> The Watersons > Songs > Willy Went to Westerdale

Robin-a-Thrush / Rissolty, Rossolty / Willy Went to Westerdale

[ Roud 2792 ; Master title: Robin-a-Thrush ; TYG 1 ; Ballad Index C277RR ; MusTrad DB26 ; Bodleian Roud 2792 ; trad.]

Peggy, Penny and Barbara Seeger sang Rissolty, Rossolty in 1958 on their Topic EP of American children's songs Come Along John. The album's notes commented:

This song is an American variant of the Scots Wee Cooper o' Fife [Child 277]. In the latter, however, the wife refuese, out of haughtiness, to carry out her household duties and is subsequently punished by her husband, whereas in the former she proves willing but incompetent, and the household gets out of control. The plot is then left dangling and the listener must solve the domestic problem for himself.

Pete Seeger sang Rissolty, Rossolty in 1958 too on his Topic EP Pete and Five Strings.

The Watersons (Lal, Mike and Norma Waterson and John Harrison) sang Willy Went to Westerdale in 1966 on their third album, A Yorkshire Garland. Like most of the tracks from this LP, it was re-released in 1994 on the CD Early Days. It was also included in 2004 on the Watersons' 4 CD anthology Mighty River of Song. A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

Comedies of shiftless wives have been popular since the Middle Ages, particularly in the North of England. Why? Perhaps because life was always more taxing for northern women than their southern sisters. Sometimes the wives were so helpless that it was thought they were devil-possessed, and so they were ritually thrashed, more to cure than to correct them. Nothing of the sort happens to the gormless wife who lived at the spot where the Cleveland Hills start rising out of the North Yorkshire moors, The song was obtained by the diligent Yorkshire folklore collectors Nigel and Mary Hudleston, from a singer from Goatland.

Jeff Wesley of Whittlesbury sang Robin-a-Thrush in 1988 to John Howson. This recording was published on his Veteran Tapes cassette of songs from a Northamponshire farmer, Brisk and Bonny Lad (VT 116) and included in 2005 on the Veteran anthology CD It Was on a Market Day—One. Jeff Howson commented in the liner notes:

This misogynistic piece is similar to the ballad The Wife Wrapped in Wether's Skin (Roud 117, Child 277) and belongs to a quite ancient Indo-European family of folktales and songs that also spawned Shakespeare's play The Taming of the Shrew. Clearly audiences then had a different sense of humour from that found today! Jeff's version of the song is quite close to that collected by Cecil Sharp from Sister Emma of Clewer in Berkshire, although he first heard it sung by a local singer, Perce Foster from Perryend, who was born c.1905.


The Watersons sing Willy Went to Westerdale Notes by Steve Willis

Willy went to Westerdale,
Willy went to Westerdale,
Willy went to Westerdale,
He married a wife and brought her home.
    Sing-a-lair-a, Tak-er-amang-yer

My Grandad sang: 'He married a wife and he called her Jane'.
The chorus lines are just nonsense except for the last line, which means 'Take her among you'. Spelling is fairly arbitrary!

And he bought her twenty goodman kye
And she let nineteen of 'em dry.

This verse refers to dairy cattle.
My Grandad sang: 'He bowt her twenty good milk kye / She let nineteen o' them gan dry', which makes more sense. I have never heard of goodman kye.

And she only milked it once a year
And that was to make butter dear.

My Grandad sang: 'She nobbut milked but yance a year', which means the same but is authentic dialect, whereas the recorded version is standard English.

When she turned, she turned in her boot
And to make a print she put in her foot.

This verse refers to making butter and putting in a distinctive imprint.
My Grandad sang: 'When she kenned, she kenned in a beeyut', but I can't remember his second line. Again, this make more sense because you do not turn butter, you churn it (ken in dialect). The woman uses a boot as a churn.

She made a cheese and put it on t'shelf;
She never turned t'cheese till t'cheese turned 'tself.

You are supposed to turn cheese regularly while it is maturing.
This verse illustrates the abbreviated definite article that is typical of Yorkshire dialect. Note that it is not omitted, as often supposed by outsiders. There is always at least a glottal stop there!

She roasted the hen, both feather and gut,
And heads and tails and wattles and foot.

She did a far dirtier trick than that;
She let t'bairn wet in his best nightcap.

A bairn is a child (cf. Swedish barn).
I much prefer my Grandad's version: 'She did a thing far worse nor that / She let t'bairn dee it i' t'awd man's 'at' (She let the child do it in the old man's hat).

Jeff Wesley sings Robin-a-Thrush

Oh, Robin-a-Thrush he married a wife
   With a hoppity-moppity moan-oh
She turned out to be the plague of his life
With a higgety-jiggety-ruppety-petticoat
   Robin-a-Thrush cries moan-oh

And she never got up till twelve o’ clock
She put on a gown and never a smock

She swept the floor but once a year
The reasons she says that brooms were so dear

She milked the cow just once a week
She said it made the butter taste sweet

Her cheese when made is put on the shelf
And it never gets turned till it turns of itself

Well it turned and it turned and it turned on the floor
And it rolled and it rolled and it rolled at the door

Well it rolled and it rolled to Banbury Fair
And the old dame followed it on a grey mare

The song was sung for gentlemen
And if you want any more you must sing it again


Transcribed from the singing of the Watersons and annotated by Steve Willis, many thanks from Garry Gillard