This is the only song in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs to have been collected in Kent. And while most of the songs in that book had been collected at the start of the twentieth century, this one had been noted a mere 13 years before the book’s publication. Arranger, academic and radio presenter Francis Collinson had the song on 16th February 1946 from Mr Harry Baker of Maidstone.
The song was included in JEFDSS Vol 5 No 1 (1946), with the following note from Collinson:
Mr. Baker of Maidstone, who is in his seventies, has worked all his life as an engineer at Thomas Tillings’. He is a little uncertain in his singing, and I had to ask him to repeat the tune of “Death and the Lady” a number of times before I was certain of having it down correctly.
Mr Baker’s textually incomplete version was padded out with verses possibly taken from Alfred Williams’ Folk Songs of the Upper Thames (according to Malcolm Douglas’s notes in Classic English Folk Songs).
The song is of some antiquity: the earliest known printed version has been dated c.1685-1689. The ballad sheet shown here is from at least 100 years later: printed by J. Turner, High Street, Coventry, between 1797 and 1846.
Death and the lady