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Elsie Marley

[ Roud 3065 ; Ballad Index StoR070 ; trad.]

Elsie Marley is a tune and song printed in J. Collingwood Bruce and John Stokoe's Northumbrian Minstrelsy (1882). They noted:

This ballad has come down to us with a double claim for preservation from oblivion in the merit of the lively tune itself and the frolicsome spirit of the song, which, whilst gently satirising, at the same time preserves the memory of one who, in her day, had attained some notoriety as a general public entertainer.

Elsie (or Alice) Marley was the wife of an innkeeper at the Barley Mow Inn, Pictree, near Chester-le-Street, where her buxom presence and lively humour were doubtless the means of attracting all ranks of society, from the pitman to the viewer, and from keelmen and sailors to tradesmen and gentlemen.

The ballad was founded upon a true incident in the life of our heroine, and speedily became so popular all over the district that when Joseph Ritson published his Bishopric Garland in 1784, he considered it of sufficient importance to be included in that collection. A happy temperament, a comfortable life, and an extensive circle of friends did not, however, suffice to save poor Elsie from a share of the “ills that flesh is heir to,” for in Sykes' Local Records, under date 1768, August 5, we read: “The well-known Alice Marley, who kept a public house at Pictree, near Chester-le-Street, being in a fever, got out of her house and went into a field, where there was an old coal pit full of water, which she fell into and was drowned.“

Elsie Marley is also printed in Mary and Nigel Hudleston's Songs of the Ridings (2001).

Tom Clough played the tune of Elsie Marley on the Northumbrian pipes on January 4, 1929. This track was included in 1976 on the Topic anthology of classic recordings of traditional music from the North-East of England, Holey Ha'penny, and in 1996 on the Topic CD The Northumbrian Small Pipes.

The High Level Ranters sang Elsie Marley in 1968 on their Topic album of dance and song from North-East England, Northumberland For Ever, and in 1976 on their Topic album Ranting Lads.

Steve Turner and Bob Morton sang Elsie Marley in 1975 on Canny Fettle's Traditional Sound Recordings album Varry Canny. They commented in their liner notes:

Elsie Marley was the notorious landlady of the Swan Inn at Picktree, near Chester-le-Street. The song, with has almost become our signature tune, was first published in Ritson's Bishopric Garland, 1784, and since then has appeared in most Northumbrian collections. Again, the tune—which contains a number of un-vocal leaps due to the influence of the small-pipes—has a number of Irish counterparts.

Andrew Cronshaw played the tune of Elsie Marley on his 1977 Trailer album Earthed in Cloud Valley.

Ushna sang Elsie Marley in 1998 on their Fellside album of Northumbrian music and song, Twice Brewed.

Nancy and Sandra Kerr sang a few verses of Elsie Marley in 2002 on Nancy Kerr and James Fagan's Fellside CD Between the Dark and Light. They commented:

We often sing Elsie Marley and My Laddie Sits Ower Late Up with Sandra, and it is great to have her with us on these two well-loved Tyneside ditties. They're both from the Northumbrian Minstrelsy.

Kathryn Tickell played Elsie Marley as part of her tune set Herd on her 2004 CD Air Dancing. This track was also included on the BBC Folk Awards 2005 anthology.

Frank Edgley played Elsie Marley on the 2005 Anglo concertina anthology Anglo International!.

Elsie Marley is also mentioned in the traditonal song Byker Hill and in Peter Knight's song Harvest of the Moon.

Lyrics

Elsie Marley in Northumbrian Minstrelsy Nancy and Sandra Kerr sing Elsie Marley

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Di' ye ken Elsie Marley, honey,
The wife that sells the barley, honey;
She lost her pocket and all her money,
Aback o' the bush i' the garden, honey.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Do you ken Elsie Marley, hinny,
The wife that sells the barley, hinny;
She lost her basket and all of her money,
Aback of the bush in the garden, hinny.

Elsie Marley's grown se fine,
She won't get up to serve her swine,
But lies in bed till eight or nine,
And surely she does take her time.

Elsie Marley's grown so fine,
She won't get up to feed the swine.
She lies in bed till eight or nine,
Surely she does take her time.

Elsie Marley is so neat,
It's hard for one to walk the street
But every lad and lass they meet
Cries—Di' ye ken Elsie Marley, honey?

Elsie Marley is so neat,
It's hard for one to walk the street
But every lad and lass they meet
Says, “Do you ken Elsie Marley, hinny?”

Elsie Marley wore a straw hat,
But now she's getten a velvet cap;
The Lambton lads mun pay for that,
Di' ye ken Elsie Marley, honey?

Elsie keeps rum, gin, and ale
In her house below the dale,
Where every tradesman, up and down,
Does call and spend his half-a-crown.

The farmers, as they come that way,
They drink with Elsie every day,
And call the fiddler for to play
The tune of Elsie Marley, honey.

The farmers, as they come that way,
They drink with Elsie every day,
And call the fiddler for to play
The tune of Elsie Marley, hinny.

The pitmen and the keelmen trim,
They drink Bumbo made of gin,
And for to dance they do begin
To the tune of Elsie Marley, honey.

Those gentlemen that go so fine,
They'll treat her with a bottle of wine,
And freely they'll sit down and dine
Along with Elsie Marley, honey.

So to conclude, these lines I've penned,
Hoping there's none I do offend,
And thus my merry joke does end,
Concerning Elsie Marley, honey.

Links

See also the Mudcat Café lyrics at Elsie Marley.