Week 268 – Treat my daughter kindly

Farmyard scene from my parents' postcard collection

Farmyard scene from my parents’ postcard collection

When I heard the Watersons’ LP For pence and spicy ale in about 1977 ‘Chickens in the Garden’ was one of the songs I learned from it. Along with ‘Country Life’, ‘The Good Old Way’, ‘Bellman’, ‘Swarthfell Rocks’ and the two Wassail songs. In other words, about half the songs on the album. At the time, and for many years afterwards, it seemed so very Yorkshire, I almost couldn’t imagine it having been sung in any other part of the country – a local composition, perhaps. These myths were dispelled when I heard the Veteran cassette Old songs and folk songs from Essex featuring Fred Hamer’s 1967 recordings of a ninety-three year old Harry Green, from Tilty in Essex. Here it was – evidently the same song – but with no mention of Yorkshire whatever.

Harry Green, photo from the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust

Harry Green, photo from the East Anglian Traditional Music Trust

The same recording of Harry Green was later included on the Veteran CD The Fox & the Hare. And from John Howson’s notes to that CD I learn that

This song, originally entitled The Farmer’s Daughter, or, The Little Chickens in the Garden, was written by American songwriter James Allan Bland (1854-1919) who also wrote Golden Slippers. Sheet music was published by Oliver Ditson & Co in 1883 and the cover states that it was the “Greatest success of the season with 10,000 copies sold in the first week!” Its popularity meant that it easily slipped into the tradition, particularly in America and Canada. It also found its way to these shores and it was published by the Poet’s Box in Dundee and turns up in Jimmy McBride’s collection from Donegal and Neil Lanham’s recordings from Suffolk and Essex. It was also a favourite of Norfolk singer Walter Pardon.

The Farmer's daughter; or, The Little chickens in the garden. From the Library of Congress sheet music collection.

The Farmer’s daughter; or, The Little chickens in the garden. From the Library of Congress sheet music collection.

Harry Green’s version seems to be much closer to James Bland’s original than the North country ‘Chickens in the Garden’. The words of further versions are provided on this Mudcat thread. These include sets of lyrics similar to Harry’s from North Carolina and Arkansas but, intriguingly, the version recorded from Lena Bourne Fish of New Hampshire starts “While traveling down in Yorkshire”, and also has the phrase “so blooming shy” which was such a memorable feature of Mike Waterson’s rendition.

 

Treat my daughter kindly

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