I learned this song from the Watersons’ 1981 LP Green Fields and for pretty much all of the intervening 35 years it has been one of my default songs to fall back on, when I need a chorus song in a singaround or pub session.
Bert Lloyd – Topic’s go-to man for sleeve notes back in the seventies and early eighties – states in the notes for this song that it was
noted by Frank Kidson from Mrs Kate Thompson of Knaresborough.
The booklet notes for the Carthy Chronicles, which features a different Watersons recording of the song, expand on this:
Young Banker has words collected from a maidservant from the Isle of Axholme near Doncaster, set to a tune which Frank Kidson collected from Kate Thompson of Knaresborough
The Full English, of course, has the tune which Frank Kidson collected from Mrs Thompson in Knaresborough; while the words (with a slightly different tune), which were noted down by Alfred Atkinson from an unnamed singer in the Isle of Axholme – in North Lincolnshire, between Doncaster and Scunthorpe – in 1904, can be found in the 1905 Journal of the Folk-Song Society.
Other versions have been collected in Lincolnshire (by Percy Grainger), Gloucestershire (Alfred Williams and Cecil Sharp), Somerset (Sharp), and Herefordshire (Ella Leather).
I learned the song to sing with Caroline Jackson-Houlston, and it was she who typed out the words for me, almost certainly from the JFSS. Whereas the Watersons (following the collected version) have the last line of the chorus as “For my young banker I will go there”, Caroline changed this to “For my young banker I will go bare”. This seemed to make more sense in context and, she thought, was almost certainly how the line had originally been written. But in fact the broadside version (titled ‘A new song called The banking boy’) which you can see on the Bodleian’s Broadside site, also has that line as “For the young banker I will go there”.
The young banker in this song, incidentally, is not a high-flying, cocaine-snorting, economy-destroying financial whizzkid, but “a man who made embankments, stone walls and such” (A.L.Lloyd), or perhaps “A labourer who makes or repairs the banks of waterways; spec. one who digs drains, ditches, or canals” (OED).