A Maiden Sat A-Weeping / As Sylvie Was Walking / I Once Had a True Love / Once I Had a True Love
Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd noted in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (1959) on As Sylvie Was Walking:
This song was sent to W. P. Merrick from Australia. The singer, an 80-year-old woman born near Coleford, Gloucestershire, had been living in the Antipodes since 1855. She had learned the song from her uncle, also from Gloucestershire. The text has been amplified from versions sung to H.E.D. Hammond in 1906 by two Dorset women, Mrs. Hann of Stoke Abbot [VWML HAM/3/20/11] and Mrs. Russell of Upwey [VWML HAM/5/32/32] . A version from Lew Down, Devon [VWML SBG/2/1/24, RoudFS/S214747] appears in Songs of the West (Baring-Gould and others, 1905) under the title of A Maiden Sat A-Weeping.
Isla Cameron sang this song as I Once Had a True Love in 1960 on her and Ewan MacColl's Topic album Still I Love Him. A.L. Lloyd noted:
Isla Cameron learned this song “from some girl in Paris”. It is in fact well-known in the South of England, and has also turned up in Australia. Its usual title, named for its opening, is As Sally Sat Weeping, and often in both words and tune there is a reminiscence of the familiar children's game song Poor Jenny (or Mary or Sally) is a-Weeping which may at one time have been a dramatisation of this little lyrical charmer.
Paddy Tunney sang I Once Had a True Love in 1965 on his Topic album A Wild Bee's Nest. Sean O’Boyle noted:
This song should be immediately recognisable as the matrix of Padraic Colum’s well-known She Moved Thro’ the Fair. Paddy Tunney collected both words and music from Barney McGarvey of Termon, Donegal, in September 1960.
Derek Sarjeant sang I Once Had a Love in 1970 on his album Derek Sarjeant Sings English Folk.
Phoebe Smith sang Once I Had a True Love as the title track of her 1970 Topic album, Once I Had a True Love. Another version, collected by Mike Yates from her in 1975, was printed in Yates' book of songs of English and Scottish travellers and gypsies, Traveller's Joy (London: EFDSS, 2006).
Bob Davenport sang I Once Had a True Love on his 1976 Topic album Postcards Home.
Shirley Collins sang Poor Sally Sits A-Weeping, accompanied by her sister Dolly, in 1980 in London. This recording was included in 2002 on her Fledg'ling anthology Within Sound.
Jo Freya sang this song as As Sylvie Was Walking in 1992 on her Saydisc album Traditional Songs of England. The liner notes commented:
Based on the version sung by Mrs. Aston who was born in Coleford, Gloucestershire and who was living in Moonee Ponds, Victoria, Australia when the song was noted down in 1911 [VWML RoudFS/S136149] . She had learned it from her uncle also from Gloucestershire.
John Kirkpatrick sang A Maiden Sat A-Weeping in 2001 on Brass Monkey's fourth album, Going and Staying. The album's sleeve notes commented:
This little gem was one of a whole mass of songs collected by the Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould from James Parsons on Dartmoor in the 1880s [VWML SBG/2/1/24] . He was the man described as “The Singing Machine”—hard to start and hard to stop.
Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman sang Once I Had a Sweetheart in 2002 on their first duo album, apty titled 1..
Ygdrassil (Linde Nijland and Annemarieke Coenders) sang Once I Had a Sweetheart in 2002 on their album Nice Days Under Darkest Skies. They also sang in on their DVD Live at the Folkwoods Festival 2006.
Shan Cowan used to sing this song as The Forsaken Maiden at the Golden Fleece in Stroud in the early 2000s. This recording made in Rod and Danny Stradling's kitchen was included in 2005 on the Musical Traditions anthology Songs from the Golden Fleece. Rod Stradling commented in the accompanying booklet:
Collected by Sabine Baring-Gould in October 1888 from James Parsons of Lewdown. The song can be found in the Personal Copy MS (K1 p.94 no.39). Baring-Gould published it in Songs of the West and attributed the tune to the 16th century. A version of As Sally Sat A-Weeping was collected by H.E.D. Hammond in 1906 and published in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society 3 (1907) pp. 91-9. It is closely related to As Sylvie was Walking which appears in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.
Pete Castle sang Poor Sally Sits A-Weeping on his 2006 CD Poor Old Horse. He noted:
Grom the famous Mrs Russell of Upwey in Dorset; this is usually called Once I Had a Sweetheart.
Maggie Reilly sang Once I Had a Sweetheart in 2007 on her Hypertension album Rowan.
Jane and Amanda Threlfall sang Once I Had a True Love on their 2008 CD Sweet Nightingale. They noted:
This girl is understandably upset by her experiences, but stoically sticks to her principles, which in one respect is very commendable. But why has he gone in the first place? Her responses might be offering a clue. She's more than slightly out of her depth, by the sounds of it, and perhaps in need of someone to advise her to ‘get real’.
Hammond (H.E.D.) collected two versions in Dorset; one from Mrs Jane Hann of Stoke Abbot, in June 1906 [VWML HAM/3/20/11] , and the other from Mrs Russell of Upwey, undated in Roud [VWML HAM/5/32/32] . Although published as a hybrid Dorset collected / Scottish broadside text in The Seeds of Love by Stephen Sedley (Essex Music, 1967), these words don't appear to be from either Dorset version.
The original text of this song first appeared in Charles Coffey's ballad opera The Beggar's Wedding, produced in Dublin in 1719, following Gay's Beggar's Opera of 1728, The tune can be found in Daniel Wright's Compleat Tutor For Ye Flute (London, c.1733).
We have omitted the first two verses to make, for us, a more focussed song.
Andy Turner sang As Sylvie Was Walking as the 25 November 2012 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week, referring in his blog to John Kirkpatrick's Brass Monkey version and to Steeleye Span's song Sails of Silver.
Oysterband sang Once I Had a Sweetheart, in 2014 on their Navigator album Diamonds on the Water.
You Are Wolf sang As Sylvie Was Walking on her 2018 album Keld. She noted:
A song from Gloucestershire, collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. I like the empowering last verse—is Sylvie sailing off to commit suicide, to forget the lover that jilted her, or for revenge?
Rachel Newton sang Once I Had a True Love, “based on a version by Peggy Seeger”, on her 2018 CD West.
Paddy Tunney sings I Once Had a True Love
I once had a sweetheart, I loved her quite well
I loved her far better than my tongue could tell
Her parents disliked me for my want of gear
So adieu to you Molly, since you are not here
I dreamèd last night that my true love came in
So softly she came that her feet maid no din
She steppèd up to me and this she did day,
“It will not be long, love, till our wedding day”
Oh, if I was a fisher down by the seaside
And my love was a salmon coming in with the tide
I'd cast my net wide and my love I'd ensnare
I would bring home my Molly, I vow and declare
Or if I was a blackbird and had wings to fly
It's on my love's bosom this night I would lie
In a grove of green laurel I would lay her down
And with my strong wings I would her surround
Or if I was in yonder valley where the small birds do sing
And no one to be near me, 'tis I'd cry my fill
Since the notion it took me to have my own will
Sure my own rod is sorest and does beat me still
Then adieu to you Molly, adieu to my dear
Adieu to you sweetheart since you are not here
In a grove of green laurel I'll there make my moan
And I'll think of you, Molly, when I am alone
|Jo Freya sings As Sylvie Was Walking||Rachel Newton sings Once I Had a True Love|
As Sylvie was a-walking down by the riverside,
She thought on the lover that left her in pride,
As she sat a-weeping, a young man came by,
“I once had a sweetheart and now I have none,
Once I had a true love but now I have none,
“One night in sweet slumber, I dreamed I did see,
One night in sweet slumber I dreamed I did see,
“But when I awoke and I found it not so,
But when I awoken I found it not so,
My true love is married or otherwise dead,
I'll venture through England, through France and through Spain,
“I'll spread sail of silver and I'll steer towards the sun,
Brass Monkey sing A Maiden Sat A-Weeping
A maiden sat a-weeping down by the sad sea-shore,
“What ails my pretty mistress? What makes thy heart so sore?
What makes thy heart so sore?”
“Oh because I am weary, a-weary in my mind,
No pleasure, no comfort in this country I find,
In this country I find.”
“I'll spread my sails of silver, I'll loose my robe of silk,
My mast is of the Cypress tree, my path is white as milk,
My path is white as milk.”
“I'll spread my sails of silver, I'll steer towards the sun,
My false love will weep for me, for me when I am gone,
For me when I am gone,
For me when I am gone.”