> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > Salisbury Plain
> Martin Carthy > Songs > Salisbury Plain
> Shirley Collins > Songs > Salisbury Plain
> Steeleye Span > Songs > Maddy Prior: Salisbury Plain

Salisbury Plain

[ Roud 1487 ; Ballad Index VEL095 ; VWML RVW2/2/154 ; trad.]

Ralph Vaughan Williams collected Salisbury Plain in 1904 from Mr and Mrs Verrall, Horsham, Sussex, and published in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. It was also collected in July 1907 by George Butterworth from Mr H. Akhurst of Lowed Beeding, Sussex.

In 1960, A.L. Lloyd recorded Salisbury Plains for his album A Selection from the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. Like all tracks from this LP it was reissued in 2003 on the CD England & Her Traditional Songs. Lloyd wrote in the album's sleeve notes:

Miss Lucy Broadwood tried to notate this song from Henry Burstow (see The Devil and the Ploughman), but he was too shy to sing the words to a lady and was unable to reproduce the melody without the words. Eventually, Ralph Vaughan Williams got it from him. The composer had special affection for the tune whose ancestry may be traceable to a Burgundian basse dance current around the middle of the fifteenth century, called Le petite roysin.

Martin Carthy sang Salisbury Plain unaccompanied on his 1969 album with Dave Swarbrick, Prince Heathen. Shirley Collins learnt it from Martin Carthy and recorded it for her and her sister Dolly's album Love, Death & the Lady.

Mick Ryan sang Salisbury Plain in 1996 on his CD with Pete Harris, The Widow's Promise. The liner notes commented:

Thus is to be found in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, though Mick got it from Martin Carthy. It's an eighteenth (possibly seventeenth) century highwayman song sung from the perspective of the girl he leaves behind when he goes to the gallows. Mick always thinks of this song when he crosses over Salisbury Plain in driving from Bournemouth, where he lives, to Swindon, where he's from.

Chris Molan sang Salisbury Plain at the Golden Fleece in Stroud in the early 2000s. This recording was included in 2005 on the Musical Traditions CD Songs from the Golden Fleece. He commented in the accompanying booklet:

The tune of Salisbury Plain comes from Mr and Mrs Verrall of Horsham, Sussex, and the words from their neighbour Henry Burstow. Like Lone Prairie it’s a great combination of economical words and spare melody evoking landscape and human drama in a very direct way.

I learned this song from the wonderful The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs around 1963 when I first had a go at singing. I didn’t begin to sing it until quite recently in small gatherings of singers. It’s only since singing in the small back parlour at the Fleece that I feel this song has it’s true place. Perhaps it is the sort of atmosphere in which these songs were originally performed, in a small, appreciative community. This is quite a revelation. The bigger the audience, the louder one has to sing, and some of the intimacy of the storytelling is lost.

Maddy Prior sang Salisbury Plain unaccompanied on her 2003 album Lionhearts and 2005 anthology Collections: A Very Best of 1995 to 2005.

Dr Faustus sang Salisbury Plain in 2003 on their Fellside CD The First Cut.

Lisa Knapp sang Salisbury Plain in 2007 on her CD Wild and Undaunted.

Andy Turner learned Salisbury Plain from Martin Carthy's album and sang it as the February 1, 2014 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Lyrics

A.L. Lloyd sings Salisbury Plain Martin Carthy sings Salisbury Plain

As I walked over Salisbury Plain,
Oh, there I met this scamping young blade.
He kissed me and enticèd me so
Till along with him I was forced for to go.

As I walked over Salisbury Plain,
Oh, there I met a scamping young blade.
He kissed me and enticèd me so
Till along with him I was forced for to go.

We came unto a public house at last
And there for man and wife we did pass.
He called for ale and wine and strong beer,
Till at length we both to bed did repair.

We came unto a public house at last
And there for man and wife we did pass.
He called for ale and wine and strong beer,
Till at length we both to bed did repair.

“Undress yourself, my darling,” says he,
“Undress yourself and come to bed with me.”
“Oh yes, that I will,” then says she,
“If you'll keep all those flash girls away.”

“Undress yourself, my darling,” says he,
“Undress yourself and come to bed with me.”
“Oh yes, that I will,” then says she,
“If you'll keep all those flash girls away.”

“Of those flash girls you need have not fear,
For you'll be safeguarded, my dear.
I'll maintain you as some lady so gay,
For I'll go a-robbing on the highway.”

“Oh, them flash girls you need not fear,
For you'll be safeguarded my dear.
I'll maintain you as some, lady so gay,
For I'll go a-robbing on the highway.”

It's early next morning my love he arose,
And so nimbly he put on his clothes,
Straight to the highway he set sail,
And 'twas there he robbed the coaches of the mail.

So it's early next morning my true love arose,
And so nimberly he put on his clothes,
Straight to the highway he set sail,
And 'twas there he robbed the coaches of the mail.

Oh, it's now my love in Newgate Gaol do lie,
Expecting every moment to die,
The Lord have mercy on his poor soul,
For I think I hear the death-bell to toll.

Oh, now my love in Newgate Gaol do lie,
Expecting every moment for to die,
The Lord have mercy on his poor soul,
For I think I hear the death-bell for to toll.

Shirley Collins sings Salisbury Plain

As I rode over Salisbury Plain,
It was there I met a scamping young blade.
He kissed me and enticèd me so
Till along with him I was forced for to go.

We came into a public house at last
And there for man and wife we did pass.
He called for strong ale, wine and beer,
Till at length to bed we both did repair.

“Undress yourself, my darling,” says he,
“Undress yourself and come to bed with me.”
“Indeed that I will,” then said she,
“If you'll keep all them flash girls away.”

“Of them flash girls you need not fear,
For you'll be safeguarded, my dear.
I'll maintain you like some lady gay,
For I'll go a-robbing on the king's highway.”

So early next morning my true love arose,
And so nimbly he put on his clothes,
Straightway for the highway he set sail,
And it's there he robbed the coaches of the mail.

And now my love in Newgate Gaol do lie,
Expecting every moment for to die.
May the Lord have mercy on his poor soul,
For I think I hear the death-bell for to toll.

Acknowledgements

Transcribed from the singing of Martin Carthy by Garry Gillard.