> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > The Parson and the Maid
> Martin Carthy > Songs > The Friar in the Well

The Friar in the Well / The Parson and the Maid

[ Roud 116 ; Master title: The Friar in the Well ; Child 276 ; Ballad Index C276 ; VWML HAM/4/26/14 , HAM/4/28/3 ; Bodleian Roud 116 ; Wiltshire 865 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd sang The Parson and the Maid in 1956 on the Riverside album English Drinking Songs, which was reissued on CD on the Topic label in 1998. He noted:

The notion is prevalent among folksingers that the most goatish of men are millers and clerics. In the past, poor men were often at the mercy of the grasping miller and the crafty monk, and, by way of revenge, country singers have delighted in fantasies which end in those two enemies being brought down by their own lusts. This song, earlier known as The Monk and the Maid, came to Suffolk from the north east of England. The tune is of Scottish origin, a variant of the well-known drinking song, Andro Wi’ His Cutty Gun.

Martin Carthy sang The Friar in the Well on his 1982 album Out of the Cut. His tune for this song is related to Over the Hills and Far Away. John Kirkpatrick played concertina and Howard Evans trumpet. Martin Carthy noted:

The Friar in the Well is a randy monk willing to go to any length to have his holy end away. He is well and truly unglued by the shrewdness of his 16-year-old prospective victim and his own enthusiasm. The tune is one of the crockery-ware type.

This rather long video from Barnsley Acoustic Roots Festival 2012 shows Brass Monkey performing The Friar in the Well, The King’s Hunt, Soldier, Soldier / The Flowers of Edinburgh, Willie the Waterboy, and Happy Hours:

The New Scorpion Band sang The Friar in the Well in 2004 on their CD The Downfall of Pears. They noted:

Collected by Henry and Robert Hammond in 1906 from Mr J. Penny of Poole [VWML HAM/4/26/14] and Mr F. Stockley of Wareham [VWML HAM/4/28/3] . The first mention of this story comes from the first half of the sixteenth century, and the ballad was evidently popular in Elizabethan times. In The Downfall of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon, Anthony Munday refers to the “merry jests” of the Robin Hood tradition, including:

As how the friar fell into the well,
For love of Jenny, that fair bonny belle

John Playford’s English Dancing Master, first printed in 1651, included the tune The Maid Peept Out at the Window or The Frier in The Well. Playford’s cheerful 6/8 melody is in fact not dissimilar to our Dorset version from two hundred and fifty years later, and could be used for the same words with some minor adaptations.


A.L. Lloyd sings The Parson and the Maid

Oh listen, my lads, and I’ll tell you the tale
Of a parson who loved a maiden well.
He came to her while she was in bed
With a fancy to have her maidenhead.

Says she, “I grant you your desire
If it weren’t for the fear of Hell’s old fire.”
Says he, “Of Hell’s old fire please have no doubt;
If you were in I could whistle you out.”

Then says the maid, “You’ll have your request.”
And the parson he grinned like a fox in his nest.
“But before that we may do this thing
Some money unto me you must bring!”

He brought the money, and did it down tell;
She had a sheet spread over the well.
She thanked the parson and took his money,
Says he, “Now let’s go do it sweet honey.”

But the fair maid cried that her father was come;
“Oho,” says the parson, “where shall I run?”
“Oh you must go behind that screen
And then by my dad you won’t be seen.”

Behind the screen the parson crept
And into the well of a sudden he leapt.
He gave a great screech and a pitiful moan,
“Oh help, oh help, else I’ll be drowned!”

“You said you’d whistle me out of hell,
Now whistle your own self out of the well.
And as for your money there’s nothing to tell
For you must pay for fouling the well.”

Now all who heard commend the maid
For the nimble trick that she had played.
The parson he ran down the street
Shaking his ears like a newly-washed sheep.

Martin Carthy sings The Friar in the Well

Now there was a friar as I been told
Fancied a girl sixteen years old;
Come begging to her in the middle of the night,
Would he sleep with her till the broad daylight.

Chorus (after each verse):
Till me ay fall lal diddle air o dee

“Oh no,” she says, “for you know very well,
If I do that, I go straight to hell.”
“No, he says, “there is no doubt;
For if you were in hell, I would whistle you out.”

“Very well,” says the girl, “you can do this thing:
You a purse of money must bring.”
So he went running the money to fetch.
She thought on a scheme the friar to catch.

So she got a sheet, you know very well,
She hung it up all in front of the well.
He come back and she led him in
And it’s, “Oh dear love, now let us begin.”

Then cries the girl so crafty and cunning,
“I think I hear my father a-coming!”
So behind the sheet the friar did trip,
Into the well he went arse over tit.

And the friar called out with a pitiful sound,
“Help sweetheart or I shall drown.”
She said, “You could whistle me out of hell,
Whistle your own self out of the well.”

So she hauled him out and she bid him be gone,
But he wanted his money all back again.
“No,” she says, “There is one matter,
You must pay me for you fouled my water.”

“And,” says the friar, “I never was treated so,
And I’ll never never come back here no more.”
Off he went on down the street,
Dragging his bum like a new dipped sheep.


Wolfgang Hell transcribed The Friar in the Well from Martin Carthy’s singing.