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Lyr Add: London Merchant / Old Miser

Artful Codger 18 Dec 08 - 04:42 PM
Richard Bridge 18 Dec 08 - 04:51 PM
Artful Codger 18 Dec 08 - 07:53 PM
Jim Dixon 20 Dec 08 - 07:17 PM
Joe Offer 20 Dec 08 - 07:38 PM
Artful Codger 21 Dec 08 - 01:56 PM
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Subject: Lyr Add: London Merchant / Old Miser
From: Artful Codger
Date: 18 Dec 08 - 04:42 PM

[Song: The London Merchant; aka The Flower of London; The Old Miser]

As sung by Peter Bellamy, from Harry Cox
Transcribed by Artful Codger

It is of an old miser in London did dwell
He had an only daughter such a beautiful girl
Five hundred bright guineas was her portion in gold
Until she fell in love with a young sailor bold.

Now when the old miser heard about this affair
All on the young sailor he would curse and would swear
No more shall that young man go and plow the salt sea
And before tomorrow morning his butcher I'll be.

Now when that pretty, fair maid heard her father say so
It filled her eyes full of tears and her heart full of woe
Oh, Willie, dear, Willie I wish you was here
How quickly I would warn you of the danger that's near.

So she dressed herself up then so rare and complete
For she was determined her sailor to meet
She had pumps on her feet and a cane in her hand
And she met her own true love as she walked down the strand.

Oh Willie, dear Willie, from this place you must flee
For my father, he's determined your butcher to be.
Go quickly to Dover, I would have you go there
And in less than eight-and-forty hours I will join you there.

Then up spoke this pretty fair maid with a tear in her eye,
saying, "I will have him or else I will die."
Straightway then she gave him two handfuls of gold
And she walked down along the strand like some young sailor bold.

Now as that pretty fair maid walked along down the strand,
She met her own father crying, "You are that man!"
And a sword from his side he most instantly drew
And into her body he pierced it quite through.

And when that old miser saw what he had done,
He tore off his hair and his finger he wrung.
Oh wretched cruel monster, what have I now done?"
I have killed my only daughter, she'd the flower of London.

And then that old miser, he took it so hard,
He put his sword to his breast till it pierced his own heart.
"Forgive me," he cried as he drew his last breath
And then he closed his eyes in the cold hand of death.

And when that young sailor heard about this affair,
He come quickly from Dover and died in despair.
There was father and daughter and a young sailor bold
All died an untimely death for the sake of bright gold.

Peter Bellamy sang this song as a solo on the album by The Young Tradition, So Cheerfully Round. It has been reissued on CD paired with the album The Young Tradition. The track is listed as "The Old Miser", though at the end of the song, Bellamy calls it "Bright Gold", after the final two words in this version.

Here is Peter's liner note:
The Old Miser is a ballad which has not to my knowledge been previously collected from Harry Cox, although other versions of this particular song are not uncommon and the story line is encountered time and time again under various titles and employing only slightly different details. The present text has a more bloodthirsty ending than most, with multiple deaths equalled only by The Banks of The Sweet Dundee and The Boston Strangler.

I learned the song from hearing Harry sing it at The Windmill, Sutton, in Norfolk on the 21st September last year. (I do not have the total-recall memory attributed to traditional singers, not even the ability to know so short a ballad on only one hearing. There were several tape recorders present.)

George Dow sings a quite similar text (with the title "The Flower of London") on the CD A Story to Tell: Keith Summers in Suffolk 1872-79, Musical Traditions Records MTCD339-0, 2007. I haven't heard it, so I can't comment on any similarity in tune. Liner note:
More often called The London Merchant, this song is frequently confused with several others which start in much the same way, but then diverge; The Old Miser (Roud 3913), The Silly Young Maid (Roud 17190), and the much more well-known Silk Merchant's Daughter (Roud 552).

We don't know where George Dow learned the song, but Jumbo Brightwell told Keith: 'Percy Smith from Walberswick sang The Flower of London ... then I heard a bloke, Will Whiting, he came from Dennington way, sing it. He kept the Mill here in Leiston and I used to go round and drink his home-made wine, and I soon picked it up.'

Other recordings on CD: Jumbo Brightwell (Neil Lanham NLCD3). As The Old Miser: Mary Ann Haynes (Musical Traditions MTCD320); Chris Willett (Topic TSCD 654).

[Broadsides titled "The Old Miser" give a related but different song, in which the father sells the girl's beau to a captain as a transport; the girl attempts to buy him back, but he's already been sent off, never to return. No one dies; she just throws a tizzy.]

The Bodley has several broadside versions of "The London Merchant", all very close to each other in wording. Below is a transcription of Harding B 16(130c), dated 1828 or 1829.


It's of a rich merchant near London we hear,
Had a comely young daughter most beautious and fair,
Twenty thousand bright guineas was her portion in gold,
Till she fell in love with a young sailor bold.

O when that the merchant these tidings did hear,
Upon the young sailor he vengeance did swear :
He said your true love shall no more plough the sea,
For before to-morrow morning his butcher I'll be.

So when that she heard her own father say so,
Her mind was o'erwhelm'd with sorrow and woe ;
She thought to herself if I could see my dear,
I quickly would warn him of the danger that's near.

In a suit of sailor's apparel complete,
She dressed herself from head to feet
With pumps on her feet and a cane in her hand,
She met her dear William as he walked through the Strand

She said my dear William, Oh! instantly flee,
For my father doth swear your butcher he'll be,
So straight unto Dover I'd have you repair,
And in forty-eight hours I'll meet you there.

As he kiss'd her sweet lips, the tear stood in each eye,
She said I will save you or else I will die,
Then straightway she gave him a handful of gold,
And marched up the street like a young sailor bold.

She meeting her father as she walked up the Strand,
He mistook her for William, and said, you're the man,
A sword from his side he then instantly drew,
And her beautiful body he pierced quite through.

When he found what he'd done he sunk in despair,
He wrung his old hands and he tore off his hair,
Crying wretched monster, Oh! what have I done,
I have killed my daughter the flower of London.

Then up from the ground he did instantly start,
And lean'd on his sword till he pierced his heart,
Forgive me, he cried, as he drew his last breath,
Then he closed his eyes in the cold arms of death.

Now when that young William these tidings did hear,
He died broken hearted with grief and despair,
Thus father dand daughter, and the young sailor bold,
Met an untimely death for the sake of cursed gold.

[Between title and text:]
Printed by T. BIRT,        10,        Great St. Andrew Street,
(wholesale and retail)                Seven Dials, London
Country Orders punctually attended to.
Every description of Printing an reasonable terms,
Children's Books, Battledores, Pictures, &c.

    In general, please try to post no more than one song per message. It makes it easier for us to index songs. Thanks.
    -Joe Offer-

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: London Merchant / Old Miser
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 18 Dec 08 - 04:51 PM

Interesting. I have always thought this to be called "Bright Gold". The Bellamy recording is characterised by his curious falling pitch on the end of each verse - followed by a recovery to pitch at the start of the next.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: London Merchant / Old Miser
From: Artful Codger
Date: 18 Dec 08 - 07:53 PM

As far as I know, "Bright Gold" is not an established title, merely the last two words in this variant, which Bellamy briefly announced at the end of that recording as the title, whereas the track is instead listed as "The Old Miser". Although the words "bright gold" also end the version sung by George Dow and others, it appears they all call it "The Flower of London", after a phrase in the middle of the text. In the broadsides, the last two words are consistently "cursed gold", and in place of "old miser" in the first line, they have "rich merchant" (as does Dow). All versions I've seen include the epithet "the flower of London".

The Bellamy/Cox tune is repeated for each couplet, hence twice per verse. Bellamy sang the "falling pitch" only at the end of the first couplet in a pair, and then only occasionally. It's a very intentional device, saying "Hey, there's more!": the sustained leading seventh represents the third of an implied V chord, as opposed to the expected tonic (root of a I chord). You need tricks like this when repeating a short tune twenty times in a row.

It may be something Bellamy got from Cox. He recorded Cox--perhaps the recording still exists in the Bellamy archives--so he had ample opportunity to study Cox's variations and phrasing.

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Subject: Lyr Add: THERE WAS AN OLD MISER (Catskills)
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 20 Dec 08 - 07:17 PM

Here's a different version with a happy ending. In fact, it's so different, you could call it a different song, but it starts the same way:

It appears along with a melody line in Folk Songs of the Catskills By Norman Cazden, Herbert Haufrecht, and Norman Studer (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1982):


1. There was an old miser in London did dwell,
Had a comely fine daughter, a beautiful girl,
And when this old miser was out of the way,
She was courted by a sailor lad by night and by day.

2. And when this old miser came this for to know,
Down to a sea captain straight away he did go,
Saying, "Captain, bold captain, I have good news to tell.
I have a young sailor boy in transport to sell.

3. "Oh, what will you give for him?" the old miser did say.
"I'll give you ten guineas, and a present besides;
I'll give you ten guineas, take him o'er the wide main,
And he'll never return to England to trouble you again."

4. And when this fair lady came this for to know,
Down to this sea captain straight away she did go,
Saying, "Captain, bold captain, I have bad news to tell:
You have my young sailor boy, a lad I love well."

5. "Oh no, fairest lady, that never can be.
I bought him of your father for to cross the wide sea.
I brought him of your father for to cross the wide main,
And he'll never return to England to love you again."

6. "Here's adieu to my father, for he ruined me.
Likewise to my mother, where e'er she may be.
I'll go home to my cottage and there I will mourn.
I will mourn for my sailor boy until he does return."

7. The very next day, the ship it set sail.
The very same day blew in a wonderful gale.
The ship it was wrecked and all hands they were drowned,
Except this young sailor boy and one William Brown.

8. They being good swimmers, they swam to the shore.
They being good swimmers, they're in England once more.
And now this couple's married, and out of the way,
In spite of the old miser and all he could say.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: London Merchant / Old Miser
From: Joe Offer
Date: 20 Dec 08 - 07:38 PM

There's an interesting entry on this song in the Traditional Ballad Index:

    There Was an Old Miser

    DESCRIPTION: The old miser's daughter is courted by a sailor. When the miser finds out, he pays a captain to impress the boy. The girl fails to save the boy, but his ship is wrecked and he escapes to shore almost alone. He finds the girl; they are married.

    AUTHOR: unknown

    EARLIEST DATE: before 1854 (broadside, Bodleian 2806 c.16(16))

    KEYWORDS: courting sailor father pressgang wreck escape marriage

    FOUND IN: US(MA) Britain(England(Lond))

    REFERENCES (1 citation):

    FSCatskills 48, "There Was an Old Miser" (1 text, 1 tune)

    ST FSC048 (Partial)

    Roud #3913


    Chris Willett, "The Old Miser" (on Voice04)


    Bodleian, 2806 c.16(16), "Old Miser" ("It's of an old miser in London did dwell"), Swindells (Manchester), 1796-1853; also Johnson Ballads 572, "The Old Miser"


    cf. "Disguised Sailor (The Sailor's Misfortune and Happy Marriage; The Old Miser)" [Laws N6]

    Notes: Although this song shows many similarities to Laws N6 (plus a slight similarity to "William and Harriet," Laws M7), Cazden et al consider the ending sufficiently different that they regard it as a separate ballad. Since the policy of this index is to split rather than lump, here it stands.

    Roud, interestingly, lumps it with Laws N10, "The Silk Merchant's Daughter." - RBW

    Chris Willett's version on Voice04 and Bodleian broadsides 2806 c.16(16) and Johnson Ballads 572 include the verses in the [Supplemental Tradition text, from Cazden et al] but omit the ending: no shipwreck or happy ending. - BS

    File: FSC048

    Go to the Ballad Search form

    Go to the Ballad Index Instructions

    Go to the Bibiography

    Go to the Discography

    The Ballad Index Copyright 2007 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.

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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: London Merchant / Old Miser
From: Artful Codger
Date: 21 Dec 08 - 01:56 PM

While "The London Merchant", "The Old Miser" and "The Silk Merchant's Daughter" may be related, they seem to represent different song clusters, with very distinct story lines and patterns of expression. The version you quote clearly resembles the "Old Miser" broadsides, rather than the "London Merchant" ones. Should we start a separate thread about that cluster, so that there is less confusion about which song a thread concerns? (It is unfortunate that Cox's version imported the "miser" bit from the other song, and uses the same title).

Of course, "relationship" can be a tough thing to nail down: how can derivation be proved at the remove of a century and a half, and how much similarity must exist? But the basic premise--powerful father packs off lowly beau of his only daughter--is common, shared by many songs (off the top of my head, I can think of "Matt Hyland" and "I Courted a Damsel"). "Merchant" and "Miser" share the same meter and similar wording and particulars for the setup, but in the body, where similarity should also be apparent in "related" songs, there is little.

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