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Origin: Locks and Bolts

12 Apr 02 - 11:56 AM (#688578)
Subject: Hist/Info song 'Locks & Bolts'
From: GUEST,

Can anyone provide any history/info on the song, entitled "Locks and Bolts" in Mudcat database?

12 Apr 02 - 12:14 PM (#688597)
Subject: RE: Help: Hist/Info song 'Locks & Bolts'
From: IanC


The Mudcat Number (#328) is shared with The Miller's Will (2) which is obviously a mistake. The Laws Number (M13) isn't helpful within the context of the DT either.

I'll have to look a bit harder.


[The DT numbers got cleared up. This is #328. The Miller's Will is not - SofDT]

12 Apr 02 - 12:28 PM (#688606)
Subject: RE: Help: Hist/Info song 'Locks & Bolts'
From: IanC

Here's the entry in the "Traditional Ballad Index".

Locks and Bolts [Laws M13]

DESCRIPTION: The singer misses his love. Her parents, learning she loved a poor man, locked her away (in her uncle's house). The young man breaks the locks and rescues her (possibly fighting a battle along the way). The two are married
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1876 (Christie, _Traditional Ballad Airs I_)
KEYWORDS: love poverty separation rescue marriage
FOUND IN: US(Ap,MA,MW,SE,So) Britain(England)
REFERENCES (18 citations):
Laws M13, "Locks and Bolts"
Belden, pp. 168-169, "Locks and Bolts" (1 text, a fragment)
Randolph 110, "I Dreamed of My True Lover" (2 texts, 1 tune)
McNeil-SFB1, p. 74, "Rainbow Willow"; pp. 75-76, "I Dreamt Last Night of My True Love" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
BrownII 84, "Locks and Bolts" (1 text)
BrownSchinhanIV 84, "Locks and Bolts" (1 excerpt, 1 tune)
Chappell-FSRA 74, "Sylvania Lester" (1 text)
Brewster 65, "Locks and Bolts" (1 text from tradition plus a text from the Pepys Ballads)
SharpAp 80, "Locks and Bolts" (5 texts, 5 tunes)
Sandburg, p. 149, "I Dreamed Last Night of My True Love" (1 text, 1 tune)
Kennedy 162, "Locks and Bolts" (1 text, 1 tune)
Sharp/Karpeles-80E 31, "Locks and Bolts" (1 text, 1 tune -- a composite version)
MacSeegTrav 79, "Locks and Bolts" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Chase, pp. 132-133, "Locks and Bolts" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ord, pp. 438-441, "The Lass o' Bennochie" (3 texts, very diverse; the second is mixed with this song)
Abrahams/Foss, pp. 111-112, "Rainbow Willow" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 145, "Locks And Bolts" (1 text)

Roud #406
George Maynard, "Locks and Bolts" (on Maynard1)
New Lost City Ramblers, "Locks and Bolts" (on NLCR16)
Almeda Riddle, "Locks and Bolts" (Vanguard VRS-9158, n.d.); "Rainbow 'Mid Life's Willows" (on LomaxCD1707)

cf. "The Iron Door" [Laws M15] (theme: girl locked away by father)
cf. "The Gallant Shoemaker" (theme: girl locked away by father)
cf. "The Sailor and His Love" (theme: girl locked away by father)
cf. "The Lass o' Bennochie" (theme: girl locked away by father)
cf. "Johnie Scot" [Child 99] (theme: girl locked away by father)
cf. "Bredalbane" (theme: girl locked away by father)
cf. "The Farmer's Daughter and the Gay Ploughboy" (theme: girl locked away by father)
cf. "William (Willie) Riley (Riley's Trial)" [Laws M10] (theme: girl locked away by father)
cf. "Andrew Lammie" [Child 233] (theme: girl locked away by father[?])
cf. "All Over Those Hills" (theme)
cf. "The Drowsy Sleeper (II)" (theme)
cf. "The Farmer's Daughter and the Gay Ploughboy" (theme)
The Lass o' Bennachie
At the Back o' Bennachie
NOTES: "Rainbow 'Mid Life's Willows" is a truncated version of the song, ending with the singer's lamenting his separation from his true love; his breaking down the door is omitted. It does contain the key line, "Locks and chains [bolts] doth hinder," which places it as a version of this song.
The versions of "Locks and Bolts" found in MacSeegTrav, "The Lass o' Bennachie" and "At the Back o' Bennachie" should not be confused with the song indexed as "Where Gadie Rins", although the latter is also called "The Back o' Bennachie" and was collected from the same singer as MacColl/Seeger's "B" text. The songs are different. - PJS
Belden notes a song from Martin Parker called "The Lover's Joy and Grief" with the burden "but locks and bolts doe hinder." It is not clear what is its relation with the present song. - RBW
Last updated in version 2.7
File: LM13

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2013 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.

Don't take the earliest date as meaning very much, it's usually an earliest date for a recording. The song's quite old, as can be gathered from the use of its tune for other old songs. See BruceO's site for more information on that.


12 Apr 02 - 02:59 PM (#688697)
Subject: RE: Help: Hist/Info song 'Locks & Bolts'
From: Malcolm Douglas

Though found in England, this song appears to have been most popular in Scotland, the USA and Canada. Laws M13, as previously stated; Steve Roud's Folk Song Index assigns it Roud number 406.

Ewan MacColl, for one, considered that this was originally a Scottish song. In Travellers' Songs from England and Scotland (1977), he and Peggy Seeger printed two Aberdeenshire sets, noted from Jock Higgins and Maggie McPhee. The Scots versions tend to be called The Lass of Bennachie (not to be confused with The Back of Bennachie, often called Gin I Were Where Gaudie Rins or similar, which is a completely different song); they fall into three groups. MacColl & Seeger specify:

"(1) The Lass o' Bennachie, a stilted and rather lengthy piece in which the girl is bound in prison by her father but upon gaining her freedom she follows her love to Germany and then returns home again with him. The style of the story is similar to that of Jack Munro (Laws N7) but it lacks the disguise motif.

(2) The Lass o' Bennachie, our song, in which the most prominent opening stanza is:

'Twas at the back o' Bennochie
Where swiftly flies the swallow,
'Twas at the back o' Bennochie
Where first I chose my marrow.

... This version does not state explicitly the difference in the social status of the lovers. It is by far the most popular of the three songs.

(3) The Lass o' Bennachie, a lyric song of five to six stanzas, beginning with the above-quoted stanza then proceeding to describe the girl, the parting and the love-vows."

John Ord's Bothy Songs and Ballads (1930) includes examples of all three, together with the following note:

"There are three versions of The Lass o' Bennochie, and the stories told in each are somewhat different. The following particulars regarding the ballad appeared in The Huntly Express of 27th. December, 1879:

Miss Erskine, daughter of the Laird of Pittodrie, who had accompanied her uncle, Lord Forbes, to Fort Augustus, of which he was governor, about the year 1765, met with an officer, a Lieutenant Knight, with whom she fell in love. As she was an only child and an heiress, her parents were much opposed to her marrying one whom they considered much beneath her in rank. Perseverance was, however, rewarded in this case, and they were married in 1770. Their descendants are known as the Knight-Erskines of Pittodrie.

The estate of Pittodrie is at the foot of the Hill of Bennochie."

MacColl & Seeger add that Miss Erskine was born in 1747, and give Knights first name as William, though they give him the rank of Ensign. They also admit that [Gavin] Greig pointed out that the historical records contradict the details in the song, but comment it is possible that the song has combined with, and borrowed from, other existing pieces.

There is a broadside example at Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads:

Faithful lover ("I never knew what sorrow was ...") Printer and date unknown.

MacColl & Seeger also refer to a 17th century broadside by Martin Parker, entitled The Lovers Joy and Griefe, with the refrain but locks and bolts do hinder. Another printing of this can be seen at the Bodleian:

The lovers joy and grief, or, A young-mans relation, in a pittiful fashion. Printed between 1674 and 1679 for F. Cole [sic], T. Vere, J. Wright, and J. Clarke of London.

It may be that the later song derives the phrase Locks and bolts do hinder from the earlier broadside, but they do not seem otherwise to be related.

There is an Appalachian set in the DT: LOCKS AND BOLTS

There are four American examples at the Max Hunter Folk Song Collection:

Locks And Bolts As sung by Harrison Burnett, Fayetteville, Arkansas on August 18, 1960

They'll Fight For Each Other As sung by Mr. Fred High in High, Arkansas on February 11, 1959

I Dream't Of My True Love Last Night As sung by Mr. William Edens, Mont Ne, Arkansas on August 17, 1960

Rainbow Willow As sung by Ollie Gilbert, Mountain View, Arkansas on May 26, 1969

12 Apr 02 - 04:03 PM (#688737)
Subject: RE: Help: Hist/Info song 'Locks & Bolts'
From: MMario

I want to be Malcolm when I grow up!

Thanks Malcolm!

12 Apr 02 - 04:27 PM (#688755)
Subject: RE: Help: Hist/Info song 'Locks & Bolts'

I take the original to be that in the broadside ballad index at as "A Constant wife". It's listed at ZN3202 (Laws M13, in DT). It was entered in the Stationers' Register in 1631. In the index are cited some close relatives with pretty much the same tale as the 1st half of the song (e.g. the oft told 'Earl Brand' [Child #7] tale, and Abraham Miles' The Masterpiece of Love Songs/ The Bold Soldier (index ZN1516, Laws M27, in DT), Percy's 'Child of Elle'. The song was undoubtably not entirely original. The 2nd half is a common 'praise of a pretty woman' and the 1st half was undoubtably based on an earlier version of the tale that's now unknown.

Gavin Grieg in 'Folksong of the Northeast' (Art. #8) gave "The Bonnie Lass of Benachie" and a version of "Locks and Bolts" and noted that the Bonnie Lass of Benachie was said to be a Miss Erskine, heiress of Pittodrie, who married her soldier lover about 1770. He adds that "Locks and Bolts" is said to refer to the tale, but we know it was already nearly 140 years old by 1770.


12 Apr 02 - 04:43 PM (#688759)
Subject: RE: Help: Hist/Info song 'Locks & Bolts'
From: MMario

And thank you bruce!

12 Apr 02 - 06:01 PM (#688793)
Subject: Lyr Add: CHILD OF ELL (from Percy folio MS)

The full tale runs something like this: Young man wishes to elope with his lady love. Her father (or guardian uncle) disapproves of him, and lock her in. He rescues her [breaking locks and bolts to do so in one version] and they leave on horseback. Father (uncle) follows with 7 sons (cousins). Young man kills all sons (cousins) in swordfight. He readies to attack father (uncle), but she begs him to hold his hand. She says father (uncle) may get her more brothers (cousins), but she'll never get another father (uncle). He desists and peace is made between survivors.

Here's the "Child of Ell" fragment from the Percy folio MS.

CHILD OF ELL (from Percy folio MS)

Sayce "Christ thee saue, good child of Ell!
christ saue thee & thy stedde!

"my father sayes he will noe Meate,
nor his drinke shall doe him noe good,
till he haue slaine the child of Ell
& haue seene his hafts blood."

I wold I were in my sadle sett,
& a Mile sout of the towne,
I did not care for your father
& all his merrymen!

I wold I were in my sadle sett,
& a little space him froe,
I did not care for your father
& all that long him to!"

he leaned ore his saddle bow
to kisse this Lady good;
the teares that went them 2 betweene
were blend water & blood.

he sett himselfe on one good steed,
this lady of one palfray.
& sett his little horne to his mouth,
& roundlie he rode away.

he had not ridden past a mile,
a mile out of the towne,
her father was readye with her 7 brether,
he said, "sett thou my daughter downe!
for it ill beseemes thee, thou false churles sonne,
to carry her forth of this towne!"

"but thou lyest, Sir John the Knight!
thou now dost Lye of me;
a knight me gott, & a lady me bore;
soe neuer did none by thee.

but light now downe, my lady gay,
light down & hold my horsse,
whilst I & your father & your brether
doe play vs at this crosse;

but light mow downe, my owne trew love,
& meekly hold my steede,
whilst your father [& your brether] bold

12 Apr 02 - 07:38 PM (#688860)
Subject: RE: Help: Hist/Info song 'Locks & Bolts'

For the purpose of comparison I've added "The Child of Ell" fragment, "A constant Wife, a fine Wife" and "The Masterpiece of Love Songs" (The Bold Soldier) to the Scarce Songs 2 file at


05 Dec 05 - 03:50 AM (#1620219)
Subject: RE: Help: Hist/Info song 'Locks & Bolts'
From: GUEST,Jean

Mary Erskine, of Pittodrie, was my great great great great grandmother, & I was thrilled to find this song about her - anyone have any idea where I can get a recording of the tune?

26 Sep 08 - 06:54 PM (#2451250)
Subject: ADD Version: I Dreamed Last Night of My True Love
From: Joe Offer

Here's the entry from Sandburg:


I dreamed last night of my true love.
All in my arms I had her;
Her pretty yeller hair like strands of gold,
Lay dangling round my piller.

I waked in the morning and found her not.
I was forced to do without her;
I went unto her uncle's house,
Inquiring for this lady.

He said that she was not there,
And neither would he keep her.
I turned around to go away,
My love she come to the winder.

She said that she would come to me,
If doors nor locks did not hinder
I turned around and broke them locks,
I broke 'em all asinder (asunder).

Notes from Sandburg:
    English travelers have said it is the 17th century language of England that is spoken in certain isolated mountain and seaboard corners of America. Among these pocketed populations they say "poke" for "pocket,""my may" for "my sweetheart," and asking a kiss, "Come buss me" . . .
    The mountaineer may remark of his horse, "That mare is the loveliest runner and the sensiblest animal I ever saddled," or he may give places names such as Shoo Bird Mountain, Shake-a-rag Holler, or Huggins Hell. Once in Kentucky a wanderer inquiring the route was told he was on the right road and to go on "about two screeches and a holler." . . The independent lingo and manner of the mountaineer is in this text and tune from Mrs. Mark E. Hutchinson of Mount Vernon, Iowa.

Source: American Songbag, Carl Sandburg, 1927, page 149.

26 Sep 08 - 07:14 PM (#2451259)
Subject: RE: Origin: Locks and Bolts
From: Sorcha

:)....thought you probably did! Wasn't banking on 2 copies tho, LOL

26 Sep 08 - 07:33 PM (#2451273)
Subject: RE: Origin: Locks and Bolts
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Malcolm's links to Max Hunter Collection no longer work.

Locks and Bolts, Harrison Burnett- Locks and Bolts

From this one, there are links to the other versions mentioned.

27 Sep 08 - 06:04 AM (#2451434)
Subject: RE: Origin: Locks and Bolts
From: tradpiper

Subject: identify this song?
From: tradpiper - PM
Date: 26 Sep 08 - 06:04 PM

I dreamt last night, of my true love.
and in my arms, I held her.
but when I awoke, I found it not so.
she was gone, forever.

I went unto, her fathers gate.
enquiring for, my darling.
he said young man, you've made a mistake.
I've none such in my keeping.

but then I heard, a voice from above
it was my own, true darling.
she said my love, I am but yours.
but locks and bolts do chain me.

So blood was shed, from every side.
untill I'd won, her from among them.
so come all young men, won't you do like wise.
and fight untill you win them...

this was my post. The two questions were, who wrote it, which we have started getting to the answer, and who sung this version.

Is it even the same song? which is older? where did this vsn come from? was it Ewan Maccoll or Dick Gaughan? anyone?

in referance to the traditional singers changing traditional songs.... this appears to be an example.

27 Sep 08 - 06:15 AM (#2451439)
Subject: RE: Origin: Locks and Bolts
From: tradpiper

The 4 American versions are very different. and of course the melody we will have to leave for the present, but i doubt they hold much, if any, relation to the tune I sing.

27 Sep 08 - 09:17 PM (#2451890)
Subject: RE: Origin: Locks and Bolts
From: Joe Offer

I dunno, Tradpiper. If you look at the primary UK index, Roud (click), you'll see that almost all of the "I Dreamed Last Night" versions are American.

I think you're singing an American song. It's OK, though - we'll let you....


Here's one more fragment, from Emrich's Folklore on the American Land (page 544):

Last Night I Dreamed of My True Love

Last night I dreamed of my true love,
All in my arms 1 had her;
When I awoke she was not there,
I was left alone without her.

Her long yellow hair like strings of gold
Came dazzling o'er my pillow;
That pretty little girl I love so well,
She's gone from me forever.

Notes from Emrich:
    This is an excellent example of the reduction of a full and lengthy ballad to a brief and moving love lyric. "Locks and Bolts," in its English ballad broadside version, is the story of a young suitor whose loved one has been locked at home by rich parents. The suitor breaks down the door, a fight ensues, and he flees with the girl, whom he eventually marries. The two stanzas here would appear to come from the opening sequence, prior to the breaking of the "locks and bolts." One can, without reservation in this instance, praise the oral transmission of song that in the folk process sloughed ballad incidentals to give us this "dazzling" lament.

28 Sep 08 - 07:26 AM (#2452048)
Subject: RE: Origin: Locks and Bolts

No, it can not be! an American song.... :-)

No Im pretty certain its an old , possibly Scotts ballad. the version i have is significantly differant tio the ones i can find on the net. Id like to find out who has recorded it, particularily the version I have as I learnt it from an old tape.... could perhaps be Robin Williamson, Dick Gaughan, Ewan MacColl.... but I have no iudea... still searching.

28 Sep 08 - 10:26 AM (#2452109)
Subject: ADD: Twas Over the Hills
From: RTim

A different version of the song from the George Gardiner Manuscripts - called
Over the Hills.


‘Twas over hills, ‘twas over dales, ‘twas all through flowery valleys
Where my true love was kept from me, ‘twas out of spite and malice.

I went unto her - father’s house to inquire for my true love
She is not here her father said but at her uncle’s house a-bi-ding.

I went unto - her uncle’s house to inquire for my true love
She is not here, I greatly fear she sets my heart a-beating.

My love she over heard my voice and looked out of her window
She said I’d be in your sweet company but locks and bolts do hinder me,

Some locks and bolts, - some door he split, some bars he broke asunder
Since and I’d lose my own true love I’d die all in her chamber.

Her uncle over - heard the noise and in the room did follow
Said young man you must quit this room or in your gore you shall wallow.

No gore I have, - no gore I fear, No gore I am in danger
Since and I’d lose my own true love I’d die all in her chamber.

I took my sword - in my right hand my darling in the other
So, it’s all young men that loves like me take one and fight the other.

‘Twas over hills, ‘twas over dales, ‘twas all through flowery valleys
Where my true love was kept from me, ‘twas out of spite and malice.

Gardiner Mss. No. 302 from Notebook No. 5 page 195 collected on 24th May 1906 at St. Denys. It appears in Roud as No. 406, and there is a version in Purslow’s Foggy Dew with the title of “Locks and Bolts” collected by Gardiner from Henry Purkiss (or Perkes) of Cadnam and James Brooman of Upper Farringdon. Gardiner also collected it from Isaac Hobbs of Winchester.
Purslow says that “none of this little known song are complete and that broadside versions are not entirely coherent”.

08 Jun 14 - 03:49 PM (#3631473)
Subject: RE: Origin: Locks and Bolts
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Sung by Harrison Burnett, Arkansas, 1960

I had a dream the other night
I dreamed I was with my darling
An' when I woke I found it not so
An' I started looking for her.
Saying, O. that girl, that pretty little girl
She rode on the railroad with me
Saying, O that girl, that pretty little girl
Somebodies stole her from me.
An' it's every man at every hour
Are you sure she's growing lonely
Her yellow hair, like strands of gold
Hang a dangling 'round her shoulder.
I rode till I came to her brother's house
An' there I inquired for her
He answered me, there's none such here
And I have a room here, for her.
I rode till I came to her Father's hall
And there I inquired for her
He answered me, there's none such here
And I have a room here, for her.
I stood awhile all in a maze
A viewing the lonely window
Said, at length, to be in your sweet company
But there's locks and bolts to hinder.
I stood awhile all in a maze
A viewin' the lonely temper
My passion flew, my sword I drew
An' I swore her room I would enter.
Her Father sent for some other men
So swiftly they did follow
They swore before I should enter that door
In my own hearts blood they would wallow.
Th locks and th* bolts were knocked away *sic
And I caused th locks for t' shatter
No sooner than I had entered that door
So swiftly I made for her.
The blood was shed on every side
Till I got my love from among them
Come all young men who have sweethearts
You must fight till you've over come them.

09 Jun 14 - 10:34 AM (#3631684)
Subject: RE: Origin: Locks and Bolts
From: Steve Gardham

Just to expand a little on Malcolm's and Bruce's earlier explanations about the print tradition of this ballad, closely related pieces were printed both in the 18th and 19th centuries based upon the 17thcentury probable original mentioned previously, The Constant Wife, 1631. Almost all of these 17thc ballads can now be viewed on the Santa Barbara University website under 'English Ballads'. It includes Pepys, Roxburgh, Euing, Crawford, and others, and of course Rawlinson and Douce can be viewed on the Bodleian website.

Roud 406. English oral versions generally follow 'A New Song' c1780 in the Madden Collection (which sadly isn't yet online) which derives directly from The Constant Wife. Another shorter ballad, again c1780 'The Resolute Lover' derives from the Madden version. It is in a no imprint garland 'The Lover's Jubilee' no 15 of 20 ballads. This is in Manchester Central Library.

As has already been stated Scottish versions have attracted a verse from literary ballads based on a true event.

American versions have attracted the first 2 verses of a bawdy broadside ballad 'The Bugle Horn' again in the Madden Collection c1820 probably due to a similar line in both pieces about the lover's hair dangling down the pillow.

Various other 17th and 18th century ballads employ the commonplace of breaking locks and bolts or even 'locks and bolts do hinder' and as MacColl quite rightly conjectures this must have been a stock phrase.

See Martin Parker's ballad 'The Lover's Joy and Grief' in Roxburghe, Pepys and Euing.

'The Maiden's Adventure for her Jolly soldier' 18thc Madden Coll.

Others on the same theme in oral tradition 'The Cruel father/ Mary-Ann/ Love can enter an iron door.