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Researching the origin of folk songs can be a frustrating business, with theories and leads which generally lead nowhere and cannot be proved. Theories abound as to the historical truth of the events described in the song, but no clear audit trail can be found. There is an ballad “George Stoole” dating from the early 17th Century which sets much the same scene and even shares some verses with more modern versions. The ballad in something approaching its present form was noted in Scotland towards the end of the 18th century and versions have been collected all over the English-speaking world, even up to recent times, although Mrs WIxey’s version is the only one from Gloucestershire.
The longevity of the song in oral tradition is no doubt owed to the implied class struggle and the lady’s fight for justice.
Both Cecil Sharp and Percy Grainger collected the song from Mrs Wixey. The transcription given here is from Sharp: Grainger’s version accords with Sharp’s.