It’s fot-ty miles I’ve been today,
I spied a cottage by the way
That I never have seen afore,
that I never have seen afore.
I went upto this cottage door,
Pretty fair maid tripped over the floor,
And she cried aloud, “Whea’s there?” (twice)
“My dear, it rains, it hails, it snows,
And I am wet unto my clothes,
And I pray you let me in,” (twice)
“Oh no, kind sir, that never can be,
For there’s no-one in the house but me,
And I cannot let you in,” (twice)
I turned my steps away to go,
And she did sweet compassion bestow,
And she came and let me in, (twice)
We spent that night in sweet content,
The very next morning to church we went,
And I made her my lawful bride, (twice)
This is a traditional song
We have included this pleasant little song despite its widespread popularity in England, because of its obvious popularity in the Esk Valley region and in the area west of Sheffield. Two of Frank Kidson’s versions in Traditional Tunes(p59) come from Goathland and the song still survives there. In fact John’s version comes from Bill Pennock of Goathland. The six stanzas sung here seem to belong to a fairly standard version widely collected, although a few more stanzas were collected in the West Country in the early twentieth century. There is a Lincolnshire version which commences rather incongruously considering the state of the weather in the song, ‘As I walked out one summer’s morn, `twas in the merry month of June’. Other versions have the wooer leave the girl in the lurch coming home from the wedding, and the common ‘Come-all-ye’ stanza has been appended to some versions.
I have not seen any eighteenth or nineteenth century broadside versions of this song, but there is a very strong chance that at least one existed, unless it derives from an early Music Hall version. Its extremely fast pace has the look of burlesque about it; first encounter, courting, bedding and wedding all in the space of twenty-four hours.
A likely seventeenth century ancestor is found in several collections of broadsides under the title, John’s Earnest Request, or Betty’s compassionate Love extended to him in Time of Distress.
At least in this earlier piece it would appear the young lovers have some previous history. I have selected the equivalent lines from nine double stanzas.
Come, open the door, sweet Betty,
For ’tis a cold winter’s night,
It rains, and it blows, and it thunders,
And the moon it doth give no light.
* * * *
I dare not come down, sweet Johnny,
Nor I dare not let you in,
* * * *
The storm grows stronger and stronger,
And I am both wet and cold,
* * * *
Without any longer dodging
She opened the door with speed.
* * * *
It being cold winter weather,
They straight did hurry to bed,
And there they cuddl’d together,
And John got her maidenhead.
* * * *
The next day they were joined in marriage,
And was not this honestly done.
A variant of the theme with some lines in common is found in Scotland under similar titles to Cold, Haily, Rainy Night. These may all be derived from Burns’ rewrite. Other poets, such as the Lancashire poet, Edwin Waugh, have also recomposed the song, and similar pieces, not always with such a happy outcome, have been found on the continent.