hero's nickname, disguise or genuine identity is uncertain. Other versions of Willie o' Winsbury have him “lately come from Spain.” In either case it must have seemed fairly exotic to Mr Gordge of Bridgwater from whom Cecil Sharp collected this fine tune. [VWML CJS2/9/811]
Steve Turner sang Lord Thomas of Winesbury in 1984 on his Fellside album Eclogue.
Brian Peters sang John Barbour in 1989 on his Harbourtown album Fools of Fortune. He noted:
Fortune favoured John Barbour, whose physical attractiveness landed him on the gallows but then reprieved him. This version of Willie o' Winsbury appears in Peacock's Songs of the Newfoundland Outports, and was collected from a Mrs. Charlotte Decker.
Frankie Armstrong sang Thomas of Welshbury in 2000 on her Fellside CD The Garden of Love. Brian Pearson noted:
Frankie lives in Wales and was initially attracted by the title of this version of Willie of Winsbury. She likes the way that disaster is averted by the king's unexpectedly broad-minded appreciation of a pretty young man. The idea that the folk tradition is ferociously heterosexual doesn't hold up—think of all those songs about cross-dressing or of phrases like “girls, if you must love, love another”.
Nic Jones sang William of Winesbury on his 2001 album of previously unreleased material, Unearthed. He commented:
My approach to learning songs was quite undisciplined and somewhat lazy. I used to trawl through a variety of books such as the Child Ballads, Christie's Traditional Ballad Airs, Bronson, and the EFDSS Folk Song Journals, and listen to old recordings of traditional singers. Rather than conscientiously learn the songs by writing them down and working out the arrangement, I tended to absorb them over a period of time. Add the facts that I couldn't read music very well and had a terrible memory even then, the end result was words and tunes were not always remembered correctly nor, in some cases, were the sources. […] William of Winesbury [is] such [a] song.>
Jim Eldon sang High Castle Wall in 2004 on his album Home from Sea.
Kate Rusby sang John Barbury in 2007 on her CD Awkward Annie.
Andy Irvine sang Willy of Winsbury on his 2010 album Abocurragh. He noted:
Learned back in the sixties from Professor Child's collection of traditional ballads which was like the bible at the time. This is Child 100. I collated words from different versions and as the story goes, on looking up the tune, I lighted on the tune to number 101 [Willie o Douglas Dale]. I'm not sure if this is true but it's a good story. I recorded it solo on Sweeney's Men's eponymous first album in 1968 accompanying myself on guitar.
Hannah James sang There Was a Lady Lived in the West in 2012 on her and Sam Sweeney's second duo album, State and Ancientry. They noted:
Hannah learnt this song from a spectacular recording of Robert Cinnamond [see above] and only hopes that her delivery is half as enthralling as his. It's a tale of a princess who falls for John Barlow, an “unsuitable” sailor, but when the King meets him he decides he's a fine looking young man and lets them marry anyway.
Martha Tilston sang Willie o' Winsbury live at Bush Hall in London on 8 November 2012:
Anaïs Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer sang Willie o' Winsbury in 2013 on their CD Child Ballads. They also sang it live at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2014:
Jim Moray sang William of Barbary in 2016 on his CD Upcetera. He commented in his sleeve notes:
As sung to Cecil Sharp on 2 January 1906 by Mr Gordge of Somerset, who confusingly called it Tom the Barber., despite the name Tom not featuring anywhere in the song. I learned this from Steve Turner's recording on his album Eclogue, where he called it Lord Thomas of Winesbury.
Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne sang Tom the Barber in 2017 on his WildGoose CD Outway Songster. He commented:
A variant of Child ballad 100, commonly known as Willie o’ Winesbury. I first heard this sung by Tony Rose on his 1982 LP Poor Fellows. [Its] sleeve notes comment that this song was collected by Cecil Sharp from Mr Gordge of Bridgwater (collected 2 January 1906) [VWML CJS2/9/811] . This variant was published in Volume I of Sharp’s English Folk Songs presented there under the title Lord Thomas of Winesberry. The only variant I’ve found with the title Tom the Barber is that collected by Hammond from W. Bartlett of Wimborne, Dorset in September 1906, and it appears that Tony Rose’s text draws on this variant. The most convincing explanation of the term ‘barber’ is that it is a corruption of ‘Berber’ referring to the people of North Africa.
Ken Wilson and Jim MacFarland sang Tom the Barber in 2017 on their CD Here's a Health to the Company!. They noted:
A version of the Scottish ballad Willy O'Winsbury / Tom (or John) Barbary (or Barber). This version seems to eminate from the English West Country and was collected by Cecil Sharp from Mr Gordge of Bridgewater [VWML CJS2/9/811] .
Dougie Mackenzie sang Willie o' Winsbury on his 2019 Greentrax album Along the Way. He noted:
First heard on an early John Renbourn album. The King returns from fighting in Spain and finds his daughter with child.
Ye Vagabonds sang Willie o Winsbury in 2019 on their River Lea album The Hare's Lament. They noted:
As has unfortunately been the case with folk music since recording began, often credit is not given to people where it is due for their arrangements and work on songs. No one fixed version of any folk song exists until recordings are made. As far as we’re concerned, this is Andy Irvine’s arrangement of this song, since he was the first we know of to have sung it with this melody. We learned this song first from Andy and Anne Briggs’ recordings, and from our uncle Dominic who always sings it at family gatherings. We’ve been singing it since we were teenagers, at first imitating Andy—as we were when Myles O’Reilly first filmed us a few years ago, and the song has developed for us a fair bit since. We’ve heard and read a lot of versions of it under different names—sometimes also as Johnny Barton, John Barlow or John Barbour. In the great 1868 book The Legendary Ballads of England and Scotland a version of the song Lord Thomas of Winesberrie is thought to relate to events from 1536 when James V of Scotland married Magdalene de Valois, daughter of the king of France (who then died shortly after their return to Scotland just a month before her 17th birthday). Another theory is that Thomas of Winesberry was the name of the Chamberlain to the king of France who wooed the princess. In any case, most of these versions tells a less romantic, more materialistic version of the story. There is some questionable fatherly behaviour in this song, but the most remarkable part of the story for us is that the king himself seems to fancy Willie o Winsbury, so offers him his daughter in marriage rather than sending him to the gallows.
Note: Richard Thompson used the tune of this song in 1969 for his own song Farewell, Farewell.
|Anne Briggs sings Willie o' Winsbury||Tony Rose sings Tom the Barber|
The king has been a prisoner
As I looked over the castle wall
“What ails ye? what ails ye, my daughter Janet?
“What's the matter, my daughter Jane,
“I have not had any sore sickness
“Oh, I've had no sore sickness
“Cast off, cast off your berry-brown gown,
And she's cast off her berry-brown gown,
Then she's took off her gown of green,
“Oh, was it with a lord or a duke or a knight,
“It is to a noble gentleman
“No, it wasn't with a lord, nor a duke, nor a knight,
“ 't is to no noble gentleman
And the king he has called on his merry men all,
So he's called up his merry, merry men,
But when he came the king before,
In came Tom the Barber bold,
“And it is no wonder,” said the king,
“And will you marry my daughter Janet,
“Will you marry my daughter Jane?
“Yes, I will marry your daughter Janet
“Yes, I'll marry your daughter Jane,
And he's mounted her on a milk-white steed
For I have gold and silver store,
Hannah James sings There Was a Lady Lived in the West
There was a lady lived in the west.
And she was dressed in green.
And she leaned over her father's castle wall
For to see the ships sail in.
“What is wrong with you?” her father did say,
“You look so pale and wan.
For you must have some sore sickness
Or have lain with some young man.”
“Oh, I have had no sore sickness
But I'm in love with a young man.
And the only thing that breaks my heart
Is what keeps my darling so long.”
“Is he a lord, a squire or a duke
Or a man of noted fame?
Or is he young John from the Isle of Man
That ploughs the raging main?”
“He is neither a lord, a squire or a duke,
Or a man of noted fame,
But he is young John from the Isle of Man
That ploughs the raging main.”
“Then call him down the salt sea strand
And bring him unto me.
If he's thinking to gain my daughter's hand
He must leave this fair country.”
“Oh, Father dear, don't be severe
Or be cruel unto me!
If you send away my John Barlow
You will get no good of me.”
So the king has called his merry, merry men,
And he called them by one two, three.
And instead of young John being the very first man,
The very last one came he.
He entered the room, young John Barlow,
And the clothing he wore was silk.
And his two blue eyes like the morning stars
And his skin was as white as milk.
“I think it no wonder,” the king he did say,
“My daughter's in love with thee.
For if I was a woman as I am a man,
My bed-mate you would be.”
“Will you wed my daughter?” the king did say,
“Will you take her by the hand?
And you will dine at my table
And be master over all my land.”
“Oh, I will wed your daughter,” he said,
“But she's no match for me.
For every pound that she counts down,
I will count down thirty-three.”
Now, fill your glasses to the brim,
Drink a health to your country!
Drink a health to young John from the Isle of Man
And his Lady Winsbally.
Thanks to David Summers for lyric corrections.