> Folk Music > Songs > (Down by the) Magdalen Green

(Down by the) Magdalen Green

[ Roud 2893 ; Ballad Index MorU016 ; Mudcat 53458 ; trad.]

Norman Buchan and Peter Hall: The Scottish Folksinger Nigel Gatherer: Songs and Ballads of DundeeSongs and Ballads of Dundee

Jimmy McBeath sang Down by the Magdalen Green Alan Lomax in the latter’s apartment in London on 14 November 1953. This recording was included in 2002 on McBeath’s Rounder anthology Tramps and Hawkers. McBeath also sang it to Peter Hall in a private house in Scotland in July 1971. This recording was released in 1978 on his Topic album Bound to Be a Row. Peter Hall noted:

In 1582 this area of Dundee was called ‘Maidlane Geir’ and although the spelling changed soon after the pronunciation in the song, and among older Dundonians has not until recently become modified.

Another McBeath recording made by Mike Yates at Keele University in 1964 was included in 2001 on the Musical Traditions anthology of songs and music from the Mike Yates collection, Up in the North and Down in the South. Mike Yates noted in the accompanying booklet:

Many broadside texts carry titles such as In … Town, thus allowing the singer to place the song wherever he, or she, chooses. For example, Freda Palmer’s song Oxford City was also sung by Harry Upton, who called it Near Arundel Town. It seems, however, that Jimmy’s song—sung to a variant of the well-known Tramps and Hawkers tune—is, in fact, local to Dundee. It was printed on a songsheet sold at the Poet’s Box in Dundee’s Overgate and, apart from one version, collected by Robin Morton in Co Armagh as Down by the Mellon Green, it has only been collected from Scottish singers. The only other person to have been recorded singing it, as Marlin Green, is Duncan Williamson in 1985, by Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie.

Magdalen Green is named after a chapel dedicated to St Mary Magdalen that used to stand in the vicinity of what is now The Green. It is an area once popular with sailors (Dundee was, of course, an active seaport) and its local pronunciation, maidlin, reminds us that in the 16th century the area was known as Maidlane Geir.

Cilla Fisher and Artie Trezise sang Magdalene Green in 1976 on their Trailer album Balcanquhal.

Graham Shaw sang Down by the Mellon Green in 1978 on his Traditional Sound album I Am the Minstrel.

Joe Aitken sang The Magdalen Green in a recording made at Pinemarten Sounds, Perth, in September 1988 on his 1990 Springthyme cassette If Ye’ve Never Been tae Kirrie.

Cyril Tawney sang Magdalen Green in 1992 on his Neptune Tapes cassette of “more songs of seafarers and the fairer sex”, In Every Port.

Manran’s Gary Innes and Ewan Robertson sang Magdalene Green on theis 2009 CD Shouts.

The Spiers Family sang Magdalen Green in ca 2012 on their album Plenty Brass and a Bonny Lass. They noted:

Tom [Spiers] sings this Dundee love song, originally from the Poet’s Box and very popular in NE Scotland. There are a number of different tunes, but the words have remained fairly close to the original.


Jimmy McBeath sings The Magdalen Green

“It’s here am I, a sailor boy, just newly come from sea,
My ship lies at the anchor, in the harbour o’ Dundee;
Your face it is the fairest, that ever I have seen,
Fair maiden, will ye walk with me, down on the Magdalen Green?”

With roguish smile upon her face, the lass answered me and said,
“Kind sir, I’d walk along with you, but you know I am afraid.
The paths they are so slippery, and the nichts sae cold and keen,
And it wouldn’t do for me to fall, down on the Magdalen Green.”

With some kind words and promises, the lassie gave consent,
We wandered here, we wandered there, on lovely pleasant bent.
Day after day, we met and roam, about yon lovely scene,
I am afraid this maid had mony’s a fall, down on the Magdalen Green.

Soon my time for parting came, my ship she hoisted sail,
No longer could I meet my girl and tells her pleasant tale.
I sung farewell tae old Dundee, where happy I have been,
And I left this maid alone to walk, down on the Magdalen Green.

As I lay in my berth one night, when weary watch was done,
I dreamt I was the father of a darling little son;
And e’er her mother (?), and mainly she was seen,
For she was weeping bitterly, down on the Magdalen Green.

The Spiers Family sing Magdalen Green

I am a brisk young sailor lad, jist newly come fae sea;
My ship she lies at anchor in the harbour o’ Dundee.
Young Betsy wis the fairest lass that iver I hid seen
And I asked her if she’d taak a waak doon by the Magadalen Green.

Wi a roguish smile upon her face she’s answered me and said,
“Tae taak a waak wi you young man I wid surely be afraid.
The roads they are sae slippery and the nicht sae cauld and keen
And it widna dae for me tae faa doon by the Magdalen Green.”

But wi my flattering words and promises the lassie has gaen consent
We wandered here an wandered there on love and pleasure bent.
An mony’s the day an nicht we roamed aroon that pleasant scene
An that bonnie lass hid muny’s a faa doon by the Magdalen Green.

But seen the time for pairtin came an I returned tae sea,
I left my bonny Betsy standin weepin on the quay.
I’ve bade fareweel tae Dundee toon faar happy we hid been
And she wis left tae waak her lain doon by the Magdalen Green.

One nicht as I lay slumberin, my weary watch wis done
I dreamt I wis the father o a darling little son.
An Betsy she wis in my dream sae lovely tae be seen
But she wis weeping bitterly doon by the Magdalen Green.

Sae faan my ship pits in again tae the harbour o Dundee,
I’ll search the toon aa up an doon, my bonnie lass tae see,
I’ll ask her tae forgive me for the rascal I hae been.
An we will maak it up again doon by the Magdalen Green,
Aye, and we will maak it up again doon by the Magdalen Green.