Oats and Beans and Barley


This is more of a field recording as Jon is joined by brother Tom. Jon introduces it thus, “Tom and I have been singing this for years. This is a nice two-parter, although it does work better if the harmony is below the tune (as in the Hart/Prior version). Tom and I recorded this in our Mum’s garage near Newhaven hence background bird noise, and I persuaded Tom to record another whilst we were at it.” Yes we have another bonus track for you, so as well as Oats And Beans And Barley Grow, you also get (High) Barbaree.

The former is of course a play song, where actions are performed and Tim & Maddy (Jon’s credited source here) recorded it for Folk Songs of Old(e) England. Their sleeve notes (read them here on Mainly Norfolk) make somewhat more of this than I was allowing, suggesting the ritual elements contained in the rhyme. You can read more at Mudcat here or Wiki here. I’m curious about this. As a nursery rhyme it’s probably very old, but I can’t find any reference to date except for Gomme 1898. There’s certainly a lyric with what looks like old style spelling given in this thread. Any thoughts please. Beautifully sung it is though and I think this harmony works very well.

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47 Responses to “Oats and Beans and Barley”

  1. Lenora Rose says:

    Clearly I’m still a sucker for harmony, as so far most of my favourites have featured a second voice. Both of these are highly enjoyable, though I must admit a fondness for the first version of High Barbary/ee I know, which is a rather melodramatic rendition by Heather Alexander, a Californian.

    How much, though, does a folk song have to change before it ceases to be the same song? I’ve seen songs referred to as the same because they contained the same core plot and verses, even when to entirely different tunes (This happened here, for Polly Vaughn), or when there are recognizable changes in the lyrics, or even the ending. (I know of at least three tunes and four or five endings to the Two Sisters folk songs, as another example.)

    At what point does it no longer ‘count’?

  2. muzza says:

    Well….what an extravaganza…………two great voices in harmony…….splendid instrumental bouncing along……….I have three observations……I have never seen a garage with enough room to record in (mum must be posh!)….I couldn’t hear the birdsong………..and which of you two was tap dancing or playing the spoons?

  3. SRD says:

    More fun, a great duo.

    I think the tap dancing is the clatter of the fingers on the keys of the concertina.

  4. Phil says:

    Lenora – how long is a piece of string? There’s the same song in different versions, there are song variants, then there are song families (e.g. Sprig o’Thyme/Let no man steal your thyme/When I was in my prime). Where you draw the line is up to you. At last night’s singaround somebody said he was going to do a variant of the Border Widow’s Lament and then sang Famous Flower of Serving Men.

    muzza – lots of room in the average garage, as long as you take the car out first. In our case the car won’t fit in the garage anyway (normal-sized car, small garage) so I could take my trusty Zoom in there any day of the week.

    As for Oats and Beans, it’s clearly about sex* – Shirley and Dolly Collins’s version made this fairly obvious:
    Stand to your partner and then you will know
    Where the peas, beans, oats and the barley grow

    but beyond that I’m sceptical – pagan ritual is a hell of a leap.

    *As it’s a folk song, it was either that or death.

  5. LadyD says:

    I love both tracks.

    Oats n beans n Barley (or barleygrow as I thought it was as a child) is my 2nd fave nursery rhyme after oranges and lemons.

    High Barbary…are you sure its ‘one-row concertina’ and not One Row Melodeon? 😉

  6. Simon says:

    Oooops! Melodeon it is. Sorry another case of not paying attention to what I’m told as Jon clearly says so in his mail.

  7. LadyD says:

    More coffee needed in the mornings. 😉

    I was listening and thinking that’s a very odd sounding concertina…sounds just like a one row melodeon. lol!

  8. Matthew Edwards says:

    Garage folk! could this be a new trend?? 🙂

    I remember listening to another pair of siblings play Peas, Beans, Oats and the Barley, so I dug out my old LP of Shirley and Dolly Collins ‘For As Many As Will’ and enjoyed an hour of sheer delight. Thanks to Jon and Tom for reviving the happy memories.


  9. Matthew Edwards says:

    @Phil “pagan ritual is a hell of a leap” LOL! Can I use that as a quote?


  10. LadyD says:

    I always thought it was a quick guide to ‘how to be a farmer’. 😉

  11. Jane Ramsden says:

    Love your melody and your melodeon! If you are both musical, is your mother?

    I do not know Oats, Beans & Barley as a children’s song. I concur with Phil about the sexual element in the song, but do not find it such a leap that this could be seen as a pagan fertility ritual. I have seen The Wicker Man!

    There is often more behind nursery rhymes than the seemingly simple and lovely. “Ring a ring o’roses, a pocketful of posies, atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down” springs to mind. Or perhaps something more significant or sinister is attributed when it might just be childish wordplay, but there’s no proof it isn’t about the plague either. These songs evolve with the singers, listeners & changing times.

  12. Jane Ramsden says:

    But if you get Tom, mum, and Fay together, Jon, Oats and Beans and Barley is ‘ripe’ for a round!

  13. Tom Boden says:

    Thanks to all for your v. kind comments!

    I don’t get out to play much these days (have a 4 month old baby and busy day job!), but thought you might be interested to know that I’ll be supporting Jon and John at the Bath Folk Club on Thursday 30th September and I might twist Jon’s arm to help me out again on Barbaree.

  14. Phil says:

    there’s no proof it isn’t about the plague either.

    There really is. It would have to have been composed by a time-traveller who planted the song in the late nineteenth century, then covered his tracks by going further back and planting what appeared to be earlier versions of the rhyme which didn’t have anything to do with the plague.

    There’s lots of folklore about folklore, if you see what I mean. (I’ve also seen the Wicker Man!)

  15. Phil says:

    there’s no proof it isn’t about the plague either.

    There really is. Have a look at this page. (Apparently nobody made the connection with the plague until 1961.)

    There’s an awful lot of folklore about folklore, if you see what I mean.

  16. Jon Boden says:

    Just noticed that if you click on the “Entries (RSS)” link at the bottom of this page, the mp3 files are displayed and you can right-click (ctrl-click for Mac) and download that way. You’ll end up wit duplicates when iTunes catches up mind. j

  17. SRD says:

    Regarding the gig in Bath, we won’t be there, the venue isn’t wheelchair accessible.

  18. Phil says:

    Cheers, John, that’s handy – but still can’t see Barbaree; the RSS feed only seems to see one mp3 file per entry. Have to wait for iTunes to get its knickers untwisted!

  19. Phil says:

    Sorry, Jon – thought I was replying to, er, someone else called John…

  20. Jane Ramsden says:

    Well, Phil, as Susan Carroll-Clark holds a PhD in medieval history, I take her research as very well-informed and pretty definitive! I’m certainly not precious about the meaning of ‘Ring a ring o’roses’. I do believe what you say about there being a lot of folklore about folklore.

    I learnt that rhyme as a child and it’s more sinister meaning as a child, which is contrary to what Nicolaa de Bracton has encountered, but that was obviously taught to me by adults. I do sometimes wonder, as I live near Bronte country, whether such rhymes gained more sinister interpretations due to local history. For instance, a lot of children being carried off by tuberculosis in my area.

    On balance, I think it is more than reasonable to assume an absence of recorded history means something didn’t exist, but it is never quite conclusive proof that it didn’t, because that would require contrary evidence. However, that is almost a theological argument and hardly significant to one nursery rhyme.

    Ms de Bracton – is the use of that title with her adopted name an anomaly? – looks a very useful source of historical information and myth-clarifying. I wonder if she has anything to say about Vikings’ horned helmets? A historically-minded friend of mine once cut the horns off the helmet of a Viking souvenir figure his mother had brought him back from her holiday, as he maintains there is no evidence that they ever had horns on their helmets! Fact, folklore or folklore about folklore? All youthful illusions shattered… again!

  21. Jane Ramsden says:

    “Apparently nobody made the connection with the plague until 1961”

    Yes, that might fit with my age! I couldn’t possibly remember if I was told that before or after, but it must have been around then.

    My head is just buzzing with all the learning on here!

  22. Both the Mudcat and the Wiki entries do go as far as citing the song as appearing in English County Songs ,and having been published by Lucy Broadwood, but say little more.

    The version which appears in “English County Songs” , edited by Lucy Broadwood and J A Fuller Maitland, and published by Leadenhall Press in the summer of 1893 is the same as that performed and recorded by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior in the first recording that I heard of it in the 1970’s. The accompaniment in English County Songs was composed by Lucy Broadwood herself, and the notes to the song show it as from Lincolnshire (not necessarily reliable, as the songs in the collection have been shunted around amongst the counties according to either the location where they were collected, the county that the singer originated from, etc … to satisfy a need to find songs from each county in the country – although three counties are actually missing from the collection altogether).

    It is also described as a “Children’s choosing game”, obtained from a Mrs Pocklington Coltman. The tune is listed as “simply a fragment of the well-known country dance “Dr Faustus”. Guidance is given to the pronunciation of the title … “Pronounce “Wuts and Beans”, and the reader is directed to “See “Shropshire Folk Lore”.

  23. Sorry – the song mentioned in my last post was, of course, “Oats and Beans”. Having just been away and searched the records for the 1881 census, it is possible that the Mrs Pocklington Coltman referred to may have been Mrs Marion C.P.Coltman … wife of Roger P Coltman, then a 59 year old retired civil servant. She was 56, and they lived in Hagnaby, Lincolnshire, where Marion had been born. (Her husband hailed from Nottinghamshire). On the day of the census they had staying with them and Edith Pocklington (35 years old and described as a cousin). On that basis, if this is the Mrs Pocklington Coltman referred to (and this, at this stage would just be guesswork), it’s likely that she was one of the people who had submitted songs to the editors for their collection, rather than someone that they had actively collected from … and that the song did indeed hail from Lincolnshire. I now feel spurred to go and check out Ms Broadwood’s personal annotated copy of English County Songs, wherein she entered notes on many of the songs within the collection, plus any variants that she had chance upon !!

  24. Phil says:

    One of the trails for this song seems to go back to volume 1 of something called “Northamptonshire Notes and Queries”. Infuriatingly, some volumes of NN&Q have in fact been digitised and put online… but not volume 1! If anyone’s near a reference library in Northampton…

    I think Nicolaa de Bracton and Susan C-C are the same person, by the way – I think it’s an SCA thing.

  25. Jane Ramsden says:

    Yes, Phil, I tracked down Nicolaa de Bracton’s real name as I thought that’s too quirky to be present-day real!

  26. Jane Ramsden says:

    Never having heard of Northamptonshire Notes and Queries, I had to have a look, Phil. What wonderful documents! Here is the link to Vol. 2:


    It does indeed refer to Oats and Beans and Barley being the subject of article 135 in Vol.1 and adds:

    Ancient Village Sports (135, 173, 192, 217, 270)

    I am glad that Mr. Page has brought up again the above subject, which is still very far from being exhausted. A Wellingborough lady kindly sends me the tunes of two of these games, which she has written down from memory. It would be desirable to put on record the tunes as well as rhymes of these fast-fading reminiscences of ” Merry England,” before the board schools succeed in making our villagers too clever and too dull for these childish and innocent gaieties.

    My correspondent writes, ” The first, ‘ Green grow the leaves,’ is a very pretty game, more like a country dance than anything else, and is simply described as being a sort of dancing ‘ follow my leader.’……

    The second air is that sung to the words of the game given in art. 135 of our first volume. The words, as here given, vary very slightly from those given before; but it will be seen that the music would suit either version.

    Choosing Partners.

    Oats and beans and bar – ley grow, Yoa, I, a • ny- one know. Yoa, I, a-ny-one know. How oats and beans and barley grow? First the farmer sows his seeds, Folds his arms and takes his ease, Stamps his foot and claps his hand, And turns him round to view the land, Waiting for a partner. Open the ring and take me in, Make haste and choose your part-ner.

  27. Jane Ramsden says:

    But the absolute gem of a find from the same archive source is this!


    A complete record of children’s song games with several versions of Oats and Beans and Barley, with notes on how the ‘choosing partners’ games were played, harvest, sex, marriage, Golden Bough – it’s all in there! Also ‘Ring a ring o’roses’ – less extensively – no mention of the Plague! And many others! Just a marvellous resource!

  28. Alice Gomme’s book is probably better read online than from that particular page Jane 🙂
    If you drill back to the original page, you can access the actual book, which was printed in 1893.

    Three different tunes are given for the song, the second of which is the Lincolnshire one. Interestingly, I note that Lucy Broadwood and Mrs Pocklington Colman are given as “authorities” in the frontispiece of the book – although neither of them are associated there with Oats and Beans. Lucy certainly had an interest in children’s game songs, and street cries.

    Just out of interest, herewith an article on Alice Bertha Gomme by Georgina Boyes …

  29. Jane Ramsden says:

    Irene, that is fantastic, thanks! Much easier to read than the link I found, especially in the early hours of the morning! And it has the music as well! I’ve added it to my Favourites. How do you know and retain so much? I am amazed by how much people know on here. Well, Phil will appreciate your links too. I am sure that must cover what he might find in Notes and Queries Vol 1 – not online! I did note in Vol 2 there was a bit about another choosing game, Sally Water, above the note about Oats & Beans, again covered in Alice Gomme’s book.
    I have no recollection of Oats & Beans & Barley from my school days in Bradford, but a slightly younger friend of mine from the Lancs coast does. He thinks it featured on the children’s programme Rainbow, which might account for why so many people remember it from childhood, but he says he learnt it at school as well. I am now used to not knowing most of the songs Jon sings, whereas most co-listeners seem to know nearly all of them, in one version or another! Thanks again.

  30. Jane Ramsden says:

    I have just read the article on Alice Gomme, Irene. I had never heard of her before, but am most impressed. If she hadn’t recorded such a wealth of information, surely it would mostly be lost in today’s world? I didn’t realise she was such pivotal figure in English folklore. Thnx.

  31. John Bryson says:

    Just back from a pleasant 3 nights in Bruges with Wife Jane and 84 years young Mother and catching up on the material since Thursday – Mother does have a large garage in Leicestershire so if spoken to nicely you can get your recording equipment in!
    Seriously (which is difficult for a 55 year old like me) coming on here and listening to Jon’s splendid work, and reading all the material is educating me on the folk scene. I do amateur musical theatre but my singing teacher loves some of the folk material I bring to her.
    In closing I am spreading the word of Jon’s folk sight to local clubs here in the Sawbridgeworth area – do keep up the great work Jon

  32. Muzza says:

    Bloomin’ ‘eck………….you tune in for a couple of minutes to listen to a childrens’ play song ……..and then you start to read the comments……and then you go to the links…..and before you know it………… you are up to your knees in folklore and your brain is bursting!

  33. Because of my work with JigJaw – singing for dancing – my mind goes immediately to how a song could be used to danced to, and this version of Oats and Beans and Barley Grow just really has that feel to it, that if actions were done to it for children, then dance moves could be done to it for adults, and it’s another one of those songs that people maybe don’t quite remember the purpose of because it was sung for dancing, which we still don’t do much of…..

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

    Because of Jon’s comment (18 above this one)..I have ,aprehensively, ventured into the world of RSS feeds. I now await the outcome of ticking the “Subscibe” box, with bated breath!
    Ps: I still live in S.E.England…..where do all you commenters live?

  35. viv says:

    Oats and Beans and Barley Grow is a favourite amongst children in Nursery and Infant School. I’ve always combined it with, ‘I’m a dingle dangle scarecrow with a flippy floppy hat.’ Love this version though.

  36. Diana says:

    Well this certainly came as a surprise. I really enjoyed the two-parter. Very jolly and gleeful. I don’t know what I was expecting from the title but if wasn’t this. Wonderful! Must hear it again.

  37. Diana says:

    Just as good the second time around. Also loved the bonus track – another jolly shanty and very nicely sung and played.

  38. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    Three comments up
    ‘I’m a dingle dangle scarecrow with a flippy floppy hat.’…………
    Just looked in the bathroom mirror ………….me to a tee!

  39. Jane Ramsden says:

    You need to place the mirror higher up the wall, Muzza…. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

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

    Just realised that Janey’s comment from last year is a tad risque

  41. Sol says:

    A bit late to the party here, just wanted to point out there was a version of this collected in Newfoundland from Rufus Guinchard called “See How the Farmer Sows his Seed”. In the Kelly Russell tunebook, Rufus is quoted explaining that it was used as part of a “play” at Christmas: “Uncle John Peter Payne would drive all the men outdoors and then one of the women would have to pick a man to be brought in. Well then, he would have to guess which woman had picked him…”

    Two verses, first is basically the second verse of Jon’s version here, then the second one is simply

    Arise my dear and come with me, arise my dear and come with me,
    Arise my dear and come with me and I will take good care of thee.

    Oooo, the cut of Rufus playing and talking about the tune is online, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XrQaagv2hQ

    Rufus was born 1899 and I believe this is from his childhood.

  42. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Oh dear….I fear the passage of time has caused the loss of High Barbereeee and the melodeon playing!

  43. Jane (Maryland, US) says:

    There is, however, this YouTube video of Tom Boden alone.

  44. OldMuzza(NWSurrey UK) says:

    Wey Hey Jane(Maryland US) thank you for the link to Tom Boden.
    Funny ain’t it…..he belongs to the range of melodeon players that use only one strap over the shoulder…and many of them are incredible players but we (Two strap) melodeon players, wonder at the contortions they have to perform to make one or the other end of the melodeon remain static to enable the bellows to be pulled in and out!.

  45. OldMuzza(NWSurreyUK) says:

    Oh Dear….I must be getting old as things are going awry for me
    1) the bonus track in the introduction. repeats Oats and beans rather than High Barberee
    2) I can’t hear the clacking of the melodeon bass spoons to which I referred in earlier comments, so I presume they were on the High barberee track
    It ain’t no fun getting old and confused!!(and I now see I’ve skipped a day ahead as I have lost track of the date!

  46. Linda says:

    You mean you missed the high note of yesterday……

  47. OldMuzza(NWSurreyUK) says:

    Lindy Lou….lookee here young missy…. are you trying to confuse me further with a comment dated 15th and it’s the 16th!
    Nooooo I didn’t miss yesterday’s high note……I’d be interested to know …….did you get High Barbaree as the bonus track or repeat of oats?

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