> Shirley Collins > Songs > Nellie the Milkmaid

Nellie the Milkmaid / Coming Home from the Wake

[ Roud 1606 ; Ballad Index RL169 ; VWML CJS2/10/2687 ; Bodleian Roud 1606 ; Mudcat 19803 ; trad.]

Marrow Bones

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.

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.

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.

Lyrics

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.

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.”