> The Copper Family > Songs > The Farmer in Cheshire / The Farmer from Chester
The Highwayman Outwitted / The Highwayman and the Farmer’s Daughter / The Farmer in Cheshire
; Master title: The Highwayman Outwitted
; Laws L2
; Ballad Index
This ballad is from a family of ballads about robbers outwitted. In The Crafty Farmer (Roud 2640; Child 283) it is the farmer himself who is, er, crafty. In The Highwayman and the Farmer’s Daughter (Roud 2638; Laws L2) it is his daughter and in The Crafty Ploughboy (Roud 2637; Laws L1) it is the farmer’s servant boy.
Alec Bloomfield sang this ballad as The Farmer from Cheshire in 1938/39 at the Eel’s Foot in Eastbridge, Suffolk. This BBC recording made by A.L. Lloyd was included in 2000 on the Veteran CD Good Order! Ladies and Gentlemen Please. Alec Bloomfield sang The Highwayman and the Farmer’s Daughter much later, in 1975, in Newark, Nottinghamshire. This recording made by Keith Summers was published in 2007 on the Musical Traditions anthology A Story to Tell. Rod Stradling commented in the accompanying booklet:
There Was a Rich Farmer at Sheffield (as it’s more usually called), or The Farmer of Chester, or The Lincolnshire Farmer’s Daughter to used the title given to the song by Henry Parker Such on his mid-19th century broadside, in common with another ballad, The Boy and the Highwayman, is related to the ballad of The Crafty Farmer (Child 283) in which a farmer outwits a would-be robber. The precise relationship between these three 18th century ballads has never been successfully established. Some scholars believe that as the central characters of the plot are different, then so too are the ballads. Others, however, believe them to be basically identical because all three ballads are sung to the same 17th century tune The Rant which, in 17th century ballad operas, was better known as Give Ear to a Frolicksome Ditty.
George ‘Pop’ Maynard sang The Rusty Highwayman in a recording made by Brian Matthews in 1960 at the Abergavenny Arms in Copthorne. His version was printed in 1970 in Ken Stubbs’ book The Life of a Man and this recording was included in 2000 on Maynard’s Musical Traditions anthology Down the Cherry Tree.
Jimmy McBeath sang The Farmer in Cheshire in a recording made by Mike Yates in Banffshire, Scotland in 1964. It was included in 2001 in the Musical Traditions anthology of songs from the Yates Collection, Up in the North and Down in the South.
Queen Caroline Hughes sang Catch Me, Bold Rogue, If You Can in her caravan near Blandford, Dorset, 19 April 1968. This recording by Peter Kennedy was was included in 2013 on the Topic anthology of songs by Southern English gypsy traditional singers, I’m a Romany Rai (The Voice of the People Series Volume 22).
Jack Smith sang There Was a Rich Farmer in Chester on 5 November 1969 at the King’s Head Folk Club in London. This recording was included in 2012 on the Musical Traditions anthology King’s Head Folk Club.
Ewan MacColl sang The Maid of Reigate on his 1972 Argo LP Solo Flight.
Mary Ann Haynes sang The Farmer of Cheshire in a recording made by Mike Yates in 1972-75 on the 2003 Musical Traditions anthology of gypsy songs and music from South-East England, Here’s Luck to a Man.
George Deacon sang The Devonshire Farmer’s Daughter in 1973 on his and Marion Deacon’s Transatlantic album Sweet William’s Ghost. The album’s liner notes commented:
One of a family of songs including The Highwaymen Outwitted and The Crafty Maid’s Policy. This version was collected in Hambridge by Lucy Broadwood. The expressions ‘shaking and bavering’ and ‘home in her white’ are nice reminders of the colour that contemporary standard English has lost.
Nelson Penfold sang The Farmer in Leicester in a recording made in 1974 by Sam Richards, Tish Stubbs and Paul Wilson. It was published in 1979 on the Topic album Devon Tradition.
Joe Jones sang The Farmer of Chester in a recording made by Mike Yates in Kent in 1975. It was published in the same year on the Topic anthology of gypsies, travellers and country singers, Songs of the Open Road.
Bob Copper sang The Farmer from Chester at home in Peacehaven, Sussex in December 1976. This recording made by Tony Engle and Mike Yates was published a year later on his Topic album Sweet Rose in June. John Copper sang this song in May 1995 as The Farmer in Cheshire on the family’s CD Coppersongs 2.
Betsy Renals sang The Farmer from Leicester in a recording made in 1978 by Pete Coe. It was published in 2003 on the Backshift/Veteran CD Catch Me If You Can: Songs From Cornish Travellers. Mike Yates commented in the album notes:
The Farmer of Leicester (some singers call it The Farmer of Chester) and another song The Boy and the Highwayman are related to the ballad of The Crafty Farmer (Child 283), in which a farmer outwits a would-be robber. All three songs date to the 18th century and basically use a common 17th century tune, The Rant, which was better known as Give Ear to a Frolicksome Ditty in ballad operas. According to the folklorist Sam Richards, Betsy’s song was used by Gypsy singers to establish boundaries when they came into contact with non-Gypsies; the Travellers feeling that, like the heroine of the song, they too were equal to any potential threat that might develop.
Charlie Stringer of Wickham Skeith, Suffolk, sang The Farmer from Cheshire in a recording made by John Howson. It was published in 1987-89 on the Veteran cassette Songs Sung in Suffolk 3 and in 2000 on the Veteran CD Songs Sung in Suffolk. John Howson commented in the liner notes:
A popular song amongst travellers, which often goes under the name The Highwayman Outwitted or The Crafty Farmer. When Cecil Sharp collected it he called it The Devonshire Farmer’s Daughter, while under the name The Farmer from Leicester, Sam Richards and Tish Stubbs recorded it from Nelson Penfold in Devon, and the version Pete Coe recorded from Cornish traveller Betsy Renals can be heard on Catch Me If You Can. Its earliest appearances in print seem to have been in the first half of the nineteenth century.
Wiggy Smith sang There Was a Rich Farmer at Sheffield at the English Country Music Festival, Postlip Hall, Postlip, Gloucestershire, on 17 June 1995. This recording by Gwilym Davies and Paul Burgess was included in 1998 on the Topic anthology My Father’s the King of the Gypsies (The Voice of the People Series Volume 11).
Jane and Amanda Threlfall sang Highwayman Outwitted on their 2002 CD Gown of Green.. They noted:
Sung by Mrs Kate Thompson of Knaresborough, and published in A Garland of English Folk Songs (1926) by Frank Kidson, this song is sometimes known as The Farmer’s Daughter. It’s probably derived from the street ballad The Crafty Ploughboy, which is based on a true incident which took place in the 1760s. Broadsheets were sold with the story in ballad form, during which time it seems almost inevitable that the original ploughboy should eventually became a female character—if only to boost sales. The song was widely collected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The tune is similar to The Rant, from John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1727).
Bob Lewis sang The Rusty Highwayman at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2009. This recording was published a year later on his festival CD Drive Sorrows Away.
Rachael McShane sang The Highwayman Outwitted in 2009 on her Navigator CD No Man’s Fool.
Liz Davenport sang The Rich Farmer from Sheffield in 2011 on her and Paul Davenport’s Hallamshire Traditions CD Spring Tide Rising. They commented:
Liz’ traveller roots are showing here. Often we neglect the songs of childhood thinking them less worthy. Fortunately some reflection brings forth gems like this song. Apart from the name of the cutlery on the table, this song was pretty much all Liz knew about Sheffield as a girl. Although several of the Smith family sang this, the version closest to Liz’s version is probably that sung by Wiggy Smith who can be beard on Topic’s seminal collection, My Father’s the King of the Gypsies (The Voice of the People Series Volume 11).
Andy Turner sang The Farmer in Leicester as the 3 March 2013 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.
Bob Copper sings The Farmer in Cheshire
There was an old farmer in Cheshire,
To market his daughter did go;
And thinking that no-one would harm her
As she’d oft-times been that road before.
(Repeat last two lines of each verse.)
Her business at the market being ended
And all her fine goods being sold,
Her journey back homewards she wended,
Her pockets well lined with gold.
She met with a rusty highwayman
Two pistols he held to her breast,
Saying, “Deliver your money, your clothing,
Or else you shall die in distress.”
She, being a buxom young damsel,
Dismounted as though unafraid,
One slash from her whip sent him sprawling
And his pistols she took as he laid.
She put her left foot in the stirrup
And mounted her horse like a man,
Then shouted back over her shoulder,
“Catch me you old rogue if you can.”
The rogue he soon follow-ed after
But began for to puff and to blow,
Then seeing he could not overtake her
Sat down full of sorrow and woe.
Her father being anxious about her
And finding ’twas getting quite late,
When hoof-beats he heard fast approaching
As she galloped up to the farm gate.
“Oh, daughter, oh, daughter, what’s happened,
What kept you at the market so long?”
“Oh father, I fell in great danger,
But the rogue he has done me no wrong.”
She put her grey horse in the stable
And laid a white cloth on the floor.
They counted her money a thousand,
A thousand, yes a thousand times o’er.
Betsy Renals sings The Farmer from Leicester
There was an old farmer in Leicester,
Had a daughter to market did go;
She was never afraid of no danger,
’Cos she’d been on the highway before.
Till she met with a bold and young robber,
Six chamber he held to her breast;
Saying, “Deliver your money and clothing,
Or else you shall die in distress.”
He stripped the young damsel stark naked,
And the bridle rein gave her to hold;
And there she’s such shivering and shaking,
And starving to death with the cold.
She put her left foot in the stirrup,
And she mounted her horse like a man;
Over hedges and ditches she galloped,
Saying, “Catch me bold rogue if you can.”
She rode to the gates of her father’s,
And shouted all over the farm;
Saying, “Dear father I’ve been in great danger,
But the rogue he have done me no harm.”
She pulled her grey mare in the stable,
And she spread her white sheet on the floor;
And counted the money twice over,
There were three thousand pounds if not more.