> Folk Music > Songs > Sweet Blooming Lavender

Sweet Blooming Lavender

[ Roud 854 ; Ballad Index K356 ; Mudcat 43186 ; trad.]

Isla Cameron sang Sweet Scented Lavender in 1956 on her Tradition album Through Bushes and Briars.

Janet Penfold sang Won’t You Buy My Sweet Blooming Lavender? to Peter Kennedy in Battersea, London, on 1 December 1958. This recording was included in 1994 on the Saydisc anthology Songs of the Travelling People and in 2012 on the Topic anthology of songs by Southern English gypsy traditional singers, I’m a Romany Rai (The Voice of the People Volume 22).

Bill Ellson from Edenbridge, Kent, sang Will You Buy My Sweet Blooming Lavender? to Mike Yates in ca. 1975. This recording was included in 1975 on the Topic anthology of gypsies, travellers and country singers, Songs of the Open Road, in 1998 of the Topic anthology My Father’s the King of the Gypsies (The Voice of the People Volume 11), and in 2006 in Mike Yates’ EFDSS book Traveller’s Joy. The first album’s notes commented:

“Let none despise the merry, merry cries of famous London Town.”

So runs one blackletter broadside in the Roxburghe collection. At one time merchants and labourers would advertise their wares and services by singing their respective cries in the streets. It was a practice that lasted from the reign of Queen Elizabeth until the early years of the present century, when the street cries began to wane (though there is a record of a gypsy lavender seller singing in London, outside Broadcasting House, as late as 1951, and the lavender song was heard at times in the Greenwich and Deptford area in the 1960s. Bill Ellson learnt his song about 40 years ago from his father, who would cross the Thames from his camp site at Mitcham Common to sell lavender in the more affluent streets of Chelsea.

Joe Smith of Woodbridge, Suffolk, sang Lavender to Mike Yates in 1975/76. This recording was included in 2001 on his wife Phoebe Smith’s Veteran anthology The Yellow Handkerchief.

Gordon Hall of Horsham, Sussex, sang Sweet Lavender to John Howson and Mike Yates in the 1980s. This recording was included at the end of the 1980s on his Veteran Tapes cassette In Horsham Town (VT115) and in 2008 on Mabs Hall’s and his Veteran CD As I Went Down to Horsham. John Howson and Mike Yates commented:

It is likely that the Romans or Benedictine monks introduced lavender to England before the Norman Conquest and it was regarded as a safeguard against evil. Traditionally, a cross was made from lavender and hung over the door for protection. It was also thought to ward off the plague and glove makers in London who used lavender oil to scent their leather were remarkably free of the disease. The street cries of lavender hawkers have now become an iconic image of London although they don’t often appear in folk song collections. Lucy Broadwood and J.A. Fuller Maitland did include two short Lavender Cries in English County Songs and one is credited as being sung in Kensington about 1880.

Alva sang Sweet Blooming Lavender as one of three street cries on their 2003 Beautiful Jo album The Bells of Paradise. They noted:

The sound of street sellers singing their cries to advertise their wares and services was once a familiar part of city life. Many of these street cries formed the basis for musical compositions from the 17th century and earlier. Sweet Blooming Lavender was recorded in Battersea in 1958, from travellers Janet and Florrie Penfold, a mother and daughter who were possibly the last to use the lavender cry in London. The three cries comprising the round New Oysters (from Thomas Ravenscroft’s song collection Pammelia, 1609), and The Rat Catcher’s Song (from Hogarth’s Catalogue), give a wonderful insight into street life in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Lisa Knapp sang the Lavender Song in 2007 on her CD Wild and Undaunted and in 2017 on Stick in the Wheel’s anthology of English folk field recordings, From Here. She commented in the latter album’s notes:

This one’s from Mitcham—it’s from Peter Kennedy’s Collection of Folk Songs of Britain and Ireland, a brilliant, beautiful, tea-stained book. Having got into singing Irish folk songs, I absolutely love that real decorative sean-nós style. There wasn’t a lot of English songs about, so I didn’t really know much about it, until I heard Shirley Collins and Martin Carthy. That really rung a bell. So then finding a song that actually mentions a place that I know well was like real revelation. I discovered the archive recordings of it later. The whole idea, that folk songs are where you’re from—the Lavender Song was collected from a lady in Clapham, again a place I know well. When it goes “come all you young ladies” it’s like “I’m sitting on a stool all day and I’m really fucking bored, I’ll just get into this and make up a little ditty”. It really kinda goes somewhere. Then “It was early this morning… it gets a bit romantic and poetic, and I just think, someone is standing there all day shouting out, trying to sell their lavender, they’re just getting bored, and they’re making up a song. And it’s kind of evolved, and they’re obviously kept it, and sang it away from the selling, a cry that’s become a song.


Bill Ellson sings Lavender

Will you buy my sweet blooming lavender?
For there’s sixteen blue branches for one penny all in full bloom.

Chorus (after each verse):
You’ll buy it once and you’ll buy it twice,
For it makes your clothes smell sweet and nice.
For there’s sixteen blue branches for one penny all in full bloom.

Now all you young ladies that make no delay
For the moths are about in your clothes they may stay.

Joe Smith sings Lavender

Come all you young ladies you make no delay
I have Mitcham lavender around here today
Now it is time for to cast your eye and then for to buy
As your sixteen blue branches a penny

You will buy it once you will buy it twice
It’ll scent your clothes so sweet and nice
Now is the time for to cast your eyes and then for to buy
That will keep all the moth from your clothing

Gordon Hall sings Sweet Lavender

Oh won’t you buy my sweet tender lavender?
Sixteen blue branches, all for one penny.
All in full bloom, come, come and buy.

You’ll buy it once. You’ll try it twice.
It makes your clothes smell sweet and nice.
All in full bloom, come, come and buy.

Come ladies all, make no delay.
For the moths are about, in your clothes they will stay.

Unless you buy my sweet scented lavender.
Sixteen blue branches, all for one penny.
All in full bloom, come, come and buy.

Come matrons all. Be in no doubt.
When the lavenders in, then the moths they are out.

Come, come and buy my sweet scented lavender.
Sixteen blue branches, all for one penny.

“God bless you sir! Thank you!”