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A Sailor in the North Country

[ Roud 1504 ; Master title: A Sailor in the North Country ; Ballad Index VWL093 ; VWML RVW2/2/94 ; GlosTrad Roud 1504 ; Mudcat 22869 ; trad.]

Mrs Verrall of Monksgate, near Horsham, Sussex, sang A Sailor in the North Country to Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1904 [VWML RVW2/2/94] . This version was printed in 1959 in Vaughan Williams’ and Lloyd’s The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, which commented:

We have not found any other published set of this song, either in British collections or those of the North Atlantic seaboard (though it is the kind of song that often found favour among the maritime communities of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia). It appeared not infrequently on nineteenth-century broadsides, though from its graces we presume it is of rather earlier composition. In her rendering of the opening verse of the song, Mrs Verrall may have had in mind her version of the tune of Salisbury Plain.

George Maynard sang A Sailor in the North Country at his home in Copthorne, Sussex, to Peter Kennedy on 3 December 1955. This BBC recording 23083 was included in 1976 on Maynard’s Topic album of traditional songs from Sussex, Ye Subjects of England, in 2000 on his Musical Traditions anthology Down the Cherry Tree, and in 1998 on the Topic anthology We’ve Received Orders to Sail (The Voice of the People Volume 12). Mike Yates commented in the first album’s sleeve notes:

[…] Many of these songs, once common, are now seldom encountered. Cecil Sharp, for instance, noted four versions of Locks and Bolts at the turn of the century as did George Gardiner also. However, to my knowledge, Pop is the only English singer to have been recorded singing it—a sad come-down for this splendid ballad which was first licensed to be printed on 5 September 1631 under the title A Constant Wife. The same can be said for his version of A Sailor in the North Country—which Ralph Vaughan Williams collected in 1904 from Mrs Verrall of Monksgate, near Horsham, in Sussex, and which was also noted in 1908 by Cecil Sharp—which must once have enjoyed a widespread popularity, judging by its frequent appearance on song sheets.


Mrs Verrall sings A Sailor in the North Country

A sailor in the north country,
He had a most beautiful wife.
Her courage was so great and her temper more than sweet,
And the sailor he loved her as his life.

As they were walking out one day,
They met a noble captain on the way,
Kind obedience to the maid! But she bowed and nothing said,
’Twas her beauty did the captain’s heart betray.

The captain to his house then he goes,
And sent for the sailor straight away,
“My business runs so: to the West Indies you must go,
In the morning, or by the break of day.”

“To obey the noble Master I will go,
On the sea, to venture my life.”
But little did he dream the captain’s heart was so inflamed,
On the charms of his most beautiful wife.

The sailor to his wife then he goes,
And kissed her and called her his dear.
“Bad news I have to tell You, I must bid you farewell,
In the morning when daylight does appear.”

As soon as she beard him say so,
She wrung her hands and bitterly did cry,
She kissed him and said: “My dear Jimmy I’m afraid
You’ll be drowned in the raging ocean wide.”

The hour and the moment did come,
The poor sailor no longer could stay
To bear his wife lament till his heart was discontent.
He kissed her and went weeping away.

He had only been gone two days or three
On the seas for to venture his life,
Before the captain came with his heart in great flame,
To seize on the poor sailor’s wife.

“Your pardon, dear lady,” he cried,
“Your pardon, dear lady, if you please,
Your pardon if you please, for ’this you can give me ease
One night to enjoy your sweet charms.”

“Oh, are you any lord, duke, or king,
Or are you any ruler of the land?
The King shall lose his crown before at my feet you shall lie down,
Or before I will be at your command.

“’Twas only one twelve-month ago
That I was made your man Jimmy’s bride,
It’s pleasing to my lot, the best husband I have got,
I’ll be constant unto him for life.”