Searching For Lambs


Jon calls this a “Nice simple little courtship song this. I feel like they were probably courting before the song starts rather than a chance meeting – so similar to Brigg Fair in feel. Often used as example of the 5:4 meter in traditional song, although that doesn’t come across here.”

I can only agree with the above. There is certainly no controversy or issue to deal with here as the song is as straightforward as they come. Although having said that, you wonder at why he had to ask her what she was doing as if she’s his true love surely he’d know. Anyway it’s perhaps churlish to poke holes at a lovely little song. Mainly Norfolk covers the various recordings of this, including Tony Rose, Shirley Collins, Peter Bellamy and June Tabor. There isn’t much more to add save that it was collected by Cecil Sharp. If you search this on Mudcat it brings up lots of discussion about definitive folk songs, people’s Top 10 lists and so forth, which suggests it’s a popular one.



48 Responses to “Searching For Lambs”

  1. Shelley says:

    Such a beautiful song, and it works really well unaccompanied. (I’ve tried it accompanied by Bulgarian bagpipes)

  2. Sarah says:

    Bella Hardy does a version on Night Visiting.

    Fantastic S&B gig at Junction 2 last night. Thanks.

  3. Jan says:

    Another little gem – and a happy ending for good measure! One of my favourites, but then, there have been so many good’uns this month I’ll be hard pressed to choose an overall favourite. Jon is certainlyapproaching the end of the project in a blaze of glory!

  4. Shelley says:

    Don’t remind me it’s coming to an end – I keep looking at the numbers and wondering how I’ll manage without my daily fix!

  5. Matt Walton says:

    I learned it from Abbie Lathe’s recording on ‘Avebury’, which is a nice simple rendition with just a little studio trickery so she can sing her own backing vocals. Then I did it as the ‘unaccompanied traditional song’ part of my grade 5 singing exam, which pleased the examiner as he said he’d never heard it before. It’s now stuck in my head forever, and I’ll sing it at any opportunity. Wonderful, wonderful song, even if the speed of courtship has always struck me as a bit improbable (see also: One Misty Moisty Morning, which is similar but sillier).

  6. Phil says:

    I fell in love with this when I first heard it (on “Anthems in Eden”); it’s taken root somewhere in my subconscious now. (I’ve never sung it though – have to put that right soon!)

    For such a simple song it’s got some extraordinary writing. I love this:
    Your pretty little feet they tread so neat
    Strike off the morning dew

    Strike off the morning dew” – where did that come from, and what does it mean? Magical stuff.

  7. Jane Ramsden says:

    Lovely song, capturing the moment of a lad’s declaration of love for a lass! Nicely sung, Jon.

    @ Phil: This article might tell you all things May dew-wise! (‘Strike off’ is mentioned!)

    The May Day Dew – Should you roll naked in it?
    by Bridget Haggerty

    The plainest girl will be beautiful if she rises early on May Day and bathes her face in morning dew at sunrise. So goes the old Irish saying…

    If she was daring enough to undress and roll naked, she was given great beauty of person; the dew was also believed to bring immunity to freckles, sunburn, chapping, and wrinkles during the coming year. It cured or prevented headaches, skin ailments and sore eyes and, if applied to the eyes, it ensured that its user rose every morning clear-eyed, alert and refreshed, even after a very short sleep.

    The man who washed his hands in the dew of May Day gained skill in opening knots and locks, in mending nets and disentangling ropes. The woman who did likewise could unravel tangled threads with ease.

    To walk barefoot in the dew cured soreness, prevented corns and bunions and ensured healthy feet during the year. In his Natural History of Ireland, Dr. Gerard Boate (1652) writes of the virtues of May Day Dew:

    “The English women and gentlewomen in Ireland, as in England, did use in the beginning of the summer to gather good store of dew, to keep it by them all the year after for several good uses both of physick and otherwise. Their manner of collecting and keeping it was this. In the month of May especially, and also in part of the month of June, they would go forth betimes in the morning, and before sun-rising, into a green field, and there either with their hands strike off the dew from the tops of the the herbs into a dish, or else throwing clean linnnen cloaths upon the ground, take off the dew from the herbs into them, and afterwards wring it out into dishes: and thus they continue their work until they have got a sufficient quantity of dew according to their intentions. That which is gotten from the grass will serve, but they chuse rather to have it from the green corn, especially wheat, if they can have the convenience to do so, as being persuaded that this dew hath more vertues and is better for all purposes than that which hath been collected from the grass or other herbs. The dew thus gathered they put in a glass bottle and so set it in a place where it may have the warm sunshine all day long, keeping it there all the summer; after some days rest some dregs and dirt will settle to the bottom; the which when they perceive, they pour off all the clear dew into another vessel, and fling away those settings. This they do often as those good women see any notable quantity; they still pour off the the clear dew from them: doing thus al summer long, until it be clear to the bottom. The dew thus thoroughly purified looketh whitish, and keepeth good for a year or two after.”

    Sounds like some sort of Bach Flower or Rescue Remedy! Anyway, ‘striking off the dew’ is described well above, which may date the expression to 1652 in this piece of writing.

  8. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    @Jane……..”The man who washed his hands in the dew of May Day gained skill in opening knots and locks, in mending nets and disentangling ropes.”

    Now…if it helped with “one handed opening of Bra straps”..I’d have had the “dewiest hands in the land!”!

  9. Muzza (N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    Did I really say that last year…………I’m much more reserved now!

  10. Diana says:

    A really lovely song and with a happy ending as well. Delightful.

    Muzza I think you are telling porkies. Reserved? – an expression comes to mind but I won’t write it.

    I am lost for words!

  11. Peter Walsh says:

    Lovely performance Jon. I also enjoy Martha Tilston’s version, which Jane mentioned a few weeks ago, from her Lucy and the Wolves CD. She fair bleats like a lamb on her vocal and the backing of natural outdoor sounds make it stunningly unique!

  12. John Biggs (Welsh Marches) says:

    What a beautiful song with, as Phil says above, some lovely lyrics i.e. “No man shall uncomfort thee.”
    Thank you Jane for all the explanations linked to the ‘morning dew’. A favourite song of mine is ‘Blow Away The Morning Dew’, and in that, I take it, the young lady encountered in the song is drying off after her morning bath ! No wonder they refer to ‘the good old days’.
    This has not been a good May so far for morning dew. After all the torrential rain our fields are still running in surface water,which is not the same. However, with the present drought situation, perhaps the government should encourage a return to the practice of bathing in morning dew. Now there is a policy I could endorse.
    Muzza, we would probably have been helped if someone had published a manual on the various types of fastenings. (Haines should have done one.)

  13. Diana says:

    John don’t you dare go down Muzza’s path, we have enough trouble with him without you joining in, although you are a little more circumspect with your remarks. Even so we would have to have “his” and “hers” morning dew though. I am sure that Muzza never needed a manual.

  14. Mark says:

    Sounds a bit weird, but the tune reminds me of ‘On Christmas Day It Happened So’. Is there a link at all?

  15. Jane Ramsden says:

    When I posted a link to Martha Tilston’s version of this song, I had completely forgotten it was yet to come on here. This is why the re-run is so useful! I did detect a ‘mini-bleat’ in Jon’s rendition at the ‘feet so neat’ part. The song is so wonderfully well-written that it uses words you can mimic sheep sound to, as well as draw favourable visual comparison between the young lady in question and some pretty, lamb-like qualities.

    @ Diana: You did make me laugh with your ‘his and hers’ morning dew! I’d also completely forgotten I’d posted sthg on that too. If it’s that efficacious, I could do with some today. I am severe-ally hung over! Don’t know whether to drink it, roll in it, bathe in it. or all three! Hahahahaha!

    On re-reading, I note dew from oats is especially well-favoured. They knew some sensible things learned from observation & experience in t’olden days. Many of the best skin creams & bathing preparations, esp for people with sensitive skin and eczema conditions, contain oat.

    So that is another note I have cut and pasted into my AFSAD archive afore it finishes. I am also working backwards and nearly at the end of December. I’ll be glad to be through all the currently unseasonal carols with their masses of comments – though I suppose I am one of the main ‘guilty as charged!’

  16. Diana says:

    @ Jane: Well one cannot have communal bathing in the mrning dew it would not be proper with some of these lascivious fellows. Oats are very good in the cosmetic field – soap, facial masks etc. and one can also eat them – very nutritious.
    What have you been up too to be severely hung over – at the G and Ts again? No dew here just wet with rain yet again. Up to December then – a long, long way to go but keep at it.

  17. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Diana: Too much of the grape, not the grain – lol! I could not even face some of my usual grapes for breakfast this morning. Had to be sliced peach, blueberries and banana! I ask yer! ‘Friend’ came round with problem. (Probably can’t even remember it today!) At least I didn’t have to go to work like her. I’ve shared the problem – I trust she is sharing the pain!

    I’ll finish December today. Soooo glad about that!

  18. Diana says:

    Oh dear – no more grape juice for you then but your brekkie sounds lovely. Poor friend having to go to work and you hoping that she shares the pain. Not very charitable is it? Still I expect your little feline pals would not let you lie in bed for long feeling sorry for yourself.

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

    Damn, blast, roast it and set fire to it…
    Miss Hungover didn’t rise to this bait from Gathering Rushes a couple of days ago.
    “the only foreign phrase I know is
    “On Ilkly moor baht ‘at”..
    but where you gonna find a grapecrushing, porter imbibing,cat loving,red-hat wearing, unsympathetic agony aunt that would understand that!

  20. Diana says:

    You are so right Muzza I too was expecting some comeback from Miss Hungover (she will like this – not a lot) but it is a brilliant description. But you are wrong with the porter, I presumed she was on the wine and that is why she is whining.

  21. Reynard says:

    I just started listening to this morning’s issue of Thank Goodness It’s Folk; Daye Eyre (not air, e’er or err, Diana) promised an interview with Fay and four or five songs from Orfeo.

    [This is my second try of this post; the first one is awaiting moderation because I included a link to the programme. You’ll have to google for it for yourself now]

  22. Diana says:

    Many thanks Reynard, I will probably manage to find it on iPlayer radio. I find ithis invaluable for catching up on programmes. I found it baffling the first time I was under moderation because I could not undertand what was wrong with what I had written. I am sure that all will be well and there will be a repeat message from you.

  23. Diana says:

    Have googled and goggled and cannot find it on iPlayer although I believe it comes from Sheffield. Cannot even find it in the BBC’s Radio Times – annoying! Never mind it isn’t too (two, to) long before the 28th of May and we will be able to listen to all (awl) of Fay’s songs. This list of words sounding the same with different meanings is endless.

  24. Reynard says:

    Google for “Thank Goodness It’s Folk” and you’ll immediately find the Sheffield Live page for this show where you can listen to and dowload it. Fay ist in the first part of today’s show, i.e. the part starting at 10:00.

  25. Diana says:

    I am sorry but when it comes to something different I do not seem to be able to cope. It says download to MP3 so where does it go to?

  26. Reynard says:

    Click or double click on it. Either it will be played in your browser or will be so stored as an MP3 audio file on your computer’s hard disk, very probably in a download folder under “my computer” if you use a windows system.

  27. Diana says:

    Heavens above I am not as stupid as I thought. I persevered and managed to hear the interview and some of the songs so I can carry on again tomorrow now I have got the knack. Why oh why couldn’t I get it earlier when I googled so many times without any success?

  28. Diana says:

    I may have managed to download it onto Favourites but it seemed to stick part way so I shall have to wait (weight) until tomorrow. Thanks for your assistance – much appreciated and also for your patience – there’s another word with another spelling. I will stop or I will drive one of us mad.

  29. Linda says:

    Just finished listening to Fay, Brill look forward to the CD. Glad you found it Diana.

  30. Jane Ramsden says:

    You got there in the end, Diana, and that’s what counts! Reinhard is always very helpfully precise in his advice, so you had to finally succeed.

    I am not rising to the “Ilkla’ Moor baht ‘at” bait, ‘cos I’m certainly not without my hat, as ye can plainly see. Hung over I may have been, but I normally achieve more in that state than many sober! Last night (on this rare occasion) I was admittedly drunk and incapable! But up with the lark fer cat-fettling, ‘cos it has to be done. Didn’t sound like a lark though, and sure didn’t feel like one with a banging head! Ted is now on the wagon….

    However, for yer edification (we are strong on ‘edification’ in Yorksher!) it is less a language than a dialect or dialects. It has been used in classic works of literature such as ‘Wuthering Heights,’ of course. Studies have shown that accents in the West Riding (i.e. mostly modern South and West Yorkshire, where the Ted comes from!) are generally popular and are associated with common sense, loyalty and reliability. Natch! Here is a fairly definitive guide to our regional anthem:

    It’s sung to the old Methodist hymn tune Cranbrook (composed by Canterbury-based shoemaker Thomas Clark in 1805 and later used as a tune for ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night’)

    Within the lyrics there is one central verse to the song. The first, third and fourth lines are changed with each following verse. All of the verses in the song feature the second, fifth, sixth and seventh lines, which are “On Ilkla Mooar baht ‘at.”

    Yorkshire lyrics:
    Wheear ‘ast tha bin sin’ ah saw thee, ah saw thee?
    On Ilkla Mooar baht ‘at
    Wheear ‘ast tha bin sin’ ah saw thee, ah saw thee?
    Wheear ‘ast tha bin sin’ ah saw thee?
    On Ilkla Mooar baht ‘at
    On Ilkla Mooar baht ‘at
    On Ilkla Mooar baht ‘at

    Tha’s been a cooartin’ Mary Jane
    Tha’s bahn’ to catch thy deeath o` cowd
    Then us’ll ha’ to bury thee
    Then t’worms’ll come an` eyt thee up
    Then t’ducks’ll come an` eyt up t’worms
    Then us’ll go an` eyt up t’ducks
    Then us’ll all ha’ etten thee T
    hat’s wheear we get us ooan back


    Where have you been since I last saw you, last saw you?
    On Ilkley Moor without a hat
    Where have you been since I last saw you, last saw you?
    Where have you been since I last saw you?
    On Ilkley Moor without a hat
    On Ilkley Moor without a hat
    On Ilkley Moor without a hat

    You have been courting Mary Jane
    You are bound to catch your death of cold
    Then we will have to bury you
    Then the worms will come and eat you up
    Then the ducks will come and eat up the worms
    Then we will go and eat up the ducks
    Then we will have eaten you
    That’s where we get our own back

    Some singers add the responses “without thy trousers on” after the fourth line of each verse, and “where the ducks play football” after the seventh. Other variations include “where the nuns play rugby”, “where the sheep fly backwards”, “where the ducks fly backwards”, “where the ducks wear trousers”, and “an’ they’ve all got spots”.

    Also in some recitals, after the first two lines of “On Ilkla Mooar baht ‘at” it is followed by a “Where’s that?”. Another variant adds “Howzat?” after the first line and “Not out!” after the second. In Leeds, the line immediately before the chorus is often ended with “And we all got wet”.

    There are also alternative endings, where verse nine states: “There is a moral to this tale”, and is followed by a chorus of “Don’t go without your hat / Don’t go without your hat / On Ilkey moor baht ‘at” (which is sung commonly within South Yorkshire), or “Don’t go a courtin’ Mary Jane” (another variation known in the Scouting movement). Alternatively, verse nine is sung as “There is a moral to this tale”, and verse ten as “When courtin’ always wear a hat.”

    So now ye know why the Cardinal’s hat, Muzza! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    There is also a beer called Mary Jane. I have a bottle in my cellar… but of course, I can’t drink it… ‘cos I am on the wagon!

  31. Jane Ramsden says:

    And this one is especially for thee, Muzza… I think you’ll understand why early on in the vid:

  32. Muzza (N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    @Jane……………aaaah….the professor…my hero.
    On the vid -Sounds as though the performers need a kick up the backside…Even I sing the old song with more gusto than they!…Thanks for the translation…what a jolly lot you are in Yarksher!
    Darn Sarf our regional anthem starts:-
    “Hey there Marwy Poppins….how are you today…
    keep away from ducks and worms and Yorksher and keep your hat on
    Let’s go and sweep some chimerleys instead
    Do you Fancy a rhubarb sandwich”

  33. Diana says:

    Jane although I am an adopted northener and from the other side of the Pennines, I do know this song and have sung it many times with gusto. I also understand the the words and though my pronounciation may not always have been entirely correct I love the song. I think that Muzza was trying to wind you up (notice I said trying).

    As for myself I am grateful to Reynard for his help, it was beyond the call of duty and it was good of him to take the trouble – he must have found me a nuisance. I have yet to see whether I managed to download it – I shall see later.

    @Muzza I may be a southerner, but not from London where you hail from so I don’t speak like that – golly you are worse than Dick Van Dyke and that is saying something! Mind you I have never head of a rhubarb sandwich – its sounds awful!. Us northerners have to be jolly – don’t forget we get most of the rainfall here.

  34. Jane Ramsden says:

    @ Muzza: It was Arthur C Throovest that got my attention more than the rather sad rendition of our regional anthem. But you’ll nivver wind me up more than so far. I can see thru thee, lad! HAHAHAHAHAHA!

    @ Diana: I actually don’t really know ‘Ilkla Mooar’ all the way through. Most times you never hear the whole version and tend to take it for granted anyway when you have grown up with it. All credit to you that you do know it.

  35. Diana says:

    Jane there is only one snag – I know that I know the song very well but cannot remember where I sang it – could it have been in the Girl Guides although it seems to me that it could possibly be on coach trips, there was always jolly singing on the way home if my memory serves me well and actually I am lucky – have a very good one. Otherwise one would find it difficult surviving these days, what with pin numbers, alarm munbers, phone numbers and the various passwords for so many internet places.

  36. Muzza (N.W.Surrey.UK) says:

    Well we have certainly strayed off subect on this one
    (searching for lambs was the song)….
    A couple of Northern lasses confess to not knowing Ilkla Moooaar all the way through!
    I can help ref the lambs:-
    It says in my Haynes manual…”Good Shepherding and troublesome gate fastenings”
    ‘If you need to leave the flock in a dangerous place while you go to seach for lambs-then get the flock out of there…and move to safer ground.’
    And as for maidens in dew ponds……I found some once frolicking, naked in my dewpond and asked them to leave……they said NO…not until you go away.
    Ok, says I…I only came down to the pond to feed my pet alligator!!

    (Bet your glad I’m off for a week!)

  37. Diana says:

    I know the words Muzza and I am just an adopted northener but do have a good holiday. – we will miss you.

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

    Re readind the wild notesabove is akin to happy school days…………
    and then we reach the end of school and have all gone our various ways….
    now whare is that ‘at of mine…….I’m off for a stroll on t’ moor to search for dew-drenched maidens!……….I have my Haynes manual with me (Borrowed from young Johnny Biggs)

  39. Phil says:

    I did this song a bit back, but I now think I pitched it a bit high; must re-do it some time.

    Searching for Lambs with whistle, melodica and zither

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

    Good to know that you are still out there young Phil

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

    Right now I Could just do with a couple of Northern, dew-drenched lasses!

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

    and I’m still waiting for those dew-drenched lasses to return to AFSAD…………
    hey…how will we all know when each of us has popped our clogs…
    Ha…’re stuck with me on Youtube!….must put a new one on to punish/annoy you.

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

    Ref comment above….still waiting!

  44. EvenOlderMuzza(NWSurreyUK) says:

    Still waiting…….now covered in dew

  45. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Oh dear….I clearly have a non existent charisma with the ladies
    It was ever thus!
    Suppose I’d better go and search for some lambs instead!

  46. AncientOldMuzza(NWSurreyUK) says:

    and I’m still waiting for those dew-drenched lasses to return to AFSAD…………
    Will I last another year!

  47. Jane (Maryland) says:

    Don’t give up hope, Muzza! Perhaps they’ll return next year.

  48. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    At least you were still out there Jane (Maryland)

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