The Poor and Young Single Sailor / A Fair Maid Walking / The Broken Token
The Young and Single Sailor is a, if not the, archetypal “broken token” song. Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd printed it in 1959 in their Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Linda Adams sang it accompanied by Jez Lowe on guitar and dulcimer in 1986 on the Fellside anthology A Selection from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Steve Roud printed this song as Fair Maid Walking in Her Garden in 2012 in his updated version, The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.
Jeannie Robertson sang The Broken Token, in a recording made at her home in 1955, on her 1957 Riverside album Songs of a Scots Tinker Lady. Hamish Henderson commented in the sleeve notes:
Often known as A Pretty Fair Maid (Miss) in the Garden, this ballad has achieved as wide circulation in the United Stated as in the British Isles. It makes moving use of the oldest ballad themes, detailing the dialogue and action of a long-absent returning lover who resolves to test his sweetheart's fidelity; upon finding her true, he identifies himself by matching parts of a broken ring.
Winnie Campbell sang The Broken Token in a concert presented by the EFDSS at the Royal Festival Hall on 4 June 1965. A recording of this concert was issued in the same year as the EMI/HMV album Folksound of Britain.
Sarah Makem sang A Servant Maid in Her Father's Garden at home in Keady, Co. Armagh in a recording made by Bill Leader in 1967. This was released in 1968 on her Topic album Ulster Ballad Singer. An earlier recording made by Peter Kennedy and Sean O'Boyle in 1952 was included in 2011 on her Musical Traditions anthology As I Roved Out. A third recording made by Paul Carter and Sean O'Boyle in 1967 was included in 2012 on her Topic anthology The Heart Is True (The Voice of the People Series Volume 24).
Robin and Barry Dransfield sang A Fair Maid Walking All in Her Garden in 1970 on their Trailer duo album The Rout of the Blues.
The Broadside sang A Fair Maid Walking on their 1971 album of Lincolnshire folk songs, The Gipsy's Wedding Day. They noted:
Collected by [Percy] Grainger at Barrow-on-Humber in 1906. [VWML PG/5/25] . […] Often known as The Broken Token. The theme is widespread in folklore.
Sarah Anne O'Neill sang A Fair Young Maid in Her Father’s Garden in her home near Derrytresk, Coalisland, Co. Tyrone in 1977 to Robin Morton. This recording was released a year later on her and her brother George Hanna's Topic album On the Shores of Lough Neagh. It was also included with the title Standing in Yon Flowery Garden on the 1998 Topic anthology Who's That at My Bed Window? (The Voice of the People Series Volume 10).
Mary Cash sang A Lady in Her Father’s Garden in a recording made between 1973 and 1985 by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie that was published in 2003 on the Musical Traditions anthology of songs of Irish Travellers in England, From Puck to Appleby. Jim Carroll noted in the album's booklet:
This is probably one of the most popular of all the ‘broken token’ songs, in which parting lovers are said to break a ring in two, each half being kept by the man and woman. At their reunion, the man produces his half as a proof of his identity.
Robert Chambers, in his Book of Days, 1862-1864, describes a betrothal custom using a ‘gimmal’ or linked ring:
Made with a double and sometimes with a triple link, which turned upon a pivot, it could shut up into one solid ring… It was customary to break these rings asunder at the betrothal which was ratified in a solemn manner over the Holy Bible, and sometimes in the presence of a witness, when the man and woman broke away the upper and lower rings from the central one, which the witness retained. When the marriage contract was fulfilled at the altar, the three portions of the ring were again united, and the ring used in the ceremony.
These ‘broken token’ songs often end with the woman flinging herself into the returned lover’s arms and welcoming him back, but [this] version has it differently and, Mary Delaney, who also sang it for us, had the suitor even more firmly rejected:
For it’s seven years brings an alteration,
And seven more brings a big change to me,
Oh, go home young man, choose another sweetheart,
Your serving maid I’m not here to be.
Cyril Tawney sang The Broken Token on the 1992 Fellside anthology of English traditional songs, Voices. Paul Adams commented in the album's booklet:
Broken Token ballads abound in the English Tradition. The general idea is that the lovers divide a ‘token’ (usually a ring) when they part (he usually goes off to foreign parts as a soldier or sailor) and agree to be faithful. He later returns, but she does not recognise him at first, etc. etc. Cyril learnt this version in his native West Country from his Mother and this goes to show how difficult it is to regionalise folk songs because she learnt it from her Grandmother, Mary Sharkey, in Northern Ireland! Cyril's rolling West Country accent sounds just right for this charming little song. Cyril is an ex submariner, an expert on sailors' songs and a noted songwriter.
Nancy Kerr sang The Poor and Young Single Sailor in 1995 on her and Eliza Carthy's second album Shape of Scrape. She commented in the record's sleeve notes:
A classic “Broken Token” song, sometimes called A Lady Fair or A Fair Maiden Walking. Two lovers part, breaking a ring between them as a token of their love. She naturally spends seven years pining, moping and generally preserving her honour until he returns having made his fortune and “tests” her fidelity. The subject of his honour is not broached. Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1908 from a Mr Burridge, near Capel, Surrey.
Maggie Murphy sang Seven Years Did I Have a Sweetheart on her 1996 Veteran CD of “traditional folk songs and ballads from Tempo, Co Fermanagh”, Linkin' O'er the Lea.
John Roberts & Tony Barrand sang this song as A Fair Maid Walking on their 1998 album, Heartoutbursts: English Folksongs collected by Percy Grainger. Its sleeve notes commented:
The “broken token” theme is well known, and many versions of this particular story line exist. [Percy] Grainger recorded this one in 1906 from Mrs. Thomson at Barrow-on-Humber. It appears in Lincolnshire Posy as The Brisk Young Sailor (who returned to wed his True Love).
Home Service recorded Grainger's A Lincolnshire Posy including A Brisk Young Sailor in 1986 for their album Alright Jack.
Bob Lewis sang The Young and Single Sailor at a concert he did with Bob Copper at Nellie’s Folk Club, The Rose and Crown Hotel, Tonbridge, Kent, on 17 October 1999. This concert was released in 2017 on their Musical Traditions CD The Two Bobs' Worth.
Magpie Lane sang I Saw a Maid in My Father's Garden in 2002 on their CD Six for Gold.
Finest Kind sang Fair Maid Walking on their 2003 album Silks & Spices. They noted:
The return of a man after years away at sea, disguised so he can test his lover’s faithfulness, was probably an ancient story device when Homer sang about Odysseus and Penelope. During the past 200 years, the plot has been the basis of the “broken token” ballad, sung in dozens of versions on both sides of the Atlantic. Each is a dialogue between a maiden and her disguised sailor lover who tries to woo her. When the maid spurns him, the sailor reveals his identity by producing the “token” of their love—his half of a ring they broke before he went away—and the couple is happily reunited.
Shelley [Posen] learned our version in the 1970s from the singing of the English brother duo Robin and Barry Dransfield on their classic album, The Rout of the Blues. They got their tune from Percy Grainger's Twenty-One Lincolnshire Folk Songs, and the words from the EFDSS songbook, Marrow Bones.
Steve Turner sang The Poor and Single Sailor in 2008 on his Tradition Bearers album The Whirligig of Time. He noted:
This Scottish version of the classic ‘broken token’ ballad is one of the fullest I've come across. The song is a tribute to short memories and good hiding places.
Hannah James sang The Young and Single Sailor in 2009 on her and Sam Sweeney's first duo CD, Catches & Glees. They also performed it at a House Gig in Bedfordshire in October 2011:
Old Blind Dogs sang Broken Ring in 2010 on their CD Wherever Yet May Be. Aaron Jones commented:
I worked with fiddler/singer Tom McConville for a couple of years and he used to sing an Old Time ‘Broken Token’ song called Pretty Fair Maid. I found this old Irish version of the song in the fantastic Sam Henry's Songs of the People. The concept that you can go abroad, return and your beloved not recognise you is a concept familiar to many gigging musicians!
Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer sang The Broken Token in 2011 on their WildGoose album Stones on the Ground. They noted:
Collated from a number of traditional variations on the broken token theme. Boy goes off to make a fortune but somehow has the foresight to think that on his return, his true love won’t recognise him. Perhaps in disguise, on his return he wants to find out if she has been faithful. In all the versions we have read, there’s never been a reference of her seeing if he has been faithful. That’s equality for you!
Arthur Knevett sang Seven Years Did I Have a Sweetheart on his 2016 CD Simply Traditional. He commented in his liner notes:
This ‘broken token’ ballad is from the singing of the wonderful Irish singer Maggie Murphy. There are many songs in which a ring is broken in two, each half being kept as a love token and a means of recognition after a long separation, usually by the young man going to sea for seven year. H.G. Wells in his book Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul uses the same idea when Kipps is given half a sixpence as a love token by his sweetheart Ann.
Helen Diamond sang Standing in Yon Flowery Garden on her 2018 eponymous first album Helen Diamond. She noted:
This version comes from the fantastic Armagh singer Sarah Anne O’Neill. I learned it from Topic Record’s Who's That at My Bed Window? (The Voice of the People Series Volume 10).
Annie Winter sang Fair Maid Walking in Her Garden on Amsher's 2018 album of Hampshire songs collected by Lucy Broadwood in Oxfordshire, Patience Vaisey at Adwell 1892. Bob Askew noted:
Also known as Sailor Boy and Fair Phoebe. Another broken token song: a sailor returns unrecognised. This was very popular with over 100 entries in Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. In her pre-cinematic time, perhaps think of young Patience imagining herself swooning into Clark Gable's arms!
Compare this to Lal Waterson singing The Welcome Sailor on her and Norma Waterson's LP and CD A True Hearted Girl and on the CD reissue of The Watersons' For Pence and Spicy Ale, and to The Dark-Eyed Sailor, sung by Steeleye Span on their first album, Hark! The Village Wait, and by June Tabor and the Oysterband on their album Freedom and Rain.
|Nancy Kerr sings The Poor and Young Single Sailor||Linda Adams sings The Young and Single Sailor|
A fair maid walking all in a garden
A fair maid walked all in her garden.
“You seem to me like a man of honour,
“Oh no, young man, you're a man of honour,
“If you are not fitted to be my servant
“If you tell me you're a poor young woman,
“But I have a true lover of my own, sir,
“Oh no, young man, I have a sweetheart,
“Oh, seven years makes an alteration.
He put his hand all in his bosom,
He put his hand all in his pocket,
He took her up all in his arms,
He took her close all in his arms,
|Steve Turner sings The Poor and Young Single Sailor|
A fair maid all in her garden walking,
First with smiling and then reviling
“I'm just a poor and forsaken maiden
“If seven years he's been gone to sea, love,
“If he's alive I do love him dearly,
“Don't you see yon bonny lands, love?
“And don't you see yon bonny garden
“I'll never have your bonny castle
He said, “I will no longer feign now,
“If you're my poor and my single sailor
He put his hand all in his bosom,
He took her up all in his arms then,
They went unto the church directly
The words are from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, eds Ralph Vaughan Williams & A.L. Lloyd, Penguin, 1959. Linda Adams' variations transcribed by Reinhard Zierke. Thanks to Garry Gillard for the Nancy Kerr transcription.