> Tony Rose > Songs > The Parson and the Clerk

The Parson and the Clerk

[ Roud 1154 ; Ballad Index K235 ; Geoffrey Thorn]

The first well-known version of this song about sins, The Parson and the Clerk, is Phil Tanner’s recording made on 22 April 1949 at Penmaen that was included on the anthology Songs of Animals and Other Marvels (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 10; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970), in 1968 on his eponymous EFDSS album, Phil Tanner, and in 2003 on his Veteran anthology CD The Gower Nightingale. Roy Palmer commented in the latter’s notes:

For many years it was thought that Phil Tanner’s version of this song, first recorded in 1949, was unique. In 1979, though, Mike Yates recorded Walter Pardon (1914-96) of Norfolk singing it. Then a Mrs. Brenda Bentall of Tonbridge, Kent, wrote to me (Roy Palmer) in 1982 to say that not only did she remember a verse of the song which she learned before 1934 but that she had a printed copy. This turned out to be an item of sheet music “sung with immense success” by G. H. Macdermott (1845-1901), and written and composed by Geoffrey Thorn (pseudonym of Charles Townley, 1843-1905) which Hopwood & Crew of London published in 1882. Tanner would have been twenty when it came out. His memorable performance, almost lapsing into speech at times, is full of infectious gusto.

Walter Pardon’s version mentioned above was issued in 1983 on his album Bright Golden Store.

Tony Rose recorded The Parson and the Clerk in 1970 for his first album, Young Hunting. He commented in the album sleeve notes:

The Parson and the Clerk comes from traditional singer Phil Tanner of Gower, South Wales. In a way the song has something in common with Robin Hood and the Bishop of Hereford. Again the hypocrisy of the clergy is exposed—to the obvious relief of the clerk, and from an objective point of view, there is little doubt as to which of the characters appears in the more favourable light.

And Roy Harris sang The Parson and the Clerk on the Fellside Recordings anthology Flash Company.


Tony Rose sings The Parson and the Clerk

Oh, a parson prayed to his flock one day, on the sins of the human race.
And the clerk, “Amen,” aloud did say, with the solemnest tone and face.
And this pious clerk, in the quiet though, did venture a bit of remark.
“All sin is sweet,” said the parson. “Then sin is for me,” said the clerk.
“Oh sin is for me,” said the clerk.

“And never covet thy neighbour’s goods,” this parson he said, “nor his maid.
Don’t rob a man of that what’s his, wherefore thou should be afraid.
And do covet ye not, thou man of sin, I venture this matter to mark,
Thy neighbour’s wife,” said the parson. “This lady for me,” said the clerk.
“Oh this lady for me,” said the clerk.

“And never sigh for that dross called gold, for blessed’s a man that is poor,
Nor cast ye the loaves nor the fishes from the poor.
For, I grieve to say, it is my fate to drive a carriage-and-pair in the park,
With a thousand a year,” said the parson. “Oh give it to me,” said the clerk.
“There’s no pride about me,” said the clerk.

My Christian friends and brethren, you should ever be humble and meek,
And never strike a sinful man, though he strike you one on the cheek.
But turn, my friends, to the erring one, yes, turn to the sinner so dark
Thy other cheek,” said the parson. “I’d break his nose,” said the clerk.
“Just land him at once,” said the clerk.

“Oh the boys are awfully tribulous,” the parson he says with a groan.
“And the boys too oft at Sunday school won’t let the young hussies alone.
And I’ve watched the boys behind their books, I’ve seen the boys their larks.
They’re kissing the girls,” said the parson. “I’ve done it myself,” said the clerk.
“And they’re fond of it too,” said the clerk.

Oh now, my sermon, friends, is done, and I bid you go watch and pray.
And don’t do as your parson does, but do as your parson say.
And ere I depart all worldly care, I venture this matter to mark.
“Never drink”, said the parson. “I’m awfully dry,” said the clerk.
“And I’m off for a wet,” said the clerk.


The lyrics are from the Digital Tradition. The variations in Tony Rose’s actual singing were transcribed by me. I corrected Rose’s mondegreen in the last line, “Ah, you’re awfully wet”, to Phil Tanner’s more sensible version though. Thanks to Garry Gillard.