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Jock the Leg

[ Roud 3856 ; Child 282 ; G/D 2:263 ; Ballad Index C282 ; trad.]

Child observes that this is essentially a Robin Hood ballad with the names changed. One wonders if it might not be a Scottish redaction of The Bold Pedlar and Robin Hood. [Traditional Ballad Index]

Ewan MacColl sang Jock the Leg in 1956 on his and A.L. Lloyd’s Riverside anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (The Child Ballads) Volume IV. This and 28 other ballads from this series were reissued in 2009 on MacColl’s Topic CD Ballads: Murder·Intrigue·Love·Discord. Kenneth S. Goldstein commented in the album’s notes:

As Child notes, excepting for the names of the characters, this ballad might well have been included with the Robin Hood cycle. He does not appear to have had too high an opinion of it, for he writes: “it is a better ballad, imitation as it is, than some of the seventeenth century broadsides of the same class (which is indeed saying very little).” Nevertheless, it is a highly entertaining ballad and has probably come down in tradition to this day for that reason.

Child had only one text, from Buchan’s Ancient Ballads and Songs of the North of Scotland (1828), a considerably longer (thirty-stanza) version, than the one sung here by MacColl. Though MacColl’s text is less than half as long, it omits none of the main details. Here we have a prime example of the way in which oral tradition may, by shearing a ballad of extraneous details, improve it both as poetry and song. The ballad has not been reported in either America or England, but still exists in tradition in Scotland. The version MacColl sings was learned from Hughie Graham of Galloway.

Notts Alliance sang Jock the Leg in 1972 on their Traditional Sound Recordings album The Cheerful ’Orn.


Ewan MacColl sings Jock the Leg

Jock the Leg and the merry merchant
Went up to London toon, O,
They had their pack upon their backs
And they were weill tied on, O

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Fal the ral the riddle doo
Fal di doodle I do!

They traivelled up and they traivelled doon,
Till they cam to London Inn, O,
Says Jock the Leg to the merchant man,
“Nae further will we gang, O.”

When mass was sung and bells were rung
And they were bound for bed, O,
Jock the Leg and the merchant man
In ane bed they were laid, O.

They hadnae been but an hour in bed,
An hour but barely ane, O,
Says Jock the Leg to the merchant man,
“We’ll tak’ the road again, O.”

“It’s I’ll no’ stir another fit,
Till daylicht I do see, O,
There’s yen, they ca’ him Jock the Leg,
And he’s sworn tae tak’ ma fee, O.”

“If ye gang in by Netherdale
And in by Coventry, O,
It’s ye’ll escape frae Jock the Leg
And he winna trouble thee, O.”

Then he gaed in by Netherdale
And in by Coventry, O,
And fast behind him Jock the Leg
Was ridin’ for his fee, O.

They focht it up and they focht it doon
Wi’ swords o’ tempered steel, O,
They focht it up and they focht it doon,
Till the blood ran ower their heels, O.

Jock’s pitten his whistle tae his mouth
He’s blown it loud and shrill, O,
As six o’ his weill-armed men
Came trippin’ doon the hill, O.

“Although there’s six o’ your bowdest men,
And ye the seventh shall be, O,
Gin ye drive me a fit fae my pack,
Ye’ll get it a’ for me, O.”

They faucht it up and they faucht it doon,
Till daylicht they did see, O,
That they should hae focht till that day month
One fit he wouldna gie, O.

Then up it spak’ bold Jock the Leg,
And an angry man was he, O,
“I’ll fecht wi’ you nae more this day
Though it were for a kings’s fee, O.

“Ye’ll tak’ your pack upon your back
And ye’ll traivel by land or sea, O,
And at kirk or market when we meet,
Ye’ll get nae ill frae me, O.”

“I’ll tak’ my pack upon my back
And I’ll traivel by land and by sea, O,
And at kirk or market when we meet
I’ll tak’ nae ill frae thee, O.”