> Shirley Collins > Songs > Locks and Bolts
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> Steeleye Span > Songs > Locks and Bolts

Locks and Bolts / Back o’ Benachie / I Dreamed Last Night of My True Love

[ Roud 406 ; Master title: Locks and Bolts ; Laws M13 ; G/D 5:1012 ; Ballad Index LM13 , Ord438 ; VWML CJS2/10/3411 , CJS2/9/2502 ; DT LOCKBOLT ; Mudcat 61071 ; trad.]

The Foggy Dew Travellers’ Songs From England and Scotland Songs From North-East Scotland

The hero of this ballad frees his love who was locked away by her father.

Cecil Sharp collected Locks and Bolts from Mr. Harland Shelton of Spillcorn, North Carolina, on 6 September 1916. [VWML CJS2/10/3411] . His then assistant Maud Karpeles returned to the Appalachians in 1950 and recorded it from Emma Shelton of Flag Pong, Unicoi County, Tennessee. This recording was included in 2017 on the Musical Traditions anthology of historic recordings of Appalachian singer and musicians, When Cecil Left the Mountains. Rod Stradling noted in the accompanying booklet:

Scholars usually assign this ballad to the mid-17th century writer Martin Parker. As The lover’s joy and grief, or, a Young mans relation, in a pittyful fashion the ballad was printed in London by F. Cole, T. Vere, J. Wright & J. Clarke, sometime around 1674-79. It is also listed in William Thackeray’s catalogue of song titles, printed c.1689. Again, it is a song which has survived well in North America.

George ‘Pop’ Maynard sang Locks and Bolts at home in Copthorne, Sussex, on 3 December 1955 to Peter Kennedy His recording was released in 1976 on Maynard’s Topic album of traditional songs from Sussex, Ye Subjects of England. Mike Yates noted:

[…] The Seeds of Love, Locks and Bolts, Down By the Seaside and Rolling in the Dew were also stock Victorian broadside ballads, albeit ones with ancient histories even then. Many of these songs, once common, are now seldom encountered. Cecil Sharp, for instance, noted four versions of Locks and Bolts at the turn of the century, as did George Gardiner also. However, to my knowledge, Pop is the only English singer to have been recorded singing it—a sad come-down for this splendid ballad which was first licensed to be printed on 5 September 1631 under the title A Constant Wife.

Almeda Riddle sang Rainbow ’Mid Life’s Willows to Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins at Greers Ferry, Arkansas, in October 1959. This recording was included in 1997 on the Rounder anthology Ozark Frontier (Southern Journey Volume 7). Anna L. Chairetakis noted:

This was probably Mrs. Riddle’s own title for this ballad of British origin about a maiden sealed away from her lover by her male kin (See also Track 7, Once I Courted a Lady Beauty Bright).

Shirley Collins sang Locks and Bolts with some different verses in 1963 on her Topic EP Heroes in Love. Like all tracks of this EP, it was included in her compilation Fountain of Snow and on the CD reissue of The Sweet Primeroses. It was also included in 2002 on her Fledg’ling anthology Within Sound. The original record’s sleeve notes commented:

This song is known in Britain, though it has not appeared in the published English collections. Our present version is from the Appalachian region—Shirley has collated two texts from C.J. Sharp’s book English Folk Songs From the Southern Appalachians. The interesting hexatonic tune is something of a mystery since Shirley has forgotten her source, and may have composed it herself.

Maggie McPhee sang the Scottish version Back o’ Benachie in a recording made by Bill Leader in 1967. it was released a year later as the title track of the Topic album of songs and ballads from the Lowland East of Scotland, Back o’ Benachie. Peter Hall noted:

The tune, known as The Hessian’s March, was brought back to Scotland by soldiers serving with Marlborough and at first was an instrumental piece with but a single strain which has since become the chorus. Its first appearance as a song was in Lyric Gems of Scotland (1856). The verses have a literary ring and were presumably written by a local rhymester who realised the potential of the existing tune. The travelling people have many versions which, like the present example, differ widely from that usually published. Maggie McPhee, being a prolific songmaker, it is difficult to disentangle her own contributions from what us traditional in this version.

The Battlefield Band sang The Back o’ Benachie in 1976 on their first album, Scottish Folk.

Martin Carthy recorded Locks and Bolts for his 1976 album Crown of Horn; this track was also included on his Green Linnet compilation The Collection. And he sang this song Live in Sidmouth 1979 (a BBC recording of it was released as a digital download in 2013). He noted on the original album:

Locks and Bolts comes from the repertoire of the woodcutter, hop-picker, poacher and marbles champion George Maynard. It was collected by Ken Stubbs and printed in the Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (1963), whence I learnt it. At first glance it seems to be a Victorian song, but it is probably very much older, although not in this form.

Malinky sang this song as I Dreamed Last Night of My True Love in 2002 on their second CD, 3 Ravens. They noted:

Versions of this song exist in the traditions of Scotland, Ireland, England, Canada and Appalachia—an early version dates back to 1630. In the age of music being widely recorded and available, people can obtain songs from many different media and not just from other singers. Mark [Dunlop] took a longer (and bloodier) version from the Mudcat database and combined it with the version he first heard on a recording of Eddie and Finbar Furey.

Bob Bray sang Locks and Bolts in the early 2000s in Rod and Danny Stradling’s kitchen for the Musical Traditions CD of 2005, Songs From the Golden Fleece. He noted:

One of the first songs I learnt, I think, as a student in Bristol, from an EP of Shirley Collins’ singing. It is a lovely American version of the English song that I heard years later on a tape but never got the name of the singer. The tune soars and allows for gentle improvisation at every singing. A slightly dangerous courting technique—but then you’re only young once.

Both Martyn Wyndham-Read and Sara Grey sang their side of the pond’s versions of Locks and Bolts in 2005 on the Fellside album Song Links 2: A Celebration of English Traditional Songs and Their American Variants.

Nancy Kerr and James Fagan sang Locks and Bolts on their 2006 Fellside CD Strands of Gold. Like Shirley Collins they took their version from Cecil Sharp’s English Folk Songs From the Southern Appalachians.

Jackie Oates sang Locks and Bolts in 2009 on her CD Hyperboreans.

Steeleye Span sang Locks and Bolts in 2009 too on their CD Cogs, Wheels and Lovers.

Elizabeth LaPrelle sang Locks and Bolts in 2011 on her CD Bird’s Advice. She noted:

The poetry in this version is made up of such fine phrases. It quickly became one of my favourites. Emma Shelton of North Carolina is the singer on the incredible album Black Is the Color: The Maud Karpeles Collection, Vol. 1 (Folktrax #908) [and on When Cecil Left the Mountains, see above]. Maud Karpeles was an assistant to the famous ballad-collector Cecil Sharp as he travelled through the southern mountains around the time of the first World War. Karpeles returned in the 1950s with a tape recorder.

Andy Turner learned Locks and Bolts from the singing of ‘Pop’ Maynard, but was also influenced by Martin Carthy’s version. He sang it as the 8 September 2013 entry of his blog A Folk Song a Week.

Cath and Phil Tyler got Finest Flower from the singing of Almeda Riddle, learned it for the performance piece I Made Some Low Enquiries by Justin Hopper, and sang it in 2018 on their CD The Ox ad the Ax.

Edgelarks sang Locks and Bolts on their 2020 CD Henry Martin. They noted:

An English balled collected by [Peter] Kennedy in Somerset, but also documented widely aamoss the south of England, and in America. We’ve wondered about the psychological significance of selecting a song about imprisonment to sing during lockdown (the connection only came to us afterwards!) We thoroughly enjoyed creating percussion by recording the actual sounds of keys in locks, and bolts being shot!


Emma Shelton sings Locks and Bolts

Come in (away?) and tell me your name,
I’m talking about my darling.
She’s the little one I love so well,
She’s almost the complete one.

Her yellow hair’s like glittering gold
Comes jingling down her pillow,
She’s the little one I love so well,
She’s like a weeping willow.

You’ve caused your parents to owe me a grudge
And treat me most unkindly,
Because you’re of some high degree
And me so poor and needy.

I went up to her uncle’s house,
Enquiring for my darling,
And all they would say, “There’s no such here.”
And then, oh, what weeping.

But when she heard my lonely voice
She answered at the window,
Saying, “I would be with you soon my love
But locks and bolts still hinder.”

I stood for a moment all in amaze,
I viewed her long and tenderly.
My spirit flew, my sword I drew,
I swore that house I’d enter.

The blood was shed from every side
Till I got her from among them.
And all you young men who get such wives
Should fight ’til you overcome them.

Almeda Riddle sings Rainbow ’Mid Life’s Willows

Last night I dreamed of my true love;
All in my arms I held her.
But I awoke, she was not there,
Now I must live without her.

Her yeller hair, like strands of gold,
Was streaming over my pillow.
O she’s the only one I love,
My rainbow ’mid the willow.

I search for high, and I search for low,
I made some low inquiries.
But they all said, “No, we’ve seen no such,
We would have no such in our keeping.”

But when she heard from me those words,
She whispered low at her window:
“O darling, I’d be in your company,
But lacks and chains doth hinder.”

Now when I heard those words of hers,
I swore that room I would enter,
Or I would pray know the reason why
She was locked and chained within there.

But up stepped her father, stern and wise,
Likewise her two stalwart brothers.
“Before you enter that locked room
In your life’s blood you will wallow.”

They’ve taken away my own true love,
And tears now wet my pillow.
O she’s the only one I love,
My rainbow ’mid life’s willows.

Shirley Collins sings Locks and Bolts

I dreamed last night of my true love,
All in my arms I held her;
But when I woke she was not there,
I was alone without her.

Her yellow hair, like locks of gold,
Come jingling down my pillow;
She is the one that I love best,
She’s like the weeping willow.

You’ve caused your parents to bear me a grudge
And treat me most unkindly
Because you’re of some high degree
And me so poor and needy.

I went up to her father’s house
Enquiring for my darling.
Her father said, “She is not here;
I’ve none such in my keeping.”

But when she heard my lonely voice
She answered at the window,
“Oh lover, love, it’s I’d be yours,
But locks and bolts do hinder.”

I stood a moment all amazed,
I viewed her long and tender;
My passion flew, my sword I drew,
I swore that house I’d enter.

The blood was shed from every side
Till I got her from among them;
And all young men with loves like mine
Should fight till you can win them.

Martin Carthy sings Locks and Bolts

Twas over the hills, it was over the hills,
Twas over the hills and the valleys,
Where my true love was kept from me
Quite out of spite and malice.

I went down to her father’s house
Enquiring for my jewel.
They answered me, “She is not at home,
She is at her uncle’s housekeeping.”

So I went down to her uncle’s house
Enquiring for my jewel.
They answered me, “She is not here,”
Which proved to my heart so cruel.

This fair maid hearing of his voice
Put her head out of the window,
She says, “My dear, you’re welcome here
But locks and bolts do hinder.”

He stood a moment all in amaze,
All in amaze and wonder,
Till straight he drew in a passion flew,
And the door he broke asunder.

Her uncle’s servant, he being at home,
Soon after him did follow.
He said, “Young man, you must quit this room
Or in your own blood wallow.”

He took his true love all by her hand
And his sword all in the other,
He said, “If you have more right than I,
Take one and fight the other.”

So now this couple are in wedlock joined,
They do adore each other.
They oft time think all of that day
When the door he broke asunder.


Transcribed by Garry Gillard.