He stands on the doorstep and whistles me out,
His hands in his pockets, his shirt hanging out.
But still I love him, can’t deny it,
I’ll be with him wherever he goes.
He works at the tannery for ten bob a week,
But when he comes home he’s too drunk to speak.
He bought me a handkerchief red, white and blue,
Before I could use it he tore it in two.
He took me to pictures and he bought me some nuts,
Before I could eat them they’d gone down his guts.
He took me to pub and he bought me a stout,
Before I could drink it he ordered me out.
He took me to town and he showed me around,
He bought me some biscuits at a farthing a pound.
When I was single I wore a black shawl,
But now that I’m married I wear none at all.
This is a traditional song
This popular song does not appear in any collections until after World war II and in this form it is unlikely to be any older than World War I. Two versions, one from London and one from Boston, Lincs, were claimed by the singers to have been learnt from a grandfather and a father respectively, both with east coast maritime connections. Many versions, probably the earliest, certainly have connection with the fishing industry, most having been collected in sea-ports particularly on the English east coast, although it also turns up in Sussex and Liverpool in truncated versions.
From Lincolnshire down to London it is usually connected with the fishing communities but in the East Riding where it is very popular, in all versions the husband works at a tannery/tanyard as in this my mother’s version. Practically every singer we recorded could sing us a few stanzas and the chorus, particularly those living along the coast and in Hull. In the North East where it is also popular the husband works at the pityard. Interestingly a version from Teesside has him working at the tipyard. A sole traveller version from Scotland has the man as a traveller. In the 1960s an East Anglian version became very popular in Ireland. Whilst there is in all versions a solid core of oft-repeated stanzas, this catalogue song easily lends itself to adaptation and the addition of new stanzas.
My mother also sings a version of the male counterpart I wish I was single again (Roud 437) and it is highly likely that both of these songs and the Scottish equivalent When I was single (Roud 2593) all evolved from or were inspired by the much earlier When I was a maid (Roud 894) also found on broadsides c1800 under such titles as The Unfortunate/Unlucky Wife or The Maid and Wife. This song, which contrasts the maid’s comfortable conditions prior to marriage with her deplorable conditions after marriage, was burlesqued in the 1850s by Sam Cowell and it is possibly Cowell’s version that inspired the male counterpart I wish I was single again. It is possible that Still I love him was a latter-day rewrite of the Scottish subtype When I was single.
A version sung by Margaret Gardham was originally published in Gardham, An East Riding Songster, Lincolnshire and Humberside Arts, 1982, p37.