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The Mower / The Buxom Lass

[ Roud 833 ; Master title: The Mower ; Ballad Index DTthemow ; VWML SBG/2/2/59 ; Bodleian Roud 833 ; DT THEMOWER ; Mudcat 6967 ; trad.]

Sabine Baring-Gould collected The Mower from James Parsons of Lewdown, Devon, in December 1887 [VWML SBG/2/2/59] . He published his own newly-written words of The Mower to Parsons’s tune in 1895 in A Garland of Country Song where he noted:

The Mower is a song that exists in several versions, as The Buxom Lass by Jackson, of Birmingham, as The Little Farm by Paul, of St. Andrew’s St., London, as The Weary Ploughman, as The Mower by Catnach and Hodges. They vary much, but all are objectionable, and I have therefore entirely re-written the song. The melody is without much character, yet this song is a very favourite one throughout England, and we have included the air for that reason, and that alone.

A.L. Lloyd sang The Mower unaccompanied on the 1966 Topic theme album of traditional erotic songs, The Bird in the Bush. This recording was also included in 1992 on the Fellside anthology of English traditional songs, Voices. Lloyd recorded the song a second time in 1966 for his album The Best of A.L. Lloyd where he noted:

Folk songs often embody very ancient ideas of love. The old magical notion that all the world’s phenomena are interdependent and that the closest unity exists between the germination of grain and the amorous encounters of men and women is still to be found, and the act of love is often symbolised as ploughing, sowing, reaping, mowing. So with this song where a rather delicate erotic situation is expressed with candour, but also with tenderness an humour. The Mower often appeared in 19th century broadsides and several versions reside among collector’s manuscripts, but it is missing from the standard song-books for all that is fundamentally a kind and decent song.

Cyril Tawney sang The Buxom Lass in 1974 on the Argo theme album The World of the Countryside.

Martyn Wyndham-Read sang The Mower in 1976 on the fundraiser album The Second Folk Review Record, in 1979 on his album Andy’s Gone, and in 2008 on his CD Jackeroo. He noted on his LP:

The Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924), squire, linguist, parson, teacher, folklorist and writer was a great eccentric and non-conformist. Despite a ‘county’ background, at 32 he insisted on marrying an illiterate eighteen year old Yorkshire mill girl. A further mark of his eccentricity was the sleeping bat that hung from his shoulder while he lectured his students at Hurstpierpoint. These are just two incidents taken from dozens of similarly outrageous ones that occurred in his very full life and this makes his typical Victorian prudery over folk-song texts all the more surprising. Even his unpublished manuscript is littered with comments such as, “Original words very gross and I did not note them”, or “Indecent”. With regard to The Mower he said: “The song exists in several versions. They vary much, but all are objectionable and I have therefore entirely rewritten it.” He changed the old sexual folk metaphor of the ‘mower’—who cuts down young maids’ meadows with his keen, sharp, ever-ready scythe—for an equally old, but far more respectable symbol, that of death.

Baring-Gould published the song in A Garland of Country Song (1895). The tune, he assures us, is the original one collected.

Chris Foster sang The Buxom Lass in 1977 on his Topic album Layers.

Barry Skinner sang The Buxom Lass in 1978 on his Fellside album with Geoff Lakeman, Bushes and Briars. He noted:

A very popular song in Somerset and Dorset. It contains some very unsubtle agricultural imagery.

An early incarnation of The Kings of Calicutt, consisting of Nancy Carr, vocals and fiddle, Eliza Carthy, fiddle, and Saul Rose, concertina, sang The Buxom Lass and played the tune Three Around Three. They were joined on this recording by Maclaine Colston on hammered dulcimer and Dan Plews on guitar. This track was released on the 1996 Mrs Casey Records compilation Evolving Tradition 2.

Pete Morton sang The Mower and the Dairymaid on his 1998 Harbourtown album Trespass. He noted:

A bit of 19th century Sid James and Barbara Windsor going on here. “Carry on Round the Garden.”

Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman sang The Buxom Lass in 2003 on their album 2..

Lauren McCormick and Emily Portman sang The Buxom Lass in 2007 on their privately issued EP Lauren McCormick & Emily Portman.

Marilyn Tucker and Paul Wilson sang The Mower in 2008 on their WildGoose CD of traditional songs from Devon and Cornwall from the collection of Sabine Baring-Gould, Dead Maid’s Land. They noted:

Although Baring-Gould ‘cleaned up’ this song of sexual encounter for publication in A Garland of Country Song, the words and tune as sung here were taken from James Parsons of Lewdown [VWML SBG/2/2/59] and are recorded unedited in his notebooks. A printed copy of the song can also be found in Baring-Gould¹s personal collection of broadsides.

The Hungarian group Simply English sang The Buxom Lass on their 2017 CD Long Grey Beard and a Head That’s Bald.


james Parsons sings The Mower

As I walked out one morning fair, the fourteenth of July
I met a maid, she asked my trade, I made her this reply:
“It is my occupation, love, to ramble up and down,
And with my scythe in order, love, to mow the meadow down.”

She said, “My pretty young man, a mower if you be;
I’ll find you some employment if you’ll go along with me.
My mother hath a meadow, that’s (kept) for you in store;
It’s on the dew, I tell you true ’twas never mowed before.

“All in my little meadow, you’ll find nor hills nor rocks;
I pray you do not leave me ’till my hay is all in pokes.
O mower man you promised me, you promised me that day
You would not bear your scythe elsewhere ’till you had cut my hay.”

I answered, “Fairest maiden I can no longer bide
For I must go across the hills far, far away and wide.
But if the grass be all cut down in the country where I go
Then I’ll return to you again, your meadow for to mow.”

Now summer being overpast, and harvest being o’er,
The mower gone, I’m left alone my folly to deplore.
And where he’s gone, I cannot tell, ’tis far beyond the hill,
And I must yield and quit the field where the grass is growing still.

Sabine Baring-Gould’s rewrite of The Mower

A mower in the month of June with tarring scythe am I.
To left, to right, I sweep and smite, before the dew is dry.
The daisy and the buttercup before me bow the head,
What blooméd fair in summer air, lies withered, cold, and dead.

There’s one doth mow, full well I know, that passeth through the land,
With scythe more keen, he mows the green, and letteth little stand.
Me unforgot, he sought my plot where blooméd babies three,
And pretty wife, there with his knife he shore them all from me.

At fall of e’en, when skies are green, above the sun’s decline,
I there behold blow flowers of gold, and think those flowers are mine.
On scythe I stoop, in humble hope, that mower’ll ease my pain.
In Eden sweet, I then shall greet my pretty flowers again.

A.L. Lloyd sings The Mower

As I went out one morning on the fourteenth of July
I met a maid and I asked her age and she gave me this reply:
“I have a little meadow, I’ve kept for you in store
And it’s only due, I should tell you true, it never was mowed before.”

She said: “Me handsome young man, if a mower that you be,
I give you good employment, so come along with me.”
Well it was me good employment to wander up and down
With me tearing scythe all to contrive to mow her meadow down.

Now me courage being undaunted, I stepped out on the ground,
And with me tearing scythe I then did strive to mow her meadow down.
I mowed from nine till dinnertime, it was far beyond my skill,
I was obliged to yield and to quit the field and the grass was growing still.

Now the mower she kissed and did pretest, this fair maid bein’ so young.
Her little eyes they glittered like to the rising sun.
She said: “I’ll strive to sharpen your scythe, so set it in me hand,
And then perhaps you will return again to mow me meadow land.”

The Kings of Calicutt sing The Buxom Lass

A labouring lad walk’d out one day and he met with a buxom lass,
Belonging to a dairyman, she had a field of grass,
It grew between two mountains at the foot of a running spring,
She hir’d him out to cut it down while the birds did sweetly sing.

He said, “My handsome fair maid, what wages will you give?
For mowing is hard labour unless your scythe be good.”
She says, “If you should please me well, as I am a lady clear,
I will give a crown an acre and plenty of strong beer.”

He said, “You handsome fair maid, I like your wages well,
And if that I should mow your grass you’ll say it done well,
For my scythe is in good order and lately has been ground,
And so, bonny lass, I’ll mow your grass till it’s down unto the ground.”

With courage like a lion he entered in the field,
But before he had mowed one swathe of grass he was obliged to yield,
Before he had mowed one swathe of grass his scythe was bent and broke.
She said, “My handsome fair man, you’re tired of your work.”

She said, “My handsome fair man, you’re tired of your work,
Oh, mowing is hard labour and weakening to the back,
yes, mowing is hard labour and it you must forsake,
But around my little meadow, you may use your fork and rake.”

He said, “My handsome fair maid, pray do not on me frown,
For if I stayed the summer long I could not cut it down,
For it is such a pleasant place and grows such crops of grass,
For it is well-watered by the spring that makes it grow so fast.”