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I Once Lived in Service

[Peter Bellamy]

Norma Waterson sang the role of Susannah Holmes in Peter Bellamy's ballad opera The Transports. In the 1992 Whitby Folk Festival performance of The Transports, Eliza Carthy took over the role of Susannah.

And the Witches of Elswick recorded this song for the 2004 re-recording of The Transports. They also included it on their first CD, Out of Bed, where they commented:

Arranged especially for a reissue of Peter Bellamy's folk opera The Transports. Seeing as we're so good at keeping the house tidy and stealing cutlery, we chose the serving maid's song.

Lyrics

I once lived in service to a lady so fine
I've served her by night and by day-O
I've carried the dishes when the lady would dine
And after, I cleared them away

Oh dear me, how can it be?
The life of a servant is all slavery.

I've made up her bed and I turned down her sheets
I ironed the dresses she wore-O
I've peeled her potatoes, I've roasted her meats
And 'twas I, with me broom, swept her floor

Oh dear me, how can it be?
The life of a servant is all misery.

I scrubbed her front doorstep, I polished her plate
I put coals in the pan for her bed-O
I've rose before sunlight to blacklead her grate
And at midnight I've laid down my head

Oh dear me, how can it be?
The life of a servant is all drudgery.

I've carried her water, I've answered her door
I've polished the shoes for her feet-O
And when she went to church, then her prayer-book I bore
Behind as she marched down the street

Oh dear me, how can it be?
The life of a servant's a penance to me.

Now, I met a young man in the village one day
As I run to the shop for her bread-O
He's asked me my name, but I had to away
Lest me mistress should break me poor head

Oh dear me, how can it be?
The life of a servant has no liberty.

So that night as I lay in my attic so bare
I resolved that I would run away-O
And all for to honour the waggoner's fare
Some silver spoons took for me pay

Oh dear me, how can it be?
The life of a servant is melancholy.

Now I lie in prison but I will not weep
Who knows what tomorrow may hold-O
There's some fine lads in here for me company to keep
There's strong arms to keep me from cold

Oh dear me, how can it be?
The life of a convict is all chivalry!

Now I've known confinement the most of me years
Small freedom did I ever ken-O
Some prisons, sure, they have no cold iron bars
But some prisons, why, they have no men!

Oh dear me, how can it be?
The life of a convict's a pleasure to me
Dear me, how can it be?
The life of a servant was never so free!

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Wolfgang Hell who kindly provided me with the sleeve notes of the The Transports LPs. I changed a few words to the actual singing of Norma Waterson.