I learned this song from Lucy Broadwood and J A Fuller Maitland’s 1893 collection, English County Songs, where it is printed in the Dorsetshire section: “words and tune from H. Strachey, Esq”. That would be Henry Strachey of Bristol, who is listed in early Journals as a member of the Folk-Song Society. He heard the tune being “whistled by a labourer at Shillingham, Dorsetshire, in 1889” and later took it down “from a collier at Bishop Sutton, Somerset“. Several versions were taken down by early collectors such as Baring-Gould and Clive Carey, and the song appears to have remained popular: it was recorded in the 1970s from singers including Freda Palmer, Harry Upton and Frank Hinchcliffe. Most versions have been found in Southern England, but the song has also been collected in Yorkshire and Scotland – as well as Australia and North America.
In about 1980 I sang this – and came second – in a Worst Song competition at the Gypsy Davey Folk Club, which used to be held on a Friday night at the General Elliott in South Hinksey, Oxford. The winning song on that occasion came from the legendary Trevor Vale – I think it was his classic ‘The Squire he rides by…’ and if anyone reading this has any old recordings of Trevor I (and several other people I know) would absolutely love to hear them.
Given the context, I suspect I rather hammed the song up back then. These days I sing it completely straight – if a song’s worth singing, it’s worth taking seriously. Even if it is a load of sentimental odl tripe.
I’m a man that’s done wrong to my parents