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Many people in the folksong revival will know the song The Cutty Wren, of which this song is a version. The song is widespread and has appeared in England, Scotland and the USA. The folklorist A L Lloyd put the words of a Pembrokeshire version to the tune of Green Bushes and the song was popularised by the Ian Campbell folk group. However, the song is hardly ever known in tradition as The Cutty Wren and is more likely to turn up as Hunting the Wren or Robin and Bobbin, whilst some American versions are entitled Billy Barlow.
There are several themes going on here, one being that of the improbably large creature, as found in songs such as The Herring’s Head and The Derby Ram, but another theme is that of Wren Hunting. The custom of hunting the wren was practised on St Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day): boys of the locality would capture a wren and parade it around with a suitable rhyme, collecting money as they went. It appears to be an old tradition and there are European analogues to the custom. The town of Dingle in western Ireland has made the day a folk celebration with parades, music and much merriment.
However, if the song was ever part of the custom, then song and custom parted their ways many years ago and the song has taken many forms, even being classed as a nursery rhyme.
The catchy nature, quirkiness and pure singability of the song make it a popular item even these days in its various forms, but this is the only Gloucestershire version.