A Blacksmith Courted Me


This is one of those songs that possibly has more to it than meets the ear, as Jon explains, “Having studied Old Norse literature at university I’m interested in the idea that the character of the blacksmith (who crops up in many folk songs) may be an oral-tradition descendant of Volundr (or Weland) the smith – a very significant cult figure on Norse and Anglo-Saxon heathenism. Certainly blacksmiths in folk song seem to have a slightly ‘outlandish’ other-worldly feel to them, whether they are jilting lovers or severing hands of rival suitors.” I’ll add that I’ve read somewhere in my delving that the blacksmith is associated with virility and the hammer is an obvious phallic symbol! Anyway, the tune has an immediate familiarity to it as Vaughan Williams used it for To Be A Pilgrim. The tune became known as Monks Gate, named after the Sussex hamlet near Horsham from where Vaughan Williams first collected it, apparently from the singing of a Mrs Verral. He collected it again form the singing of a Mrs Weobley in Herefordshire five years later. This link gives you a couple of variations of the tune and lyrics with midi files. This Mainly Norfolk link gives you nice detail of many of the recordings, particularly those by Shirley Collins. It’s worth noting that her original EP was recorded by Bill Leader and released in that format at least partly because of the parlous state of Topic Records finances at the time. It’s also worth following the link on Mainly Norfolk through to Our Captain Cried All Hands, which shares the same tune and some of the lyrical sentiment, although the leaving seems to be a more noble quest for war and the last verse suggest resulting death. This Mudcat offers a slight lyrical variation and also suggests that Cecil Sharp collected it from A York broadside circa 1825. You’ll find more discussion on Mudcat here.

The buy links should now work properly. We had some problems with a duplicate track and everything needed to be updated, but I’ve just tested them and they are now OK!

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48 Responses to “A Blacksmith Courted Me”

  1. Chris says:

    Blacksmiths are magical characters in lots of world cultures: not only Norse, but also in the legends of the Fianna–a principle adversary is Lon mac Liomtha, the “chief smith” to the Lochlannach (Vikings) at Dublin. Likewise in West Africa: blacksmiths are often magicians or sorcerers, because of their ability to transform raw minerals. It’s a great song, too.

  2. Shelley says:

    Lovely – one of my favourites, and one of the first I learned to sing myself, although not exactly to this tune.

  3. muzza says:

    Lovely performance, voice and guitar…………the last few songs have been “grim” with their story lines………….can we have a “jolly one” fairly soon………along the lines of “The hunt is up ” and “Pleasant and delightful”

  4. muzza says:

    Being a little bit slow on the uptake I thought……… “why doesn’t Admin number these songs”………..and then I realised that they are numbered for reference..alongside the title (I thought that was the time!)
    i.e. “the Hunt is up” is 07(july) song 2 and Farmers Song aka Pleasant & del is 06 (June): song25………I got there in the end!

  5. Mike Wild says:

    A nice rendition.
    I’ve always liked the Two Magicians where the lady and the ‘lusty smith’ keep changing form into various animals till he has her at last.

    Mucky chaps and nice ladies seem to feature a lot in traditional song, the ‘bit of rough’ maybe or real life and down to earth. Colliers, blacksmiths, Jack Tar, ploughboys with muddy boots, navvies who jump into bed with their work boots on. etc.

  6. Nick Hallam says:

    More about Banks of Red Rose from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

    There are 9 records of Banks of Red Roses in the Library 8 from Celtic sources and one from the USA.


    We used the Roud number to cross reference against different titles for the song. When searched on Roud No. there are 33 records, still predominantly from Scotland, Ireland and the USA, but there is also a version called The German flute collected in Bridgewater.


    If you wish to see more detail on each record, change the ‘output’ to ‘record’ and press ‘submit query’.

    There are no records of the song in the Take 6 Archive

    We use the Roud index and the Take 6 online collections in the search for information on Jon’s selections.

    For more information, or to carry out your own search for songs, please visit http://www.efdss.org/front/access-the-library-online/access-the-library-online/115
    If you need any help accessing the library online or have any questions, please contact the VWML on 020 7485 2206 or library@efdss.org.

  7. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shelley Rainey, Jon Boden. Jon Boden said: Latest Post: A Blacksmith Courted Me http://www.afolksongaday.com/2010/07/27/a-blacksmith-courted-me/ […]

  8. Blue Scouse says:

    Just by way of clarification, RVW did indeed collect the tune from Harriet Verrall at Monk’s Gate in 1904, but the song she sang on that occasion was Our Captain Cried All Hands. It was The Blacksmith he collected from Ellen Powell of Westhope, near Weobley, Herefordshire.

  9. Blue Scouse says:

    Songs are not grim or depressing. People are depressed or grim perhaps by listening to music. [That’s an approximation to a posting by Jim Carroll on Mudcat]. Jon’s recent songs, especially Tha’ Lowks A Proper Swell Lass, have given me immense pleasure. I have been elated by both performance and the sheer beauty of the material.

  10. Phil says:

    Sorry, but I didn’t like this at all. It’s well sung and the guitar accompaniment is pretty, but it’s the guitar that’s carrying the tune – the singing is very expressive, but the melody and the metre both get lost. (Compare Shirley Collins’s version, which isn’t unaccompanied but would sound pretty much the same if it were.) To me the great thing about singing unaccompanied is that it gets you out of the habit of singing “accompanied style”, with the melody and the rhythm both played and the words sitting on top.

    (I’m also dubious about Wieland, but I’ve probably made myself unpopular enough for one day!)

  11. admin says:

    Blue Scouse – thanks for sorting that collection issue, I must confess I simply didn’t pick that up in researching this, but it makes sense of having the same thing twice.

    Muzza – this is folk music, much of which seems to favour the dark side, but fear not, some jolly ditties are on the way.

    Phil – I have no trouble following the tune or the sense of this song and like the subtle syncopation that the guitar brings. I found Shirley’s version slightly staid and ‘churchy’ by comparison, although I love her voice (I could imagine the organ pumping away instead of her banjo.) I guess that’s just my preferrence. Vive la difference.

  12. OxfordClareB says:

    Thanks to Blue Scouse for clearing up the context of ‘Our Captain Cried’, and for making the very good point about supposedly ‘grim’ (I have *no* idea what this is supposed to mean) songs. This kind of criticism is one of my absolute bugbears, but it would probably be useless to rant too much. Suffice to just quote the great ballad singer Almeda Riddle: ‘there’s no such thing as a sad song, it’s just a song that makes you sad.’

    Beautiful as Jon’s guitar accompaniment and vocal performance is here, I feel that he could give a far more powerful performance unaccompanied. I don’t merely mean blasting out the song (although this could certainly work, as it did in Maddy Prior’s rendition – it is after all a song with a good deal of righteous anger in it), but rather in the starkness and freedom to ornament and play around with phrasing which acappella singing allows, and which I feel would be ideally suited to this song.

  13. John says:

    I am enjoying this project very much and Jon’s version of this song is one of several favourites of mine so far. I had previously known it mainly from Andy Irvine’s singing – on the Planxty ‘Live 2004’ album (where it’s called The Blacksmith) and as the opening track on Mozaik’s CD ‘Live at the Powerhouse’. But what I had never realised until now is that the tune is almost the same as ‘To Be a Pilgrim’ which as a child I sang at school assemblies about half a century ago.

  14. John Burton says:

    I dont dislike the treatment here, I find it a bit like something Martin Simpson would do with the song (but with more twiddly bits) I dont know if he has done this song or not.
    I think I would like to hear a straight a cappella version by Jon for comparison.

  15. SRD says:

    On the ‘grim/not grim’ argument I would say that of course songs can be grim whilst uplifting and ‘enjoyable’, look at other works of art such as Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son for example. And songs can make you sad or any other emotion, I for one can’t actually listen to a Vin Garbutt album because of the acute depression the experience affords me but I can see him live, playing the same songs but interleaved with his wonderful stories, and find it totally enjoyable. On the other hand Rory McCleod, despite the grimness of some of his subjects, only ever makes me want to sing and dance.

  16. Carole Garland says:

    Magical Blacksmiths and stuff are very much to my taste – the transformation of ore to usefulness is fascinating in any age. However the old stallion leaders and the horse societies were known for their lustiness and a blacksmith would have fairly strong arms etc. etc. …… might be a bit more prosaic an explanation.

  17. Phil says:

    A bit of both, I think. In a world where people grew (and reared) their own food, stitched their own clothes, patched up their own houses, etc, the blacksmith did one of the few jobs you absolutely couldn’t do yourself. Add to that the fact that if your horse didn’t have shoes you’d be stuck – you needed a horse both to get from A to B and to get a lot of work done – and it’s not surprising that the smith had a certain mystique about him. Not to mention the fact that he could perform the semi-magical feat of bending iron, and that the tools of his trade included a furnace and a hammer too heavy for other people to lift. (When you think about it, “He makes the sparks to fly all round the smithy” is quite a job description – I mean, I couldn’t do it!)

    So I half-agree with Jon. I think there was something numinous about blacksmiths – they were figures of power on several different levels. But I think that power was grounded in everyday experience rather than in myth – in fact, I think it’s actually because blacksmiths were a figure of power that figures like Wieland/Wayland (or Hephaestus/Vulcan for that matter) appeared in myth.

  18. SRD says:

    Just a musing; maybe, in the case of folklore, a blacksmith was someone who could smith the black arts.

  19. Phil says:

    I really really really really really really really doubt it.

  20. John Burton says:

    OK admission time, I do some Blacksmithing, I did it full time for two years and then got a real job again. There is nothing magical about it, it is damnded hard work and a difficult profession in which to make a living, especially with the low cost offshore metalwork that is readily available for next to nothing.
    The Goldsmith, worked with Gold, the silversmith with silver etc.
    The Blacksmith worked with Iron, the Black metal, hence Blacksmith, nothing magical.
    Support your local Blacksmith, he will explain to you the differences between good work and cheap offshore c%$p. Look at the delicate tapers on the ends of bars, smooth scrolls without the sharp crease near the end, (a dead giveaway for machine made c%?p)
    Look for weld spatter and obvious welding beads visible to all.
    Then go and buy something from your local smith, who has put detailed, skilled work into his pieces and the sweat from his brow, it is truly worth the 20% more you may have to pay and will probably last forever, not rust and fall appart in a couple of years.

  21. Jon Boden says:

    ..dredging the depths of my memory but I think there was also something about medieval smithies always being positioned outside of the settlement to which they were attached, can’t remember why, maybe just because of all the smoke. Anyway that detachment from the rest of the community lent more mystery to an already semi-miraculous profession. All of this is, I guess, anthropological reasoning to explain why there were cults of the blacksmith in old Norse and Anglo-Saxon societies, but it is incontrovertible that there were such cults and that Volundr / Weland were viewed as semi-divine figures. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Völundarkviða

  22. Andrew Smith says:

    Well, thank you Jon for taking me back to Friday morning school assemblies in the early 1970s with a whole hour of singing at my Junior School. “He who would valiant be” (Monks Gate – which first appeared in ‘Songs Of Praise’, 1925) is one of those hymns which makes me think now that I have always known folk music but never realised it.

    Quoting from Sue Cubbins’ book ‘That Precious Legacy’ (Essex Record Office, 2006), Ralph Vaughan Williams said “Why should we not enter into our inheritance in the church as well as in the concert hall?”

    The tune is an Essex one. Joseph Kemp sang ‘Our Captain Calls All Hands (Fountains Flowing)’ to RVW at the Old Dog, Herongate (near Brentwood) on 26 October 1904. So was this earlier than Harriet Verral’s version? Sue Cubbins adds in her book that RVW collected the tune of ‘A Blacksmith Courted Me’ from a Mr Bell, of Brentwood, on 16 February 1906. Potiphar’s Apprentices include ‘The Blacksmith’ on their CD, ‘Return To Ingrave’.

    This site is turning out to be quite a journey – ” … to be a pilgrim!”. Perhaps we should all stand and sing ‘The Blacksmith’.

  23. Peter Little says:

    A delicate and sensitive offering.

  24. Cherry says:

    I love this song having know it for years, and been particualrly fond of the tenderness the narrator has for her lover, so nicely at odds with his muscular work, and her later anger… But I am disappointed you left out the best line!
    I shall not die for love, he need not fear me. so refreshing that shes not off to drown herself like they usually do.
    is it only the shirley collins version that has this?

  25. Piers Cawley says:

    My wife, Gill remembers singing this in a non-folk context and, after the set, a woman came up and told her “That song’s true! It happened to me!”

    It seems to sum up the potency of these songs doesn’t it?

  26. Andy says:

    Beautiful, and Jon’s voice suits this sort of song perfectly. I love it. Thank you.

  27. Jane Ramsden says:

    Now I’m several days behind in the listening stakes, so am catching up with the web site today! I love this tune, with its school-day assembly reminiscence and it’s lilting ability to fit words of many contexts. My last recent remembrance of it is from Ashley Hutchings, Phil Beer and Chris While adding it to their Ridgeriders in Concert CD. The original Ridgeriders, not in concert, had Along The Pilgrim Way and To Be A Pilgrim leads into it on the In Concert CD. Love it! Has that delicate balance between sooth, chant and plaint.

  28. Henryp says:

    An affecting performance of a moving song.

    “He who would valiant be” was set to Monk’s Gate in the The English Hymnal (1906).

  29. Andrew Smith says:

    You are absolutely right Henryp. I should have checked my copy of The English Hymnal rather than rely on notes on a CD cover. Monks Gate “adapted from an English Tradiitonal Melody” is No 402.

  30. Yehudit says:

    “…….there was also something about medieval smithies always being positioned outside of the settlement to which they were attached, can’t remember why, maybe just because of all the smoke. Anyway that detachment from the rest of the community lent more mystery to an already semi-miraculous profession……”

    I heard Ray Fisher once sing “Miller Tae My Trade” and she said exactly the same thing about the miller, whose worksite was on a stream, not in the middle of town. A lonely place where a lass could go to fool around and no one would know….

  31. Joanne Butler says:

    Hi Jon, lovely version of this song. The smithy was usually placed outside the town because of the fire risk from the furnace. There’s a whole section in Medieval Welsh law dealing with arson, some of which concerns the problems of ‘transporting’ fire back into the settlement from the smithy outside.

  32. Jane Ramsden says:

    Thanks to all for the blacksmithing info, some of which I missed first time around. I voted for this as song of the month then on the strength of the pilgrim tune, ‘he who would valiant be ‘gainst all disaster.’

  33. Diana says:

    Again a song with many different verses. Strange to hear it sung to an old hymn tune but none the worse for that. Rather nice actually. A good choice of musical intrument as well.

  34. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Yep…………great rendition and guitar…..BUT……….not a song to be sung by a fella.
    Definitely NOT A SONG TO BE SUNG BY A FELLA!..aaarrrggghhh

  35. Diana says:

    Well Muzza no chance of hearing you doing it then? Pity!

  36. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: Nice to see yer back… not that there’s owt wrong with yer front either, of course… doh!

    Perhaps I should try adding this to my cellar repertoire… it will soon be Ted’s Basement Tapes. Trouble is, I was trying ‘Four Loom Weaver’ last night (‘cos I like mills songs, as ye know, as well as Rams den sheep songs) and, at this rate, it will be all Steeleye Span… or should that be Stealeye Span?

    Love this tune though, and songs of ‘man’s perfidy’ in general, esp. perversely set to a hymn.

  37. Jan says:

    I have to jump in here and say that it was the hymn that borrowed the tune, not the folk song, Jane.

    Muzza, do you not sing anything that’s obviously from the woman’s point of view? I find myself cheerfully singing some songs where it’s obviously a man speaking, and yet there are others I wouldn’t dream of singing. I can’t think of any examples, and have no logical reason, it’s just a gut feeling. Possibly it has to do with the comedy element.

    Love the Blacksmith and Our Captain Cried All Hands too.

  38. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    @Jan…….Nope….if the sentiments are not purely male/female, I swop the gender……an example would be ‘Though I live not where I love’……

    @Jane…..I suspect yer cellar songs would put the fear of perfidy up any blacksmith…
    can’t wait to hear ’em on Ytube!…must be getting near now.

  39. Diana says:

    I fear we will have quite a wait Muzza – Jane does not seem to be in any hurry to let us hear her singing. Shame isn’t it?

  40. Jane Ramsden says:

    Thanks, Jan, for the info ref the hymn borrowing the folk tune. It just goes to show how one’s perceptions are shaped by your age, when you were born and what you heard first!

    @ Muzza: You are right. It is a case of ‘don’t frighten the horses’ with my singing, and defo no visuals on YouTube. I do not know how to do that ‘thang!’ If I can’t post an audio-only link on here, you’ll never get to hear me… unless I find another way to get a tune to you, which is a possibility.

    @ Diana: Ye are right! I am not in any hurry, as I am an animal lover!

  41. Diana says:

    Shame on you Jane – chickening out – it does not sound a bit like the thing a bold Yorkshire lass would do.

  42. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Diana: Probably won’t chicken out, but I never intended to do YouTube in the first place, as I don’t know the technology of uploading to there and haven’t got time to sort it out. I just wanted to record missen and see if halfway-decent (i.e. in tune!) in which case I would be happy to post said recording to here. Just not sure if that will work. Performing a song is a bit harder than some might think, esp acapella!

  43. Diana says:

    @Jane – you are so right I don’t believe anyone has any idea how they sound to other people until they record themseves – usually it is a shock – I found it so when I heard my voice on a tape recorder ( yonks and yonks ago). Still I wait with anticipation hearing you at some point. Especially “The Sheep Shearing Song”. Well if You Tube is going to be denied the pleasure, do try for AFSAD please.

  44. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey) says:

    It doesn’t always pay to re read the old comments………… (see comment 4 from the top)
    I did and realised what a plonker I am with my explanation of ‘Numbering the songs’……….it’s the bally DATE Muzza…not a specific numbering system…
    Blokes- I ask yer!!
    Great performance yet again Jon Boy
    (oh crikey……I’ve listened to the27th offering on the 26th!!!!aaarrrggghh)

  45. old Muzza (NW Surrey) says:

    and this year I am mostly listening to the songs DAYS AHEAD!(it only being the 23 rd today!
    and by eck…it aint arf ‘ot darn souf in lil ‘ol Surrey!

  46. Old Muzza (NW Surrey-UK) says:

    Well lookee here……squirming yet again about my stupidity ref date/numbering of songs….beeeehaaaave!..and it’s only 22nd when I am listening to 27th offering….and it’s forecast to be a scorcher on 225th just same as 2018!

  47. Old Muzza (NW Surrey-UK) says:

    and it was a scorcher on25 (not 225)

  48. OlgMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Playing Devil’s Advocate……in these apparently progressive times…..it appears that there is no longer a need for a gender change of the words when a fella is singing this song!

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