> Eliza Carthy > Songs > Mother, Go Make My Bed / Flower of Swiss Cottage

Mother, Go Make My Bed / The Little Footman Boy

[ Roud 32444 ; Ballad Index VWL071 ; VWML RoudFS/S154956 , GG/1/14/852 ; Wiltshire 1049 ; Mudcat 19423 ; trad.]

Traveller’s Joy Travellers’ Songs From England and Scotland The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs

Anne G. Gilchrist collected Mother, Mother, Make My Bed in 1906 from Mrs Agnes Ford of Blackham, Sussex. [VWML RoudFS/S154956] . It was printed in 1959 in Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd’s The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

Cynthia Gooding sang O Mother Go and Make My Bed in 1953 on her Elektra album of early English folksongs, Queen of Hearts. She noted:

Some folk songs defy description and analysis. O Mother Go and Make My Bed is one of them for it combines all the well known ballad motives without telling what really happened. It has been collected in various parts of England by members of the Folk Song Society. The imagery of the rose and the briar that ends this and many other songs of England. France and Spain, was brought to Europe from the Middle East.

Queen Caroline Hughes sang this song as Once I Had a Good Little Boy to Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker in 1963 or 1966. This recording was included in 2014 on her Musical Traditions anthology Sheep-Crook and Black Dog. She also sang The Little Boy to Peter Kennedy on 19 April 1968 in her caravan near Blandford, Dorset. This recording was released in 2012 on the Topic anthology I’m a Romany Rai (The Voice of the People Volume 22).

Alice Penfold from Sussex sang The Little Footman Boy in a recording made by Mike Yates in between 1973 and 1975. It was released in 1979 on the Topic anthology of songs, stories and tunes from English gypsies, Travellers, was included in 2003 on the Musical Traditions anthology Here’s Luck to a Man, and was printed in 2006 in Mike Yates’ book Traveller’s Joy (London: EFDSS). Mike Yates noted in the second album’s booklet:

Although assigned the number ’Child 65’ by most collectors, Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger have pointed out that it is “made up of floater-verses from a number of ballads and yet does not appear to be derived from any particular one.” MacColl & Seeger have identified lines from at least ten Child ballads. These are: Lady Maisry (Child 65), Lord Lovel (Child 75), Little Musgrave (Child 81), The Knight and Shepherd’s Daughter (Child 110), Child Maurice (Child 83), Fair Mary of Wallington (Child 91), Bonny Barbara Allen (Child 84), Fair Margaret and Sweet William (Child 74), The Gypsy Laddie (Child 200) and Geordie (Child 209). They conclude with the comment, “What does stand out, and make this song unique, is that a whole series of ballad formulas have been selected and put together in a form which has remained stable.” See Travellers’ Songs From England and Scotland by MacColl & Seeger, London, 1977, pp.112-15.

Eliza Carthy and the Kings of Calicutt (Andi Wells, Barnaby Stradling, Saul Rose and Maclaine Colston) sang Mother, Go Make My Bed, followed by the tune Flower of Swiss Cottage, in 1997 on their eponymous album Eliza Carthy and the Kings of Calicutt. This track was also included in 2003 on Eliza’s anthology The Definitive Collection. The original album’s sleeve notes comment:

A story about the bearer of bad news, with a tune written for a flower seller, who caught Liza’s eye in a traffic jam.

This is a note about the origins of this song which Malcolm Douglas kindly sent to the Mudcat Café thread Child and Waterson/Carthy:

This is a bit complicated. Versions of the song, all pretty similar, seem to have been quite common in the south of England; I don’t know where Eliza got hers.

There was some discussion of the song’s possible roots in The Journal of the Folk Song Society (vol. III, no. 11, 1907). H.E.D. Hammond thought it primarily derived from Child #65 (Lady Maisry) with some apparent input from #75 (Lord Lovel). Anne Gilchrist considered a Lady Maisry connection unlikely, and inclined toward the Lord Lovel group, though noting, “The elements of ballads are shifting, and no hard and fast line can be drawn between their various groups; at the same time it is well to remember that such an incident as an absent lover returning in haste to his lady does not always belong to the same story.”

Lucy Broadwood was in the Lord Lovel camp, while Cecil Sharp felt that it should be regarded as a fragment of Lady Maisry. I don’t know what current thinking on the subject might be, but it’s worth mentioning that all the elements of the song appear in a number of others, and are pretty much commonplaces of folk song; though there isn’t really any great need to assign it to a “Child” group, Lady Maisry. does seem the closer match if one must be made.

Anna Baldwin sang Lady Maisry on Amsher’s 2014 CD of songs collected by George Gardiner in Hampshire in 1905-1909, Amsher Sings Hampshire Songs. They noted:

Mary Shawyer, Portsmouth 1907 [VWML GG/1/14/852] .

Originally, Gardiner thought that this was part of the ballad Lady Maisry (Child Ballad 65) but he had second thoughts and published it under the title Oh Mother, Go Make My Bed.


Eliza Carthy sings Mother, Go Make My Bed

“O mother, go and make my bed,
Spread me the milk white sheets,
That I might go and lay down so low
For to see whether I could sleep.”

“Mother, go and tell now,
Go tell your brother’s son,
Your true love’s sick and she’s going to die.
She will die before you can come.”

The first few miles this little boy walked
And the next few miles he ran.
When he came to the broad water’s side
He bent his back and he swam.

When he came to the high front door
They were all sat down to meat.
“Well if you knew why I have come to you
Not a single bite more could you eat.”

“Your high castle walls they’re not falling down,
Nor are they overthrown.
Your true love’s sick and she’s going to die,
She will die before you can come.”

Then he said to the little boy,
“Bring me the milk white steed,
That I might go kiss her cherry cherry cheeks
That once they were so sweet.”

The rose and the briar they grew all together
Till they could get no higher.
They grew and they tied a true lover’s knot
And the rose wrapped around the sweet briar.

Annna Baldwin sings Lady Maisry

“O mother, o mother, go and make my bed,
And lay out the milk white sheets,
That I may go and lay between the cold clothes
And see if I can sleep.

“Go and fetch to me some little boy,
My own dear sisters son,
That he may go and tell my true lover
That I am going to die.”

This little boy walked the first two miles,
The next to two miles he ran.
He run until he came to the broad water side
When he fell on his breast and swum.

He swum till he got to some high park gates
Where they sat down to meet.
“And if you knew the news, the news that I bring,
Scarce a bit more bread could you eat.”

“What’s the news, what’s the news?” our captain he cried,
“O tell me the news, my son!”
“Your lover she is going, she is going for to die,
She will die before you come.”

“Go saddle for me my milk-white steed,
That I might ride, ride away.
That I may go and kiss her cherry, cheery lips
Before they are turned into clay.”

Three times he walked round the rim of her hat
And three times the sole of her shoe.
Three times he’d kissed her cherry blooming lips
As she lay on the ground fast asleep.

The lady she died on the Saturday
At twelve o’clock at noon,
The lord he died on the Sunday following
Before evening prayer was done.

The lady was buried in the high chancel
And the lord he was buried in the choir.
And out of the lady there grew a damask rose
And out of the lord a sweet briar.

These two flowers grew proper and tall,
They grew till they couldn’t grow no higher.
They grew and they grew into a lover’s knot,
The rose wrapped round the sweet briar.


Transcribed from the singing of Eliza Carthy by Garry Gillard.