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Old Riverside, The

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Performer: Brazil, Danny
Place Collected: Staverton
Date collected: 1977 (Dec)
Collector: Davies, Gwilym
Roud Number: 564

The notable feature of this song is the low morale values of the young man who after seducing the girl denies having promised marriage – perhaps a scenario repeated throughout history, even though few would go so far as murdering the girl.

The song is usually known in England as “The Lily-White Hand” and is known to many through a Irish version “Blackwaterside” even though this latter version does not tell the whole story.  The Brazil family collectively certainly knew the story even though not all of them could sing the song right through, except Danny.

Even though it is a little garbled in places this is the fullest version noted of the song, which can be traced back to c1670 as ‘The Forsaken Damsel’ (Bodleian Ballads website, 4o Rawlinson Ballads, 566 (24)). The ballad has been rewritten by broadside hacks several times since then and although all versions appear to have a common core of the first 9 stanzas, by the nineteenth century there were several quite different endings.

The Brazil Family version is typical of those that go under the usual heading of ‘The Lily-White Hand’ and these are somewhat rarer than the variants that derive from the early nineteenth century ‘The Distressed Maid’ (Bodleian Ballads website, Harding B15 (220)). In fact most of these variants were found after World War II and come from the traveller communities.

The last stanza of the Brazil Family song is of course a very old commonplace, not found in any other version, but other versions have also attracted similar commonplaces from the common stock.

Apart from the Brazil family, the song was also known to the Gloucestershire gypsy Biggun Smith and to Mr Parrott of Chedworth.  There is also an unconfirmed report that it was sung by Gloucestershire Rugby Club supporters.


Notes by Gwilym Davies and Steve Gardham