The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #17087   Message #266275
Posted By: Malcolm Douglas
27-Jul-00 - 11:38 PM
Thread Name: Penguin: The Cruel Mother (Child #20)
Subject: RE: Tune Add: The Cruel Mother
From the notes to the Penguin Book (1959):

"The great Scottish collector Gavin Grieg believed that "the numerous versions of this ballad are practically all Scottish", but in fact it has been wide-spread in England too, a form of it even turning up as a London children's street game ¹ (N. Douglas, London Street Games, 1931 ed., p.47).  Apart from that version, and our Essex ² set, the ballad has been recorded from oral tradition in Oxfordshire (Folk Songs of the Upper Thames, ed. A. Williams, 1923),  Shropshire (SFL [abbreviation not explained] p.540),  Dorset (FSJ vol.III, pp.70,71),  Somerset (Folk Songs from Somerset, ed. Cecil Sharp, vol.IV p.54)  and (again as a game song) in Lancashire (FSJ vol.VI, p.80). -R.V.W./A.L.L.

This version was collected by H.E.D. Hammond from Mrs.Bowring of Cerne Abbas, Dorset, in 1907, and was first published in the Folk Song Journal, vol.III, P.71.

¹ Possibly  Old Muvver Lee
² Presumably an uncorrected editorial error?

Child #20
@murder @bastard @baby @deadbaby @ghost @hell

Other versions on the DT:

The Cruel Mother  A collated transcription from two or more commercial recordings, with tune (source not specified, though it appears to be the tune that Ewan McColl used, and which he apparantly learned (and may have adapted) from his aunt, Maggie Henry Logan: ref. Ailie Munroe, The Folk Music Revival in Scotland, 1984).

The Cruel Mother  From Bronson, Singing Tradition of Child's Popular Ballads, with tune.   Collected from Mrs. G. A. Griffin, FL 1937

The Cruel Mother  From Child, originally from Buchan's Ballads of the North of Scotland; no tune.

In the Forum:

The Rose and the Lindsey O  A transcription of the song as recorded by the Old Blind Dogs, who learnt it from The Gaugers.  "Based on the version found in the Child collection of Ballads", according to the quoted sleevenotes (1995);  it may well be a collation of several of the Child versions, but it's really quite close to, for example, the version that Gordeanna MacCulloch learned from Norman Buchan, which in turn (according to Ailie Munroe, The Folk Music Revival in Scotland, 1984) is very much like the version in Last Leaves of the Traditional Ballads and Ballad Airs (Alexander Keith, 1925);  I do wish that people would be a bit less mysterious in their sleeve-notes: we might then have some sort of idea where they got their material, and how much of it they made up themselves...

There is a well-known Irish version, Weela Wallia [sic], a children's game-song famously recorded by the Clancy Brothers.  It's regularly asked for here, under numerous different spellings(!) and the lyrics have been posted in several different threads in varying degrees of completeness.  These links are probably the most useful ones:

Weela Wallia
Tune for Weela Wallia
A slightly different version  -presumably to the same tune.

There is a version from Kirkdale, Liverpool:
Old Mother Lee  (skipping song; 1960s; no tune given.  Recorded by the Spinners.)

There is an entry at  The Traditional Ballad Index:
The Cruel Mother

Other titles:

Down by the Greenwood Side / Shady
There was a Duke's Daughter Lived in York
Fine Flowers in the Valley
Three Little Babies
The Lady of York
The Rose o' Malinde
The Minister's Daughter of New York / In The North

There are several versions at Lesley Nelson's  Child Ballads  site:

The Cruel Mother  with tune
Fine Flowers in the Valley  with tune

All 13 texts given in Child are at:  Cruel Mother Variants

Unfortunately there don't seem to be any broadside copies at the Bodleian Online Collection, but Bruce Olson has the full text of  The Duke's Daughter's Cruelty: Or the Wonderful Apparition of two Infants whom she Murther'd and Buried in a Forrest, for to hide her Shame  (c.1690) at his website.

Iona and Peter Opie (The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren, OUP 1959) give a recited version of Old Mother Lee from London (1950s or earlier), which is worth repeating here:

There was an old girl called Old Muvver Lee,
Old Muvver Lee,Old Muvver Lee,
There was an old girl called Old Muvver Lee,
Under the walnut tree.

She 'ad 'er baiby on 'er knee...

A carvin' knife was in 'er 'and...

She ran it through the baiby's 'art...

The rich red blood went runnin' dahn...

The corny cops come runnin' dahn...

They strung 'er up and 'ung 'er 'igh...

"Version recited in dead-pan manner by boy, aged about 11, Waterloo, London.  At the end of each verse one finger was quietly raised pointing up to the walnut tree."

It's also worth looking at Child #21,  
The Maid and the Palmer,  as he called it, (in modernised spelling on the DT,  here)  which deals with a very similar theme.
Closer to The Cruel Mother, though evidently a variant of the former, is  The Well Below the Valley,  the only known example of which was got from the Traveller John "Jacko" Reilly of Co. Leitrim in the late 1960s by Tom Munnelly.   Planxty recorded a reasonably faithful version of it a few years later (1973), by which time Reilly was dead of pneumonia at the age of 44.  Topic Records released an album of Reilly's songs in 1978 (The Bonny Green Tree, Topic Records 12T359).