A version of this article was published in English Dance and Song Volume 63 part 2
Published here by permission of the current editor, Derek Schofield

The Lambkin

Roud 6, Child 93

In this second article we present another Child ballad, scarce as a broadside ballad, but widespread in the oral tradition.  There are two basic types of the ballad, the English and the Scots, the latter often characterised by the presence of a first verse:

Lamkin was as good a mason that ever hewed stane,
He built Lord --------'s castle but payment got nane.
The only street literature version that I can find of the English type was printed by Pitts at his Wholesale Toy and Marble Warehouse, 6 Great St Andrews Street, Seven Dials, some time between 1819 and 1844.  There are identical single slip originals in the Madden Collection, VWML (London Printers 3) microfilm 76, item 480, and the Harding Collection (Bodleian) B25 (1048).  The Madden copy is on a 2 column sheet with 'Bedlam City' but was obviously intended for cutting into single slips as each column has its own Pitts imprint.  The oral versions collected in Surrey and Cambridgeshire could well have been influenced by this printed version.

The broadside printers of the 19th century ran very commercial and competitive enterprises.  Today's equivalent would, perhaps, be a combination of tabloid publishers and the pop album industry.  What they printed very much depended on market demand and their market was largely the lower classes (although they must have been aware of the collectors from higher up the social scale).  They issued whatever would sell in the street, songs from the pleasure gardens (later the music halls), the latest crime reports in verse, old ballads from earlier centuries etc.  In the absence of enforced copyright laws they took from wherever they could, mainly from each other, apart from having their own writers and collectors.  Some employed their own hacks to write about topical events, but also had people with an ear to what was being sung in the streets and inns.  In fact one Glasgow printer actually advertised for new and old material on his single slips, encouraging punters to bring in their song texts.

Looking at the syntax and poor doggerel used in this ballad it reads as if it has just been taken down from some poor street singer, probably from Northumberland where a similar version was long popular.

Pitts' contemporaries, Catnach, Evans, Jennings etc., copied each other's sheets religiously and I find it surprising that copies of this ballad printed by others have not survived.

What makes Pitts' slip version doubly interesting is the fact that instead of the usual woodcut illustration at the head of the column there is part of a musical stave, very unusual for 19th century printings on street literature.  It is possible that this piece of music has no connection with the ballad, as broadside illustrations more often than not bear little relation to the text, but in this case there are several things which indicate it could be the first few bars of a Lamkin tune.  One difficulty is that the key signature, apparently F, has the flat placed on the D stave instead of the B.  Having played the tune over it certainly reminds me of a tune to Lamkin I have heard sung in the folk clubs, not unlike the ubiquitous 'Augustine' tune.  Another point is that the bulk of Lamkin tunes are also in triple time.  If it is a genuine Lamkin tune taken down from the singer it's a pity Pitts didn't print the whole tune.  I'd be interested to hear from anyone more musically able who could offer a more knowledgeable opinion. * See below.

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The Lambkin
Says the Lord to the Lady I am going without
Beware of false Lambkin while I am without
What care I for false Lambkin or any of his kin,
For my doors they are all bolted, my windows are pinn'd.

As soon as the Lord got out of my sight;
There stood false Lambkin for to come in that night
Then in come false Lambkin in the dead hour of the night
Where there's no fire burning nor no Candle light.

She pinch'd the pretty baby till she made it to cry;
While the nurse sat a singing hush a bye hush a bye
O nurse O nurse how sound you do sleep
While my pretty baby does cry and does weep.

O, I can't keep it quiet neither with milk or with pap,
So I says my fair lady come and take it on your lap
How can I come down in the dead hour of the night
When there's no fire burning nor no Candle light.

O then she came down not thinking any harm
Its there stood false hearted Lambkin to catch her in his arms
O Lambkin O Lambkin spare me my life so sweet
You shall have as much money as stones in the street.

What care I for as much money as the stones in the street,
I would sooner see your heart's blood run down at my feet
O Lambkin O Lambkin spare my life till one o' clock
You shall have as much money as you can carry on your back.

O Lambkin O Lambkin spare my life for one hour
You shall have my daughter Betsy she's the fairest Franch(?) flower
Call down your Betsy she may do some good,
She'll hold the silver basin to catch your heart's blood.

O Betsy O Betsy in the window so high
Why don't you come down to see you poor mother (die?)
O Betsy O Betsy in the window so high
When she see her own father come riding close by.

O father O father don't lay the blame on me
Twas the nurse and false Lambkin killed the lady and baby
There is blood in the kitchen likewise in the hall,
There is blood in the parlour where the lady did fall.

O the nurse shall be hung on a gallows so high
While Lambkin shall be burnt in a fire close by
The bells shall be muffled and so dismal shall sound
Whilst the Lady and baby doth lies under ground.

It wouldn't have taken a great effort for the printer to have corrected mistakes, but mass printing and rapid turnover were more important and a few errors were not thought important enough to bother with.  I'm quite glad it stayed as it was as this is very likely word for word as the singer gave it in the early 19th century.


The following extract is reproduced with kind permission of the writer, Vic Gammon, from an article which first appeared in English Dance and Song, volume 65, part 3.
It was written in response to the query at the end of this Dungbeetle article on the ballad Lamkin.

* Lamkin, Episode 2

The very keen eyes of Vic Gammon managed to identify the tune as that used for The Angler's Song from Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler first published in 1653.  The music is attributed to Henry Lawes, a court musician and composer.  The notes are identical and in the same key.  Vic presents the possibility, 'Pitts' printer had an old block of The Angler's Song which he broke up and used parts for decorative purposes.  Perhaps the incorrect placing of the key signature meant the block was rejected, but much early printed music contains mistakes, so perhaps this is not likely.'

This certainly throws out my possibility that the tune belonged to a version of Lamkin.  As Vic writes, 'Try singing Lamkin to The Angler's Song music the words do not fit and the bubbly mood of the piscatorial piece seems totally at odds with the horrific and bloody tone of the ballad.


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