Jon recognises this as “Well known as a Watersons’ number. It actually appears, albeit in a very different form, in As You Like It, from whence comes the first verse in this version.”
There is a wealth of stuff on this song and much concern about what the title means, is it simply a corruption of heal and toe, related to a shanty command to haul and tow, a gypsy tow rope, a village tug of war, a garland (tow) for the first of the month (halan) or a simple bit of fol-de-rol nonsense? No one can hope to be definitive on this, but as always it makes for some interesting theorising, or wild speculation, take your pick. You may like to start at Mudcat and if so, should also follow the links off from comment two onwards. I was also highly amused and somewhat taken aback by this. More of the mummers and Robin Hood again, not to mention those pesky Romans and their pagan deities, but as for Stubbes, what can you say? He seems to have a very detailed knowledge of the goings on and his work was apparently researched over seven winters of travelling the length and breadth of the country. He seems possessed of a puritanical zeal as he sets his sights on Elizabethan mores and iniquities. You have to wonder at the “look at all the naughty stuff they’re doing” moralising whilst presumably copping an eyeful, as I can’t imagine he put so much effort into it only to take peoples word for their sinfulness. Anyway, should that grab your interest you may have the patience to wade through this, which seems a bit prone to odd typographical things going on. I’ve dipped in but simply haven’t the time. So, to get us back on topic Mainly Norfolk covers various recordings of this and links the song to the Furry Dance or Flora (not Floral) Dance from Helston. How many of you were out dancing, playing, singing or whatever? Any maypole related tales will be appreciated, but if you went gadding off to the woods you’d best keep it to yourself.