> Martin Carthy > Songs > Polly on the Shore
> Shirley Collins > Songs > Polly on the Shore
> Trevor Lucas > Songs > Polly on the Shore

Polly on the Shore / The Valiant Sailor / Bold Carter

[ Roud 811 ; Ballad Index Wa057 ; VWML RVW2/3/49 ; Wiltshire 989 ; trad.]

Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams The Valiant Sailor Vaughan Williams in Norfolk

George ‘Pop’ Maynard's sang Polly on the Shore to Mervyn Plunkett in West Hoathly, Sussex, in October 1956. This recording was included in 1961 on the Collector EP Four Sussex Singers. An earlier recording, made by Peter Kennedy in Pop's home in Copthorne, Sussex, on 3 December 1955, was published in 1976 on his Topic LP of traditional songs from Sussex, Ye Subjects of England. In was also later included on the Topic anthologies Hidden English (1996), We've Received Orders to Sail (The Voice of the People Series, Volume 12, 1998), and English Originals (1999). His Topic album's sleeve notes commented:

Pop was obviously taken by songs which dealt with the sea and his version of The Valiant Sailor (Pop called it Polly on the Shore) became something of a masterpiece in his singing. His version differs somewhat from the broadside text that John Ashton included in his book Real Sailor Songs (1891) and from the set that Cecil Sharp collected in Cambridgeshire in 1911.

Martin Carthy sang Polly on the Shore on his 1969 album with Dave Swarbrick, Prince Heathen. It was also included on his 1999 compilation A Collection. He noted on the original album:

A song about that most beautiful and most precarious of emotions—resignation, and with a tune to match.

Shirley and Dolly Collins recorded Polly on the Shore one year later for their album Love, Death & the Lady; this was reissued in 2002 on their anthology Within Sound. She noted on her original album:

From George Maynard, of Copthorne, Sussex. It was one of the great good fortunes in my life to hear George sing in the flesh, back in 50's. Even though he was then in his eighties, he was still able to sing tunefully and gracefully, and had a remarkable stock of songs. He was a complete countryman, and well-known as a marbles and shove ha'penny player. I loved George because he reminded me of my Grandad, who had died a couple of years before. This song epitomes George to me, with its sweetness and dignity.

Trees sang Polly on the Shore in 1970 on their CBS album On the Shore.

Roy Palmer included The Valiant Sailor in 1973 in his book of “sea songs and ballads and prose passages illustrating life on the lower deck in Nelson's Navy”, The Valiant Sailor. Roy Harris sang it in the same year on the Topic album accompanying this book, The Valiant Sailor.

Trevor Lucas sang Polly on the Shore in 1973 on Fairport Convention's album Nine. This is probably Trevor Lucas' finest Fairport track. It was reissued on the double CD compilation Meet on the Ledge: The Classic Years 1967-1975. The version on the Fairport unConventioNal 4CD set is from a promotional video which, however, is the studio take compressed and in worse quality. A live version with Trevor Lucas from Cropredy 1982 was released on the cassette (and later on, CD) A.T. 2. Another—1993—Cropredy version with Ralph McTell singing is available on the CD 25th Anniversary Concert.

John Bowden and Vic Shepherd sang The Press-Gang Sailor on their 1982 album A Motty Down. They noted:

Another of the sings whom Frank Warner recorded was Mrs Lena Bourne Fish of East Jaffrey, New Hampshire, from whom this version of Polly on the Shore comes. We're fascinated by the ‘Britishness’ of the New England states, to which this remarkably full text testifies.

Nick Dow sang Bold Carter on his 1986 album A Mark Upon the Earth. He noted:

The song was collected in 1905 by Vaughan Williams from Mr J. Whitby (a sexton from Tilney All Saints near Kings Lynn). [VWML RVW2/3/49] . The song is the most powerful description of war at sea that I have found in the tradition. Bold Carter is pressed into service by a press gang. Now-days we are more subtle, we have abolished the press gang and replaced it with the dole queue. With two lads in the services, I can testify to the fact that the dole queue is as effective as any press gang in the area of enforced recruitment. I believe the correct terminology is Hobson's Choice.

Cyril Tawney sang Polly on the Shore in 1992 on his Neptune Tapes cassette of songs of voyages, battles and shipwrecks, Seamen Bold.

Ian Giles sang Polly on the Shore in 1997 on his WildGoose CD The Amber Triangle. He noted:

Another song on the subject of lovers parted by war; this time the Navy claims the beau.

Brian Peters sang Polly on the Shore in 2001 on his CD Lines.

Martin Simpson sang Polly on the Shore in 2001 too on his Topic CD The Bramble Briar.

Roger Grimes sang Polly on the Shore on the 2005 Musical Traditions anthology Songs from the Golden Fleece. Rod Stradling noted in the accompanying booklez:

Learned from a recording of Pop Maynard after having heard Lawrence Platt singing it at NTMC sometime in the early '70s. This is probably in my favourite top five songs. I just love the way it is put together.

Jack Crawford sang The Valiant Sailor in 2008 on his WildGoose CD Pride of the Season. He noted:

I learned this song from Roy Palmer's Oxford Book of Sea Songs (1986) long before first hearing George ‘Pop’ Maynard singing Polly on the Shore, which it closely resembles. Palmer took the text of The Valiant Sailor from John Ashton's Real Sailor-Songs (1891) and collated it with a related song, Lord Carter Is My Name, which was collected by George Butterworth from Mrs Cranstone of Billingshurst, Sussex, in July 1909 and published in the Journal of the Folk Song Society Volume 4 (1913).

Mary Humphreys and Anahata sang The Valiant Sailor in 2009 on their WildGoose CD Cold Fen. Mary Humphreys noted:

Cecil Sharp visited Ely Union in September 1911 and collected a couple of verses of this song, along with the tune, from Charles Warner, a 71 year-old agricultural labourer who had been in and out of the workhouse many times. It is very doubtful if he ever had been to sea. Perhaps the song was wishful thinking on his part. I completed the text from a version collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from Robert Whitby, the sexton from the village of Tilney All Saints, King's Lynn.

John Jones learned Polly on the Shore from the singing of Pop Maynard and sang it in 2009 on his Westpark album Rising Road.

False Lights sang Polly on the Shore in 2014 on their eponymous EP False Lights, on 17 August 2014 year at Folk East Festival, Suffolk, which was included on their download album Live at Folk East, and on their 2015 CD Salvor.

Andy Turner learned Polly on the Shore from the singing of Pop Maynard and sang it as the 24 May 2015 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Tim Jones and the Dark Lanterns sang Polly on the Shore on their 2017 CD Blossom & Fruit.

Blair Dunlip sang en excerpt of Polly on the Shore in 2018 on Ashley Hutchings' Talking Elephant album Paradise and Thorns.

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sings Polly on the Shore

Come all you wild young men
And a warning take by me,
Never to lead your single life astray
And into no bad company.

As I myself have done,
It being in the merry month of May,
𝄆 When I was pressed by a sea-captain
And on board a man-o-war I was sent. 𝄇

We sailed on the ocean so wide
And our bonny bonny flag we let fly.
Let every man stand true to his gun
For the Lord knows who must die.

Oh our captain was wounded full sore
And so were the rest of his men.
Our main mast rigging it was scattered on the deck
So that we were obliged to give in.

Oh our decks they were spattered with blood
And so loudly the cannons did roar;
𝄆 And thousands of times have I wished myself at home
And all along with my Polly on the shore. 𝄇

She's a tall and a slender girl,
She's a dark and a-rolling eye,
𝄆 And here am I lie a-bleeding on the deck
And for her sweet sake I would die. 𝄇

So farewell to me parents and me friends,
Farewell my dear Polly too.
𝄆 I'd ne'er would have crossed this salt sea so wide
If I had have been ruled by you. 𝄇

Shirley Collins sings Polly on the Shore

Come all you wild young men
And a warning take by me,
Never to lead your single life astray
And into no bad company.

As I myself have a-done,
It being in the merry month of May,
When I was pressed by a sea-captain
On board a man-o-war I was sent.

Now we sailed on the ocean so wide
And our bonny, bonny flag we let fly.
Let every man stand true to his guns
For the Lord knows who must die.

And our captain was wounded full sore
And so were the rest of his men.
Our main mast rigging was scattered on the deck
So that we were obliged to give in.

And the decks were all spattered with blood
And so loudly the cannons did roar;
And thousands of times have I wished myself at home
And all along with my Polly on the shore.

She's a tall and a slender girl,
She's a dark and a-roving eye,
But here am I lie a-bleeding on the deck
And for her sweet sake I shall die.

So farewell to me parents and me friends,
Farethewell, my dear Polly too.
𝄆 I never should have crossed this salt sea so wide
If I had have been ruled by her. 𝄇

Trevor Lucas sings Polly on the Shore

Come all you wild young men and a warning take by me
Never lead your single life astray or into bad company
As I myself have done, being all in the month of May
When I, as pressed by a sea captain, a privateer to trade
To the East Indies we were bound to plunder the raging main
And it's many the brave and a gallant ship we sent to a watery grave
Ah, for Freeport we did steer, our provisions to renew
When we did spy a bold man-of-war sailing three feet to our two

Oh, she fired across our bows, “Heave to and don't refuse
Surrender now unto my command or else your lives you'll lose”
And our decks they were sputtered with blood
And the cannons did loudly roar
And broadside and broadside a long time we lay
Till we could fight no more
And a thousand times I wished meself alone,
All alone with me Polly on the shore

She's a tall and a slender girl with a dark and a-rolling eye
And here am I, a-bleeding on the deck
And for a sweet saint must die
Farewell, me family and me friends, likewise me Polly too
I'd never have crossed the salt sea wide
If I'd have been ruled by you
And a thousand times I saw meself again,
All alone with me Polly on the shore

Roger Grimes sings Polly on the Shore

Come all you wild young men
And a warning take by me,
And never to lead your single life astray
Into no bad company.

As I myself have done,
It was in the merry month of May
When I was pressed by a sea captain,
And on board a man-of-war I was sent.

We sailed the ocean so wild,
And our bonny, bonny flag we let fly;
Let every man stand true to his gun,
For the Lord knows who must die.

Our captain was wounded full soon,
And so were the rest of his men;
Our main mast rigging lay scattered on board
So that we were obliged to give in.

Our decks were all spatter-ed with blood
And so loudly the cannons did roar,
And thousands of times I have wished meself at home
All along with me Polly on the shore.

She’s a tall and a slender young girl,
She’s a dark and a rolling eye.
And now here am I lie bleeding on the deck,
And for her sweet sake I must die.

So farewell to my father and my friends,
Likewise my dear old mother too.
𝄆I never should have sailed the salt sea so wide
If I had o' been ruled by you. 𝄇

Acknowledgements

Transcribed from the singing of Martin Carthy by Garry Gillard.