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The Fair Maid of Bristol

[ Roud 17811 ; VWML GG/1/20/1316 ; Mudcat 164950 ; trad.]

Tim Radford sang The Fair Maid of Bristol in 2012 on his CD of “maritime songs collected in Hampshire, England, 1905-1909 by Dr. George B. Gardiner” From Spithead Roads. He noted:

Collected from Mr Fred Osman, age 59, of Bartley in the New Forest on 3 November 1908, local manuscript no. H1316 and Roud no. 17811.

One verse was also collected nearby at Stoney Cross from broom maker Frank Philips H1339, with a note from Gardiner saying: “Already got from Osman”—March 1909.

According to the 1901 UK Census, Osman only lived a few doors up from another singer collected in Bartley—Albert Doe, who gave Gardiner 17 more songs in November 1909, including a version of the rarely collected Ballad The Flower of Servingmen.

I do find it interesting that there is a gap of more than a year between the collecting of the songs from two different singers within a very small local area.


Tim Radford sings The Fair Maid of Bristol

It was of a pretty fair maid in Bristol did dwell,
She was courted by a sailor and he loved her full well.
She was courted by a sailor when sixteen years old
Come you listen, fair maiden, and the truth I will unfold.

It was early one morning to his lover he went,
It was to inform her of his full intent,
Crying, Polly dearest Polly, don’t you let it give you pain,
For I’m just a going to leave you across the wide main.

Then on board the old Rover he quickly set sail,
And left her a weeping her tears to prevail,
As she stood on the beach, me boys, her white hands did wave,
May the heavens protect him from a watery grave.

Then a twelve month passed over when a little or more,
When a letter was conveyed to the old British shore,
That William her sailor boy in the wars he was slain,
And his body they buried in a watery main.

Through the fields and green meadows all day I will roam,
Through the fields and green meadows by myself all alone,
To the loud roaring billows and the seas I will complain,
For the loss of my true lover on the watery main.