> Peter Bellamy > Songs > The Blackberry Fold
The Blackberry Fold / Betsy the Milkmaid
; Master title: The Blackberry Fold
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Norfolk singer Harry Cox sang Blackberry Fold at home in Catfield, Norfolk, in October 1953 in a recording made by Peter Kennedy. This was published in 1965 on his eponymous EFDSS LP Harry Cox and in 2000 on his Rounder anthology What Will Become of England?. A later recording by Mervyn Plunkett from September 1958 was included on Harry Cox’s 2 CD Topic Records anthology, The Bonny Labouring Boy. Steve Roud commented in the liner notes:
Blackberry Fold, or Betsy the Milkmaid, was popular with singers, being noted a number of times by late 19th and 20th century collectors, particularly in southern England and East Anglia (George Spicer and Phoebe Smith both sang it), but only once or twice in North America. The earliest known collected version, however, is from Ayrshire in 1827 (published by Emily Lyle in Andrew Crawfurd’s Collection Vol. 2 (1996)). This lone Scottish version includes numerous differences to the English texts, in particular the ending in which, instead of forgiveness and marriage, the squire dies and Bess’s master and mistress throw his corpse “into yon river clear”. Various 19th century broadside printers issued the song, with the earliest known being John Pitts in London (c. 1810-1830) which is therefore roughly contemporary with the Ayrshire version. Apart from the latter, the text remained remarkably stable, and Harry’s is very similar to the Pitt’s sheet, although one striking difference is in the last two lines, where the broadside is more direct:It’s better to be honest if ever so poor
So he made her his lady instead of his whore
Sam Larner sang Betsy the Milkmaid in between 1958 and 1960 to Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. This recording was included in 2014 on his Musical Traditions anthology Cruising Round Yarmouth.
Charlie Carver of Tostock sang Blackberry Fold to John Howson at Tostock Gardeners’ Arms in 1960. This recording was included in 1993 on the Veteran cassette and in 2009 on the Veteran CD Many a Good Horseman. John Howson noted:
This ballad was particularly popular in the southern counties of England following widespread distribution by many 19th century broadside printers including: Such, Disley and Fortey (London), Williams (Portsea), Bloomer (Birmingham) and Swindells (Manchester) under it’s usual published name, The Squire and the Milkmaid. With its tale of courtship, broken tokens, seduction and finally marriage it was also noted down in mid Suffolk by E.J.Moeran in 1921 from George Hill at Stonham. Other East Anglian recordings which are available are from Harry Cox and from Phoebe Smith under the title of The Sheepfold.
Phoebe Smith sang this song as Down By the Sheepfold in a recording made by Peter Kennedy at Melton, Woodbridge, Suffolk, on 8 July 1956. This was included in 2012 on the Topic anthology of Southern English gypsy traditional singers, I’m a Romany Rai (The Voice of the People Volume 22). Another version of her singing The Sheepfold was recorded by Mike Yates in 1975-76 and published in 1977 on her family’s Topic album The Travelling Songster, and in 2001 on her Veteran CD The Yellow Handkerchief.
Queen Caroline Hughes sang a fragment of Betsy the Milkmaid in 1963 or 1966 to Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. This recording was included in 2014 on her Musical Traditions anthology Sheep-Crook and Black Dog. Rod Stradling noted in the album’s booklet:
If this confused example can be considered to be a version of Blackberry Fold, then we can say that many folksongs deal with the relationship between a squire and a village maiden. In The Banks of Sweet Dundee—a a highly popular piece—the squire dies. Here, however, he survives and is united with pretty Betsy. Today the song is no longer widespread, and of the 95 versions which we know about, some from as far away as Illinois and Labrador, most seem to be based on the broadsides issued by John Pitts c.1825 and in the 1850s by Henry Parker Such. In England the area of popularity is entirely in the south; there is just one version from Scotland.
Peter Bellamy learned The Blackberry Fold from the singing of Harry Cox and sang it in 1969 on his second LP, Fair England’s Shore. He noted:
Well into the twentieth century this broadside song issued by Henry Such of Southwark was still being hawked in the countryside. Eva Ashton heard the song in Sussex and E.J. Moeran found it in Suffolk. Like these two sets, Harry Cox’s version of the words follows the Such broadside closely, though the three tunes are different, reminding us that Cox, like many another folk singer before him, sometimes made up his own melody to fit a set of words that came before him without a tune.
The above mentioned George Spicer sang Blackberry Fold as the title track of his 1974 Topic LP Blackberry Fold; it was also included in 2001 on the Musical Traditions anthology of songs and music from the Mike Yates Collection, Up in the North and Down in the South. Mike Yates commented in the former album’s liner notes:
Many folksongs deal with the relationship between a squire and an amorous maiden. In the case of Blackberry Fold the squire’s intentions towards Betsy, the milkmaid, are misinterpreted by the latter, with an almost fatal result. However, all is resolved and the couple are happily united in the end. Not an everyday occurrence, of course, though one which has pleased several generations of singers. Today the song is no longer widespread, and the handful of versions which have been collected, some from as far away as Illinois and Labrador, all seem to be based on the broadside issued in the mid-1850’s by Henry Parker Such.
Danny Brazil sang Betsy the Milkmaid on 20 October 1977 at Staverton, Glos. to Gwilym Davies. This recording was included in 2007 on the Brazil Family’s Musical Traditions anthology Down By the Old Riverside. The album’s booklet notes are quite similar to the ones on Caroline Hughes’ album.
Jo Freya sang Blackberry Fold in 2018 on Blowzabella’s album Two Score. They noted:
Traditional, adapted and with extra lyrics by Jo Freya.
Jo found the song in the Kennedy Grant Library at Halsway Manor. There are numerous versions on this song most collected in the South West and East Anglia. The basic story is found in many traditional songs but Jo has added a middle section to explain how the romance developed from point blank refusal to marriage. The tune is quintessentially English and the origin of the word ‘fold’ is ancient—probably meaning an animal enclosure or field.
The Milk-Maid in Andrew Crawfurd’s Collection Vol. 2
In days o’ yore donn in Ross shire
There wonnit a noble squire
An monie a bonnie lady gay
At the time wonnit there
Ae simmer morn this noble squire
Was makand heavie mane
Whan in stept Bess the milk maid braw
Whilk made the squire fain
O want ye onie milk she said
Or want ye nane said she
Ye see, fair creature, I’m in love
Sum ruth cum shew to me
There’s monie a fairer sweeter may
An richer far than I
I’m naething but a servant may
Brocht up to milk the kye
O never mind my witching fair
The squire sune replied
Cum let us gae to yonner kirk
And ye sall be my bride
But as they gade towards the kirk
Within yon green grass feil
He grippit the milk maid in his arms
Sayan Bessie ye maun yeild
An gin ye here deny my suit
Within this green grass feild
I do intend to ravish you
An syne I will ye kill
O Sir did na ye hecht to me
That I soud be your wife
I’ll never never be your whore
I leif wad lose my life
Wi’ wrestling an pouand much
Frae him she did win free
An syne she saw a gude braid glaive
Hang dangling by his knee
Wi frantic rage she grippit the glaive
An ran his bodie thro
An hame towards her maister’s house
Like lichtening she flew
Upon my chaste body she said
The squire did grow bauld
I left him bleeding on the green
Within Lochlauchin bauld
Up then raise her master bauld
Likewise her mistress dear
An they hae thrown the squire’s corpse
Into yon river clear
Sam Larner sings Betsy the Milkmaid
The Squire and his sister, we sat in the hall
As we were got singing and talking to all,
As we were got singing each other a song
Pretty Betsy the milkmaid came trippling on.
“Do you want any milk, Squire?” pretty Betsy did say.
“Oh no, pretty Polly,” these words he did say,
“For it is your fair body which I do adore,
Such body as yours I never saw ’fore.”
“Now hold your tongue, Squire, and let me go free;
Don’t play your games on my poverty.
For there’s many a rich lady more fitted for you
Than I, a poor milkmaid brought up by a cow.”
Now with a long jingle, and that I’ve been told,
With a long jingle, these words to her he told:
“Now Betsy, pretty Betsy, let me have my will,
And that of course, I will prove to you still.
But the first time you desire me in this open field,
The first time I’ll force you, I’ll force you to yield.”
“Now hold your tongue, Squire, and let me go free.
Don’t play your games on my poverty,
For I’ll stick to my virtue as well as my life.”
And out of her bosom drew a long dagger knife.
Now with this long weapon she pierced him right through
And home to her master like lightning she flew.
Saying, “Master, oh Master,” with a tear in her eye,
“I’ve wounded the Squire, and I’m afraid he will die.”
Now the Squire was sent for and he was brought home,
And likewise the doctor to heal up his wound.
And likewise little Betsy, so brave and so fair …
(Spoken:) She nursed him with all her care.
(Spoken:) I don’t know any more. It come in like this …
It’s best to be honest if ever so poor
He made her his lady instead of a whore.
(Spoken:) Now that’s a nice song.
Charlie Carver sings Blackberry Fold
The squire and his sister they were sit in the hall,
And while they were sitting, they heard a maid call.
Now while they were singing a sweet lovely song,
Pretty Betsy the milk girl come trippling along.
“Do you want any milk sir?” pretty Betsy did say.
“Oh yes,” said the squire, “Come in, pretty maid.”
“For you are the young girl whom I do adore,
So I hope that my dear you won’t leave me anymore.”
“Oh hold your tongue squire, and let me go free,
And do not poke fun upon my poverty.
There are ladies of honour more fitting for you,
Than I a poor milk girl brought up to her cow.”
Then a ring from his finger, he instantly drew,
And right in the middle he broke it in two.
One half he gave to her, so that I have been told,
And they both went a-walking down a Blackberry Fold.
“Pretty Betsy, pretty Betsy I will now have my will.”
“Oh and so be it squire. I’ll be true to it still.”
“Well if you deny me out in this open field.
With my glittering sword, I will cause you to yield.”
With a wriggling and a squiggling pretty Betsy got free,
And with his own weapon she pierced his body.
She pierced his body and the blood then she drew,
Then home to her father like lightening she flew.
Then home to her father with tears in her eye,
“I have wounded the squire, the squire,” said she.
“It was on my fair body he grew very bold,
So I’ve left him lay bleeding down a Blackberry Fold.”
Oh the carriage it was sent for to fetch the squire home,
And likewise a doctor for to dress up his wound.
Oh and when it was dressed and he lay on his bed.
“Go and fetch me my Betsy, the milk girl,” he said.
Pretty Betsy come trembling and trembling again,
And then unto her, oh these words did refrain:
“For the wound that you gave me, then it was my own fault.
So never let my ruin remain in your thought.”
Oh a parson was sent for and he came to the bed,
And with the gold ring, oh these two he did wed.
And now they are married so that I’ve been told,
Oh they’re oft times seen a-walking down a Blackberry Fold.
Caroline Hughes sings Betsy the Milkmaid
There was a young squire, through Bristol he dwelled
With his father and his mother, he’ve bid them farewell
Oh, he met with a milkmaid so fond and so love
“It’s very cold this morning, you step inside.”
Well, she was young and foolish and she thought it no harm,
And she got into bed, love, to keep herself warm.
Well, the next early morning she jumped for her gown;
She walked through the fields as hard as she could.
Well he run behind her, both screaming she did
“Let me have the will of your body, will you?
If you don’t now yield to me my sword’s at my side
And I’ll leave you to die out in these cold open fields.”
Oh now uggling and struggling, sweet Betsy got free,
So early her voice from, she stopped the young man
“Oh, I’ll never go out no more with no more milk carts
And he won’t make me his lady so long as he could.”
Peter Bellamy sings The Blackberry Fold
It is of a young squire near Bristol did dwell
And ladies of honour they loved him right well,
But it was in vain, in vain; it was sad
That he was in love with a pretty milkmaid.
Now the squire and his sisters they sat in the hall,
And as they sat a-talking they heard someone call.
And as they were a-singing the sweet morning song,
Pretty Betsy the milkmaid came a-tripping along.
“Do you want any milk, sir,” pretty Betsy did say.
“Oh, yes,” said the squire, “step in, pretty maid.
But it is your fine body that I so much adore,
Such a love as I never endured before.”
“Oh no, sir,” cried Betsy, “How can you say so?
In love with a milkmaid and in such poor clothes.
There are many fine bodies well built up for you,
Not wed some poor milkmaid from the side of a cow.”
But a ring from off his finger he instantly drew
And right through the middle he pierced it quite through.
One half he gave to her, so I have been told,
And they walked out together down Blackberry Fold.
As they were a-walking and a-talking the squire did say,
“There is one thing I would warn you of, my pretty maid:
That if ever I force you in this open field,
The first time I force you, I will cause you to yield.”
“Oh no, sir,” cried Betsy, “Pray let me go free.
I would have you now play no such games upon me,
For I love my sweet virtue as I love my dear life.”
And it’s out from her bosom drew a long dagger knife.
Then out from her bosom this dagger she drew
And into his body she pierced it quite through.
Then it’s home to her master with tears in her eyes,
Saying, “I’ve wounded the squire; I’m afraid he might die.”
So a carriage being sent for and the squire brought home.
The doctor he was called in for to heal up his wound.
His wound being dressed, in bed he did lay,
“Oh Betsy, oh Betsy,” was all he did say.
So Betsy was sent for and a-shivering came on.
“I’m sorry,” said Betsy, “for what I have done.”
“Well, this wound that you gave me was all my own fault,
Don’t let no such feelings still remain in your thoughts.”
So a parson being sent for this couple to wed.
Right quickly they joined in them sweet marriage bands.
’Tis best to prove a virgin be you ever so poor,
It’ll make you a lady ten thousand times o’er.
Phoebe Smith sings The Sheepfold
As I were a singing a sweet pretty song
When Betsy the milkmaid came tripping along.
“Do you want any milk sir?” pretty Betsy she says
And “Yes,” said the squire, “if you’ll just step inside.”
“Now hold your tongue squire don’t you madam me
And don’t you make fun at my poor poverty.
For there’s many of ladies more richer than I
For I’m only a poor girl brought up by my cows.”
The ring from his finger he quickly a drew
He gave that to Betsy and in his open fields.
He gave it to Betsy to place on her hand
And away they went walking down by the sheepfold.
“Oh now pretty Betsy let me have my wish
And own you deny me in these open fields.
For if you deny me in these open fields
With my bright shiny sword I will soon make you hear.”
With huggling and struggling Pretty Betsy got free
And with her own whip and she soon let him see.
And with her own whip and she pierced him right through
And she left him lay bleeding down by the sheepfold.
So to her father with a tear in her eye,
“I have wounded the squire dear father,” she cried,
“I have wounded the squire dear father,” she cried,
“And I’ve left him lay bleeding down by the sheepfold.”
Now the carriage was sent for, the carriage it came
And like wise the doctor to heal up his wounds,
For to heal up his wounds as he laid on the ground
And it’s all that he asked for was his charming milkmaid.
Danny Brazil sings Betsy the Milkmaid
Pretty Betsy was a milkmaid and a milkmaid was she
With her milking cans round her, she was low I agree
“Do you want any milk?” pretty Betsy did say.
And it’s “Yes,” said the squire, “Come you in, pretty maid.”
“Step you in pretty milkmaid, set you down by me
Let’s you and I get married, love, if we can agree.”
“To get married to you sir, my age is too young,
To get married to you sir, my time is not come.”
Through fields and through meadows this young couple walked,
For to hear how the squire to the milkmaid did talk;
“If you don’t ale out in yonders green trees,
For it’s first I will force you, and then you I will kill.”
With kicking and struggling pretty Betsy got free,
And with his own weapon she’s pierced his body;
She pierced his body ’til the blood it did flow,
And she left him laid bleeding near the blackberry fold.
Pretty Betsy went home with a tear in her eye.
“I have wounded the squire,” to the master she cried,
“I have wounded the squire in his body quite deep
And I’ve let him laid bleeding near the blackberry fold.”
The carriage was sent for to fetch him home,
And likewise a doctor to heal up his wounds;
They healed up his wound and they put him in bed
And the milkmaid was sent for to bind up his head.
Blue ribbons, blue ribbons, orange and green,
She’s dressed in blue ribbons, she’s now to be seen
He made her his lady in the room of the hall,
For it’s best to live honest if you’re ever so poor.