> Shirley Collins > Songs > Nellie the Milkmaid
Nellie the Milkmaid / Coming Home from the Wake
; Master title: Nellie the Milkmaid
; Ballad Index
; VWML CJS2/10/2687
; Mudcat 19803
Harry Cox sang Coming Home from the Wake (i.e. a country dance, not a funeral) at the Windmill Inn in Sutton, Norfolk on 27 October 1947. This BBC recording 16416 made by E.J. Moeran was included in 2000 on his Topic anthology The Bonny Labouring Boy. Steve Roud noted:
This song was not collected very often by the great Edwardian collectors, possibly because its central theme of seduction was too starkly described, but the manuscripts of Sharp, Greig, and the Hammonds contain a few versions. It was also reported a handful of times in North America. Several British broadside printers issued the song, including Catnach and Pitts, which dates it from at least the early 19th century, and the Northamptonshire poet, John Clare (1793-1864) clearly based his Dolly’s Mistake on the song.
Sandy Paton sang Coming Home from the Wake in 1959 on his Elektra album The Many Sides of Sandy Paton. Kenneth S. Goldstein noted:
Still another case of a lad and a lassie “doing what comes naturally”. The “Nellie” and “Roger” of this delightful English country song represent many generations of young lovers who have rolled in the new-mown hay and lived to reap what they had sown. Collected by Peter Kennedy from the great Norfolk singer, Harry Cox.
O.J. Abbott from Hull, Quebec, sang Nellie Coming Home From the Wake in a field recording made by Edith Fowke that was included in 1961 on his Folkways album Irish and British Songs From the Ottawa Valley. Edith Fowke noted:
This light-hearted little song came from Patrick Whalen, one of the many Irish cousins living at South March, Ontario. There are many similar tales of girls who are too trusting, but I haven’t found this particular version in any printed source.
Shirley and Dolly Collins recorded Nellie the Milkmaid in 1969 for their album Anthems in Eden, next to another song about unwanted pregnancy, Gathering Rushes in the Month of May.
Sharron Kraus and electronic musician David Muddyman recorded Nellie the Milkmaid in 2002-3. This was finally released in 2023 on their download album, Birdloom.
The Mighty Quinns sang Coming Home from the Wake, “from a recording of Harry Cox”, on their 2008 CD Thicker Than Water.
Blowzabella sang Nellie Was a Milkmaid, a “traditional song collected by Cecil Sharp, Oxfordshire, 1911” [VWML CJS2/10/2687] , on their 2013 CD Strange News.
Harry Cox sings Coming Home from the Wake
Nelly the milkmaid so bonny blithe and gay,
She used to take delight with young Roger for to play.
Young Nelly did resolve when some pleasure for to take,
So she asked her mistress leave to let her go to the wake,
So she asked her mistress leave to let her go.
“Yes, Nelly you may go, but I’ll have you to beware.
Young Roger he is a wild youth. I’m sure he will be there.
Yes, Nelly, you may go but your promise you must make.
You don’t frolic with young Roger coming home from the wake,
You don’t frolic with young Roger coming home.”
Now the wake being over and Nelly going away,
He dragged poor Nelly along to some new-mown hay.
He laid poor Nelly down and her promise she did break.
And he kissed this pretty Nelly coming home from the wake,
And he kissed this pretty Nelly coming home.
Now six weeks being over she looked both pale and thin,
She expected every moment her missus to begin.
“Oh, Nelly, oh, Nelly, you did your promise break.”
“Ma’am I only had a fall a-coming home from the wake,
Ma’am I only had a fall a-coming home.”
Now six months being over and nine being come,
Young Nelly was the mother of a pretty little son.
She called him young Roger all for her frolic’s sake.
It was the name that Nelly gave him coming home from the wake,
Was the name that Nelly gave him coming home, coming home.
O.J. Abbott sings Nellie Coming Home From the Wake
Oh, pretty little Nellie, the milkmaid so gay,
Being fond of going unto a ball or a spree,
Says the missus unto Nellie, “I would have you to beware,
When you go to a spree, Joe Rogers will be there.
He will take you in his arms and he will keep you from all harm
And perhaps you might be sorry going home in the morn.”
Chorus (after each verse):
Nellie she got ready and away she did steer,
Praying all the time that Joe Rogers would be there,
And that he would take her in his arms and keep her from harm,
Then she knew she wouldn’t be sorry going home in the morn.
When she got there she got brandy, rum and cake,
She never got such usage before or at a wake.
Rogers took her in his arms and he kept her from all harm,
Saying, “I know you won’t be sorry going home in the morn.”
Early in the morning, just at the break of day,
He laid Nellie dovm beside a stack of hay.
Says Rogers unto Nellie, “I laid you down so neat
Sure I’ll play you ‘Shoot the Cat’ coming home from the wake.”
Eight months was over and nine coming on,
Nellie she gave birth to a darling young son.
Says the misus unto Nellie, “I will christen her for your sake,
And we’ll call it ‘Shoot the Cat’ coming home from the wake.”
Shirley Collins sings Nellie the Milkmaid
Nellie was a milkmaid bonny, brisk and gay,
She always took delight with young Roger for to play.
One day she decided some pleasure for to take
And asked her missus leave for to go to the wake.
Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Nellie toraloo, Nellie toraloo,
Oh sweet lovely Nelly, to the wake she did go
“Oh Nelly,” said her missus, “I’d have you to take care
And of that young Roger I’d have you beware.
So Nellie, you may go but this promise you must make,
Don’t frolic with young Roger coming home from the wake.”
So dressed in her best, young Nellie did repair
And as the expected young Roger he was there.
And they danced and they sang, they had beer, ale and cake,
And Nellie were the prettiest that they had at the wake.
The day being over, they homeward went their way,
Until they had come to the new cocks of hay.
And Roger kissed young Nell and her promise she did break,
She frolicked with young Roger coming home from the wake.
When seven months were over and nine being come,
Young Nellie was the mother of a fine lovely son.
“I will call it,” she said, “I will call it for his sake,
I’ll call it young Roger coming home from the wake.”