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Unsurprisingly this catalogue song has not been out of the public consciousness for more than four centuries. It appears to have been first registered in 1594 and whilst its popularity would have been initially among the rising middle classes it would soon have passed down to the masses via the tavern. Whilst ‘Jone’ was the original alewife, over the centuries the name has become ‘Jones’ or ‘John’ in some versions.
This type of catalogue song in which the pattern is formed by a series of characters entering the room has been much employed in ritual dance but the genre where it is arguably used most effectively is in bawdy wooing songs in which a succession of tradesmen (as here) come into the story as wooers, often euphemistically ineffective with their various ‘tools of the trade’. In past centuries these were very numerous but only a few survived to be collected from oral tradition.