> Steeleye Span > Songs > The Old Maid in the Garrett

Don’t Let Me Die an Old Maid / The Old Maid in the Garrett / Maids at 18

[ Roud 802 ; Master title: Don’t Let Me Die an Old Maid ; G/D 7:1378 ; Henry H138 ; Ballad Index R364 ; Bodleian Roud 802 ; Wiltshire 597 ; Mudcat 92521 ; trad.]

Marrow Bones The Everlasting Circle Sam Henry’s Songs of the People Songs and Ballads of Dundee

Peggy Seeger sang The Old Maid in 1955 on her Folkways album Folk Songs of Courting and Complaint. The album’s booklet noted:

The old maid tells of the success of her sisters, gives her own age as “six and forty”, and makes unheard-of concessions to the man who will marry her and take her “out of pity”.

Sandy Paton sang Auld Maid in a Garret in 1959 on his Elektra album The Many Sides of Sandy Paton. Kenneth S. Goldstein noted:

The complaint of an old maid is a pitiful sound, even when dressed up in so sprightly a tune as that sung here. The theme is an old one, and variants of this song have been found on old penny-songsheets which were hawked in the streets of England from the seventeenth century onward. This Scots version was learned from Lizzie Higgins of Aberdeen.

And Sandy Paton wrote in the Mudcat Café thread Origins: Old Maid In the Garrett -- Recorded By? in 2006:

I learned it from Lizzie Higgins and her mother, Jeannie Robertson. My wife and I stayed with them in Aberdeen for a week in September 1958. We had planned to camp outside of town, but Jeannie wouldn’t hear of it. So we spread our sleeping bags out in the front room of their tiny house. In the mornings, Isaac, Donald Higgins’ brother (Donald was Jeannie’s husband, Lizzie’s father), would bring us tea and scones, served to us “in bed”. Every evening we sang, and sang, and then sang some more when neighbours dropped in to share the music. Jeannie kept asking me to sing the Virginia version of Mattie Groves that I had learned from Paul Clayton. Later, I heard two English singers singing that melody, with a good Scottish text worked out for it, and read that they had learned it from Jeannie.

Lizzie informed us that the real way to end The Auld Maid in a Garret was “I’ll dee an auld maid in a garret. Wi’ a carrot.” Polite singers sang, “wi’ a parrot”, as did I when I recorded it for Elektra in 1959. I figured that was the wiser course, since I was earning my family’s living by doing school assembly programs at that time, and felt some school authorities might object to hiring a singer of such bawdy material.

The Reivers sang Auld Maid in a Garret on their 1960 EP The Work of The Reivers Volume 2. The liner notes commented:

It’s a queer thing, tradition; this is a song that one might have sworn was written for the old Glasgow music hall, and perhaps this version was. But in origin this song goes back to a penny sheet ballad written by Martin Parker in the seventeenth century called The Wooing Maid.

Dolina MacLennan sang Dee an Old Maid in a Garrett at Leith Town Hall on November 1963. A recording of this concert was released in the following year on the album The Hoot’nanny Show Vol. 1.

Jill Freedman sang Don’t Lezt Me Die an Old Maid on the 1963 Hullabaloo ABC Television programme broadcast on 13 November 1963.

Alex Campbell sang The Old Maid in the Garrett in 1965 on his eponymous Transatlantic album Alex Campbell.

Sweeney’s Men sang The Old Maid in the Garrett in the late 1960s on a Transatlantic single that was included in 2004 on their Castle anthology The Legend of Sweeney’s Men.

Isabel Sutherland sang Old Maid in a Garrett on her eponymous 1974 EFDSS album Isabel Sutherland.

Lizzie Higgins sang An Old Maid in a Garrett on her 1985 Lismor album What a Voice.

Steeleye Span recorded The Old Maid in the Garrett, with Gay Woods and Maddy Prior singing, in 1996 for their album Time. They noted:

Definitely to be taken with a large pint of salt, this is probably the first (and last) time that this sung has been sung by women!

Ellen Mitchell sang An Old Maid in a Garrett on her and Kevin Mitchell’s 2001 Musical Traditions CD Have a Drop Mair. She and Rod Stradling noted in the accompanying booklet:

Ellen: Although this sounds Scottish it actually derives from a London music hall song. I learned this by osmosis from people around me when I was growing up.

Indeed, it has actually been collected twice as frequently in England. Baring-Gould, Sharp, Hammond, and Gardiner all heard it in the early years of the 20th century, as did Alfred Williams and Mervyn Plunkett later. In Scotland, four versions appear in Greig-Duncan, and Lizzie Higgins recorded it on her 1985 Lismor LP What a Voice.

Jim Reid sang Auld Maid in a Garret on his 2001 CD Emfae Dundee.

The Witches of Elswick sang Maids at 18 in 2003 on their first album, Out of Bed. They noted:

Bry[ony Griffith] found this song in a book and fiddled about with the tune. As we’re all getting on a bit, we can identify with the sentiments… We dedicate it to anybody struggling to find a partner; it usually works out but not always with long lasting success.

Ray Fisher sang The Old Maid in the Garrett live at Newcastle’s Bridge Folk Club’s fiftieth birthday party in 2008. A recording of this concert was released on the CD 50 Years of Folk Music in Newcastle.

Tracy Boyle sang An Auld Maid in the Garrett live at St Andrew’s in the Square, Glasgow, during Celtic Connections 2017. This concert was released in the same year on the TMSA DVD 101 Scottish Songs: The Wee Red Book 2.


Peggy Seeger sings The Old Maid

Chorus (after each verse):
Come a landsman, a pinsman, a tinker or a tailor,
Fiddler, or a dancer, a ploughboy, or a sailor,
Gentleman, a poor man, a fool or a witty,
Don’t you let me die an old maid but take me out of pity.

Oh, I had a sister Sally, was younger than I am
She had so many sweethearts, she had to deny them;
As for my own part I never had many
If you all knew my heart, I’d be thankful for any.

Oh, I had a sister Susan, was ugly and misshapen,
Before she was sixteen years old she was taken,
Before she was eighteen, a son and a daughter.
Here am I six and forty and nary an offer.

Oh I never will be scolding, I never will be jealous,
My husband shall have money to go to the alehouse,
While he’s there a-spending well I’ll be at home a-saving,
And I’ll leave it to the world if I am worth having.

Steeleye Span sing The Old Maid in the Garrett

I was told by my Aunt
I was told by my Mother
That going to a wedding
Is the making of another
Well if this be so
Then I’ll go without a bidding
Oh kind Providence
Won’t you send me to a wedding

Chorus (after each verse):
And it’s, Oh dear me, how will it be
If I die an old maid in a garret

Now there’s my sister Jean
She’s not handsome or good-looking
Scarcely sixteen
And a fellow she was courting
Now she’s twenty-four
She’s a son and a daughter
Here am I, forty-four
And I’ve never had an offer

I can cook and I can sew
I can keep a house right tidy
Rise up in the morning
And get the breakfast ready
There’s nothing in this wide world
That makes my heart so cheery
As a wee fat man
To call me his own deary

Oh come landsman, come townsman
Come tinker or come tailor
Come fiddler, come dancer
Come ploughman or come sailor
Come rich man, come poor man
Come fool or come witty
Come any man at all
Won’t you marry out of pity?


They say that the women are
Worse than the men
They go down to Hell
And they’re thrown out again.

Ellen Mitchell sings An Old Maid in a Garrett

I have often heard it said
By ma faither an ma mother
Tae gang tae a wedding
Is the makkings o another
If this is true
Then I’ll gang withoot a biddin.
Oh kind Providence,
Won’t you send me tae a weddin.

Chorus (after each verse):
And it’s oh dear me, whit will I dae,
If I dee an auld maid in a garret?

Auch well, there’s ma sister Jean,
She not handsome or good-lookin
She’s scarcely sixteen
And a fellow she was courtin.
Noo she’s twenty four,
With a son and a daughter;
I am forty twa
And I’ve never had an offer.

I can cook and I can sew
I can make the hoos richt tidy,
Get up in the mornin
An mak the breakfeast ready.
But there’s nothing in this wide world
Would mak me half sae cheery
As a wee fat man
That would caa me his ain deary.

So come tinker or come tailor,
Come soldier or come sailor,
Come ony man at aa
That’ll tak me fae ma faither,
Come rich man, come poor man,
Come wise man or come witty,
Come ony man at aa
That’ll mairry me for pity.

Oh, well I’ll awa hame
For there’s naebidy heedin
There’s naebidy heedin
Tae poor auld Annie’s pleadin.
I’ll awa hame
Tae ma ain wee bit garret,
If I cannae get a man,
I’ll surely get a parrot.

The Witches of Elswick sing Maids at 18

Maid at eighteen, maid at nineteen, maid at twenty marry,
Here am I at twenty-five, no longer can I tarry.

Chorus (after each verse):
With a hey, hey down and a derry, derry down
Maid or wife, it’s a happy life
She leaves his heart, is free from strife
With a hey down, derry down dey

Sister Kate is far too young, she’s younger far than I am,
She’s had sweethearts by the score, she’s forc-ed to deny them.

Sister Bess has an ugly face and besides she is my shape in,
Before that she was seventeen a bride she had been made in.

Before that she had nineteen years she’d a son and a daughter,
Here am I at twenty-five, I’d never had one offer.

Tinker. tailor, soldier, sailor, come before my chance fade,
Come and woe me, please pursue me, don’t let me die an old maid.