17th Century Ballad, ‘The Oak and the Ash’ or ‘The North Country Maid’

fe05-210-213.jpg This familiar song can be found in a black-letter copy also in the Roxburgh Collection. Isla Cameron and Louis Killen sang The Oak and the Ash in 1961 on their Prestige album The Waters of Tyne. It has a familiar theme of a country girl seeking fortune and adventure in London, only to realize too late that “home” was a better place for her. The tune was originally a dance and appeared in James Hawkins’ musical transcripts in 1650. 

As noted above, it was included in the 17th century Roxburgh collection of ballads. There, it’s titled The Northern Lasse’s Lamentation; or, the Unhappy Maid’s Misfortune, and it’s prefaced by a few melancholy lines:

Since she did from her friends depart
No earthly thing can cheer her heart,
But still she doth her case lament
Being always fill’d with discontent,
Resolving to do naught but mourn
Till to the North she doth return.

Mainly Norfolk: English Folk and Other Good Music tells us that “J. Collingwood Bruce and John Stokoe printed a set of the song in their Northumbrian Minstrelsy of 1882, noting how: “Sir Walter Scott, in his novel Rob Roy, makes the narrator of the tale (Francis Osbaldiston) in recounting recollections of his childhood, tell how his Northumbrian nurse (old Mabel) amused him by singing the ditties of her native countrie, and specially names O! the Oak and the Ash and the Bonny Ivy Tree as a Northumbrian ballad.”

“The stately tune started life as a dance tune, found in many places and under many titles but especially in Sir James Hawkin’s Transcripts of Music for the Virginals, and The Dancing Master, of 1650, under the title Goddesses.

“The refrain in all its home-sick nostalgia may be encountered, oddly enough, in the robust and unbuttoned sailors’ song, Home, Dearie Home, or Rosemary Lane.

“The song’s popularity has scarcely waned in the twentieth century; Marianne Faithfull recently recorded The North Country Maid and it might make the top twenty yet.

Others who have released the song are…

The Galliard sang North Country Maid in 1963 on their Monitor album England’s Great Folk Group.

The Watersons sang The North Country Maid in 1966 on their second album, The Watersons. Like all but one tracks from this LP, it was re-released in 1994 on the CD Early Days. The Watersons also sang The North Country Maid in 1965 on their BBC TV documentary video Traveling for a Living; this can be found on YouTube

The Oak and the Ash 

A North Country maid up to London had strayed,

Although with her nature it did not agree,

Which made her repent, and so bitterly lament,

Oh, I wish once again for the North Country.

Chorus: Oh the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy tree,

They flourish at home in my country.

O fain would I be in the North Country,

Where the lads and lasses are making of hay;

There should I see what is pleasant for me,

A mischief light on them entic’d me away!

Chorus: Oh the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy tree,

They flourish at home in my country

I like not the court, nor the city resort,

Since there is no fancy for such maids as me;

Their pomp and their pride I can never abide,

Because with my humour it does not agree.

Chorus: Oh the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy tree,

They flourish at home in my country

How oft have I been in the Westmoreland green,

Where the young men and maidens resort for to play,

Where we with delight, from morning till night,

Could feast and frolic on each holiday.

Chorus: Oh the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy tree,

They flourish at home in my country

The ewes and their lambs, with the kids and their dams,

To see in the country how finely they play;

The bells they do ring, and the birds they do sing,

And the fields and the gardens are pleasant and gay.

Chorus: Oh the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy tree,

They flourish at home in my country

At wakes and at fairs, being freed of my cares,

We there with our lovers did use for to dance;

Then hard hap had I, my ill fortune to try,

And so up to London my steps to advance.

Chorus: Oh the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy tree,

They flourish at home in my country

But still I perceive, I a husband might have,

If I to the city my mind could but frame;

But I’ll have a lad that is North Country bred,

Or else I’ll not marry, in the mind that I am.

Chorus: Oh the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy tree,

They flourish at home in my country

A maiden I am, and a maid I’ll remain,

Until my own country again I do see,

For here in this place I shall ne’er see the face

Of him that’s allotted my love for to be.

Chorus: Oh the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy tree,

They flourish at home in my country

Then farewell my daddy, and farewell my mammy,

Until I do see you, I nothing but mourn;

Rememb’ring my brothers, my sisters, and others,

In less than a year I hope to return.

Chorus: Oh the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy tree,

They flourish at home in my country

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in Act of Parliament, ballads, customs and tradiitons, dancing, music and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to 17th Century Ballad, ‘The Oak and the Ash’ or ‘The North Country Maid’

  1. Jacey Bedford says:

    My character, Corwen, sings it in my book’ Silverwolf’ – set in 1801. (DAW 2017). A very pretty tune and a very singable refrain.

    • Wow! I love these kind of connections. I used “Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender” in my Vampire Darcy’s Desire. The tune is woven throughout the book.

      For others who might be interested, here is Jacey’s book blurb for “Silverwolf”
      A swashbuckling adventure following privateer Ross Tremayne introduces Jacey Bedford’s magical alternate history series, Rowankind

      Britain, 1801. King George’s episodic sanity is almost as damaging as his madness. First Consul Napoleon is gathering his forces in France. The disease of democracy is spreading. The world is poised on the brink of the modern era, but the rowankind, long a source of free labor, have shaken off their bonds.

      Some have returned to laru to find freedom with the Fae; others are trying to find a place in the world, looking for fair treatment under the law. The course of the industrial revolution may change forever.

      Wild magic is on the rise. Creatures of legend are returning to the world: kelpies, pixies, trolls, hobs, and goblins. Ross and Corwen, she a summoner witch and he a wolf shapechanger, have freed the rowankind from bondage, but now they are caught in the midst of the conflict, while trying their best to avoid the attention of the Mysterium, the government organization which would see them hanged for their magic.

      When an urgent letter calls Corwen back to Yorkshire, he and Ross become embroiled in dark magic, family secrets, and industrial treachery. London beckons. There they discover a missing twin, an unexpected friend, and an old enemy—called Walsingham.

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