‘The Oyster Girl’ is a widely-collected song. Given my interest in songs with a Kentish connection, you might expect me to sing George Spicer’s version, or the version which Francis Collinson collected from Mrs Frances Baker in Maidstone, or maybe one of these. But in fact I learned this from Roy Palmer’s Book Songs of the Midlands. Roy himself collected the song from the Black Country singer George Dunn of Quarry Bank in Staffordshire.
When I paid tribute to Roy Palmer a few weeks ago, I neglected to mention his collecting activities. In fact Roy recorded a number of singers, primarily in Gloucestershire and the West Midlands, including major figures such as George Dunn and Cecilia Costello. You can listen to his recordings on the British Library Sound Archive website, at http://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Roy-Palmer-collection. Here’s George Dunn singing ‘The Oyster Girl’, recorded in 1971, when the singer was 84 years old.
The recording is also included on the excellent Musical Traditions CD Chainmaker. I’d been singing the song for many years before I heard the original recording. When I did, I was pleased to find that George Dunn also appeared to enjoy delivering the line “So it’s ‘ook it with your basket of oysters” – that’s always been the high point of the song for me.
The notes to Chainmaker say of this song that “The song’s earliest appearance in print seems to be as The Eating of Oysters in a garland of eight texts issued under the title of A New Patriotic Song by M Randall of Stirling (c.1794-1812)”. Here’s a printed copy from the mid-nineteenth century where, somewhat bizarrely, in the last verse the narrator is identified as a Frenchman (so, clearly, thoroughly deserving of being tricked by the oyster seller).
The Oyster Girl