Maid And The Palmer


Jon describes this as “Another truly horrible song, but with a very cheerful tune courtesy of Martin Carthy – in fact the traditional tune From Night ‘Til Morn with a bit missing.”

This is Child ballad #21 and a rather odd tale that once again involves a curse. It seems in part to be based on the meeting between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, at least according to the notes on Mainly Norfolk. It’s worth a delve into this Mudcat thread too, as it adds something to the story of the song, making links with blues and all sorts. Although it’s a little oblique, there is the suggestion of dark deeds on the part of the maid and either incest or murder or both, hence her fate. Wiki here notes that there are some versions that cross with The Cruel Mother (Child #20) and a palmer in this case is a pilgrim.

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28 Responses to “Maid And The Palmer”

  1. Shelley says:

    What a peculiar story – I need to follow up those links. It sounds more to be like a corrupted account of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well rather than Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Love the tune though!

  2. Gail Duff says:

    It makes a great Border Morris tune! A similar theme of words is ‘The Well Below the Valley’, as sung by Christy Moore.

  3. Dave Rogers says:

    Funny you should mention Morris – The Badby (Northants) dance “Broad Cupid” is danced to this tune!

  4. Jane Ramsden says:

    I was much struck by the proverb mentioned on Mudcat about ‘old maids being doomed to lead apes through Hell’, which I understand is said in 2 of Shakespeare’s plays, ‘Taming of the Shrew’ and ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’

    I could not find a definitive source or meaning for this saying, other than old maids were doomed to lead apes through H*ll as they would have no children to lead them to Heaven. This is a rather limited view of the value of women, though I understand men with no offspring were often viewed similarly. How much worse this woman who had nine dead babes, but worse still if she was the victim of possibly incestuous crime & herself a victim (tho’ we are to infer she murdered her own children, I suppose).

    One suggestion of the proverb’s meaning – the only one I could find and advised against viewing as definitive – suggests that ‘apes’ was a common word for male fornicators at the time. The being doomed to lead such in Hell was punishment for the crime of remaining celibate, when the Christian duty was to marry and produce children. But of course, that was in wedlock, as we see the dire consequences for being out of step with society in so many folk songs.

    @ Skyman: Listened to 2nd part of Longitude, all about John Harrison. He was a Yorkshireman from near me! Why am I not surprised? Hahahaha! His attitude to learning and doing sounded a lot like my father’s. He was not an engineer, but would build miniature boats and aeroplanes to the same principles as proper craft and them take me to sail or fly them. I’m thinking Hardy Kruger here in The Flight of the Phoenix…. hahahaha!

  5. John Phipps says:

    I love the Brass Monkey version with John Kirkpatrick’s driving squeeze box.

  6. Rosie says:

    I was trying to think where I’d heard this before. Yes, the Brass Monkey version is good.

  7. John Burton says:

    There is an early Steeleye Span version too. It has both Martin Carthy and Maddie Prior doing the vocals. The version I have coming to think of it is live and I always do the “Mondegreen” thing and hear “Farmer” not Palmer ah well it is on my MP3 player, that is my excuse and I am sticking to it.

  8. jonathan says:

    Also try the Devil’s Interval version of well below the valley.

  9. Pale Corbie says:

    I have never heard any version of The Well Bellow The Valley sung so utterly cheerfully…curious that she flees the apes through Hell in this one rather than leading them as usual, and also that she swears by Christian means at the first, where she usually swears by hills, relatives, grass, corn etc. to show she is Living In Sin and it’s her poor pagan fault she’s being horribly abused, making the palmer/pilgrim/priest good to bring her to the realisation that his God might save her from the worst punishment for these things…

  10. Muzza(NW Surrey.UK) says:

    If the fair maid had given him a drink…..we wouldn’t have had her darkest secrets exposed……..I can forgive her most things……But in the 2nd verse ….I cannot forgive her for “Hanging the mouse on a hazel wand”……..poor little thing.

  11. Diana says:

    After yesterdays grim tale the day went downhill. Freezer conked, next Thursday before replacment arrives. So another far from happy song, so what catastrophe could befall me today. But hooray managed to get tickets for Bellowhead at the Lowry from Gigantic without too much trouble.

    Jane absent from here and FB, and Muzza and Pewter not answering my messages.

  12. Linda says:

    @Diana. woo hoo!!! we’ve got tickets too.

  13. Diana says:

    Great! Linda you went to Derby last time didn’t you? Are they appearing at the same place? It was easy this time via Gigantic – usually it means hanging on the phone for ages and staring at the computer waiting in a queue.

  14. Muzza(NW Surrey.UK) says:

    @Diana……………I have been sticken by the Yorkshire curse…found my freezer zonked today….all the stuff barely cold…being a war baby…I’ll try and eat as much as I can over the weekend…wot diet!

  15. Diana says:

    Muzza we don’t want you getting food poisoning so take care especially with any thawed out fish. What did we do before fridges and freezers – did we die in droves? No!!!
    I know you are mocking me you cheeky monkey!

  16. Linda says:

    @Diana have got tickets for Lowry this time not Derby. Got them direct

  17. Diana says:

    @Linda: Glad we both managed to get tickets by different routes. Long time to wait though itsn’t it?

  18. Jan says:

    Dear Muzza, there was I thinking the maid hung her washing on the hazel wand, and all the time it was a poor defenceless mouse – she must be double damned!

  19. Muzza (N.W.Surrey-UK) says:

    I have listened again and it is- washing…..
    Dognabit……I have been grieving for that wee mouse for all this time….thank you Jan…you have made an old man very happy.

  20. Diana says:

    A jolly enough tune but a pity the song wasn’t quite as jolly.

  21. Diana says:

    Still of the same opinion as above.

  22. Linda says:

    Think I’ve got this one sorted now ,after the distraction of The Mouse!!!!
    Seems that this is the time of year for buying tickets……..Yes have purchased two lots !!!!!

  23. Little old Muzza(N.W surrey.UK) says:

    Methinks Diana did not look again at yesterday’s comments……or she has mellowed

  24. Linda says:

    @Muzza just in case your using the archives re my last comment I meant the 28th of the month ………….

  25. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    Bats along at a fair old rate…………..funny how presuggestion affects your understanding…Because somebody mentioned Jesus…my mind instantly heard ‘Jew’ rather than ‘Dew’…….or is it me1

  26. Neil Brookes says:

    I’m pretty sure that the tune was put to the ‘Palmer’ words by Brass Monkey. The tune is from a Covent Garden style light opera or parlour song called ‘Wine cannot Cure’ and was sung as a duet, the arrangement leading to the additional bars in the B part. The song is fairly ghastly ‘From night ’til morn I drain my glass and think about My Cloe’ being the first line, and the chorus goes ‘Wine cannot cure, No No No etc’. The sheet music is around on-line in some American Uni collection but I forget the website. Somehow the tune found its way into quite a few fiddlers’ tune books as ‘From night til morn’ – a fairly good example of amateur/folk musicians taking a ‘posh’ tune and adding it to the tradition!

  27. Neil Brookes says:

    …..first line quote was a bit inaccurate ‘ From night til morn I take my glass in hopes to forget my Chloe….’ but you get the idea 🙂

  28. OldMuzza(NWSurrey Uk) says:

    Oh… glad the mouse was spared!

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