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Pretty Nancy of Yarmouth

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Performer: Hedges, William
Place Collected: Chipping Campden
Date collected: 1909 (10 Aug)
Collector: Sharp, Cecil
Roud Number: 187

Mr Hedges’ song is not to be confused with another song of the same title. This song is a version of “Jemmy and Nancy of Yarmouth” or “The Yarmouth Tragedy, a 55-verse broadside printed from about 1720 onwards. Most collected versions are (mercifully) abridged versions of the same song and often start where the ghost of the drowned lover appears to the maiden.

Songs of cruel fathers who disapprove of their daughter’s lover abound in English folk song, often with a plot to have the lover murdered or sent away to sea. Thus our ballad starts, but only after Jamie, the lover, states that if she proves untrue, his ghost will haunt her for ever.  Jamie sails to Barbados where a rich lady falls in love with him. This gives rise to a separate but related ballad “The Barbados Lady” which has been collected in its own right.  Jamie rejects the lady and she commits suicide in her grief.

 When the maiden’s father hears that Jamie is returning, he hatches a plot with the ship’s boatswain to have Jamie murdered.  Mr Hedges’ version therefore starts with the ghost appearing to Nancy, the maiden. Later the bodies of the lovers are discovered in each others’ arms. The boatswain confesses to the murder and is hanged and the father dies in grief.


Notes by Gwilym Davies 22 August 2015