The Prentice Boy


Jon took this originally from the book Marrowbones first published in 1965 and reprinted by the EFDSS with additional annotation (follow this link.) Jon says, “Here’s another pretty gruesome girlfriend murdering song, more or less the same as The Cruel Knife, but with a bit more graphic violence. It’s pretty horrible really – fun to sing though.” Bellamy, Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick are notables who have recorded this and there’s also a version from Harry Cox that you’ll find on The Bonny Labouring Boy CD, which adds to the Norfolk provenance. Mainly Norfolk, appropriately therefore, has a good summary of the various versions and differences in the lyrics and alternate titles. You can read the various sleeve notes too, which make the point that this must be one of the commonest plotlines in folk song. The subtext of unwanted pregnancy is more explicit in some variants, so I guess there’s some cautionary morality to explain the frequency of the story line in an age before successful birth control was common place. Still it’s a rather drastic solution to the problem and a grim outcome all round.

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10 Responses to “The Prentice Boy”

  1. Linda Champ says:

    Sorry, a correction – The Prentice Boy is in Wanton Seed 1968 not Marrowbones 1965/2007. Just in case anyone was about to rush off and buy a copy!

  2. A good reason to buy both, isn’t it? 😉 (at least if Wanton Seed is currently available).

  3. Jane Ramsden says:

    Well, back to the norm after Yarmouth Town! That shivers yer timbers! A powerful confession of confused desperation, powerfully sung. A great starting contender for the September poll. Terrific, Jon!

  4. admin says:

    Linda thanks for that. I hate to get these things wrong, but it’s sometimes difficult to winkle out the fine detail without all of these sources to hand and things like the contents of books can be tricky to find. There are only so many hours in the day afterall. Jon is fuelling me with his sources and any comments, but one or two of these will probably be subject to tha odd memory lapse or momentary confusion I’m sure. As I’ve said before any corrections to the stories here are most welcome as I’m no expert, but hey..! I’ve learned a lot over these two months.

  5. admin says:

    Reinhard it seems not at present the only copy that Amazon brought up was a used copy at £25 and there’s nothing I can find on EFDSS. Those intersted might like to have a quick trawl down this Mudat thread, although I note that the comments from Malcolm Douglas are from 2007, so perhaps the reissue programme has stalled. If anyone from EFDSS can throw any light, please do.

  6. Ally says:

    A beautiful song to come home to after a hard days work. In fact, every day, for a year!! Thank you for the pleasure. Ally Xx

  7. Linda Champ says:

    Reinhard I couldn’t agree more. I have both versions of Marrowbones, the 1968 edition of The Wanton Seed, and Constant Lovers which I think is 1972. I would urge anyone to buy any of them. They are full of wonderful, mostly Hampshire and Dorset, happy, silly, as well as, sad and sometimes gruesome songs – thanks to the late Frank Purslow.
    I too am looking forward to the reissue of WS but I fear it might be some way off.
    Admin – you’re doing a great job!

  8. Jo Breeze says:

    More about The Prentice Boy from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
    There are 79 records of The Prentice Boy in the Library, collected from Norfolk, Gloucestershire, Dorset, Queensland in Australia, and Nova Scotia in Canada amongst others.
    We used the Roud number to cross reference against different titles for the song. When searched on Roud No. 263, there are 318 records – also known as the Berkshire Tragedy or the Bloody Miller.
    If you wish to see more detail on each record, change the ‘output’ to ‘record’ and press ‘submit query’.
    There are 4 records of the song in the Take 6 collection, though not all have the words of the song included.
    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
    If you need any help accessing the library online or have any questions, please contact the VWML on 020 7485 2206 or

    A note on the Wanton Seed songbook – as far as I’m personally aware, the reissue mentioned on Mudcat is on hold, although I’m not part of publications planning so I’ll double check that.

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

    Now why didn’t I think of that before I married….get yourself a pen knife and a big stick and drown the poor gal in the river…then make it look like suicide.

  10. Diana says:

    Another wicked fellow killing the poor lass. Still it was a change for the murderer to be hanged. Retribution indeed.

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