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Ladies Don’t Go A-Thieving

[ Roud V28087 ; Mudcat 4499 ; trad.]

The Halliard sang Ladies Don’t Go A-Thieving on their album The Halliard : Jon Raven which was originally published in 1968 and reissued on CD in 1997. Later, this recording was also included on the Halliard’s CD Broadside Songs.

Bandoggs, with Nic Jones and Tony Rose, recorded Ladies, Don’t Go Thieving! with slightly different words in 1978 for their eponymous album, Bandoggs. They sing the chorus after each verse. They have “lights” instead of “wraps”, “veil” for “shawl”, “soon” for “quickly”, and the husband “swore” for “said”.

Steve Turner sang When Ladies Go A-Thieving in 2023 on his Tradition Bearers album Curious Times, which got its title from a phrase of this song. He noted:

An unusual subject for a protest song. This broadside from 1847 was found in Henderson’s Victorian Street Ballads and put to music by Dave Moran and Nie Jones in their Halliard days in the late ’60s. I added the second part of the tune.

Department stores came into being with the invention of plate glass in the 1840s, and changed the lives of middle-class women, giving them a wider choice of clothes and accessories and the opportunity to meet their friends in these warm, brightly lit environments, to the extent that some of them became obsessed, visiting shops like Macey’s, Bloomingdale’s, etc. in the U.S. and Debenhams etc in the U.K. The security was lax and the women were tempted to load up their bags and walk out. When caught the judge would tell them off and away they would go, whereas a working class man stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family could be sent to Van Diemen’s Land for seven long years.


The Halliard sing Ladies Don’t Go A-Thieving

Oh don’t we live all in curious times,
You scarce would be believing,
When Frenchmen fight, aye, and emperors die,
And ladies go a-thieving.

A beauty from the West End went,
Around the shops then she lingers.
And there upon some handkerchiefs
She wraps her pretty fingers.

For thieving is a wicked trade
As I to you will state now;
If a poor man stole a penny loaf
They’d send him off to Newgate.

He’d get six months all in Newgate Gaol,
In roguery he was dealing,
But here’s a lady all in a veil
Who rambles out a-thieving.

The draper peered all beneath the shawl,
He said, “What d’you mean now by this then?”
And very quickly she was in the hands
Of one of them new policemen.

Her husband when he heard the news
Began to shout and to curse her;
He said he’d take his whip to her
And make her fingers blister.

For thieving is a wicked trade
As I to you will state now;
If a poor man stole a penny loaf
They’d sent him off to Newgate.

(repeat first verse)


Thanks to Garry Gillard for transcribing the lyrics.