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This song is one of the most iconic of English folk songs, but one in which the story line is rather suspect: a man meets a girl lamenting. She says she is waiting for her lover. He tries to entice her away by offering nice clothes and marriage. She says she doesn’t want the nice clothes but she will marry him anyway. The boyfriend later arrives and laments that he has been stood up. Thus an early example of speed dating. It was being sung up to the 70s by the Brazil family of Gloucestershire gypsies.
Percy Grainger encountered it several times in Gloucestershire, from William ‘Daddy’ Shepherd in Winchcombe workhouse, from Mrs Mary Hawker of Broad Campden as well as from John Collett. Grainger already knew the melody from a Somerset version collected by Cecil Sharp, and had had a go at arranging it. He wrote to his girlfriend in 1907 of the song “It is really a remarkable feeling, after one has composed for so long around a melody like this (and half come to think of it as one’s own) to hear it in the mouth of such an amusing old man.” He must have been referring here to the John Collett version.
As for the history of the song, it was published on broadsides in the early 19th century and featured in an eponymous melodrama of 1845 by J B Buckstone. There are possible previous antecedents, but none that are clearly “Green Bushes”.
It has been widely collected with most of the versions coming from England.