You gallants all, I pray draw near,
And you a pleasant jest shall hear,
How a beggar wench of Hull
A merchant’s son of York did gull.
Chorus:- Fa-la-la-la-la, Fa-la-la-la.
One morning on a certain day
He clothed himself in rich array,
And took with him as it was told,
The sum of sixty pounds in gold.
So mounting on a prancing steed,
He towards Hull did ride with speed,
Where in his way he chanced to see
A beggar wench of mean degree.
She aske`d him for some relief,
And said with tears of seeming grief,
That she had neither house nor home,
But for her living was forced to roam.
He seeme`d to lament her case,
And said, ‘Thou hast a pretty face;
If thou wilt lodge with me,’ he cried,
‘With gold thou shalt be satisfied.’
Her silence seemed to give consent,
So to a little house they went;
The landlord laughed to see them kiss,
The beggar wench, a ragged miss.
He needs must have a dinner dressed,
And called for liquor of the best,
And there they tossed off bumpers free,
The jolly beggar wench and he.
A dose she gave him as ’tis thought,
Which by the landlady was brought;
For all the night he lay in bed,
Secure as if he had been dead.
Then she put on all his clothes,
His coat, his breeches and his hose;
His hat, his perriwig likewise,
And seized upon the golden prize
Her greasy petticoat and gown,
In which she rambled up and down,
She left the merchant’s son in lieu,
Her bag of bread and bottle too.
Downstairs like any spark she goes,
Five guineas to the host she throws,
And smiling then she went away,
And ne’er was heard of to this day.
When he had took his long repose,
He looked about and missed his clothes,
And saw her rags lie in the room,
How he did storm, nay fret and fume.
Yet wanting clothes and friends in town,
Her greasy petticoat and gown
He did put on, and mounted straight,
Bemoaning his unhappy fate.
You would have laughed to see the dress
Which he was in , yet ne’ertheless
He homewards rode, and often swore,
He’d never kiss a beggar more.
Joined on the chorus by John Greaves, Mark Ellison and Ray Black.
This is a traditional song about Yorkshire, collected in Yorkshire.
This ballad’s earliest appearance in print that has survived is in the 1723 A Collection of Old Ballads. This would imply that it was at least seventeenth century in origin. It was printed on broadsides by Turner of Coventry and William and Cluer Dicey at their Aldermary Churchyard, London press in the mid-eighteenth century, and also appeared in several anthologies such as Halliwell’s Yorkshire Anthology and Logan’s A Pedlar’s Pack of Ballads and Songs in the mid-nineteenth century. Its full title given in all of these is The Merchant’s Son of York and the Beggar Wench of Hull. Lacking the Yorkshire locations a broadside was printed by Baird of Cork about the same time.
In oral tradition it has only survived in Scotland, the Greig-Duncan Collection boasting seven versions, one of which still sets the scene in Hull. Even Christie prints part of a version from Buckie in his Traditional Ballad Airs Vol 2, p122, where he utilizes the tune for one of his own compositions. His beggar wench rather curiously is from Wales.
It is however Davie Stewart’s Angus version that has been most influential and which provided me with a tune to set the original words to. Before going any further I must express my opinion that the oral versions are far superior to the original, as is usually the case with broadside ballads. It is not without irony that a fine Scots singer, Ian (Jock) Manuel, born in Northern Ireland but brought up in Glasgow, came to live in Hull where he produced a couple of highly acclaimed albums, and unwittingly brought Davie Stewart’s version back home to Hull. Good on yer, Jock!