Rosemary Lane [Laws K43]
DESCRIPTION: A sailor meets a girl at an inn, and induces her to go to bed with him. In the morning he gives her gold and says, "If it's a boy, he will (fight for the king/be a sailor); if a girl, she will wear a gold ring."
EARLIEST DATE: 1904 (Reeves-Sharp)
KEYWORDS: seduction separation clothes floatingverses
FOUND IN: Australia US(Ap,MA,NE,SE,So,SW) Canada(Queb) Britain(England,Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (21 citations):
Laws K43, "Home, Dearie, Home (Bell-Bottom Trousers)"
Greig #135, pp. 1-2, "Hame, Dearie, Hame" (1 text)
GreigDuncan5 1057, "Hame, Dearie, Hame" (10 texts, 11 tunes)
GreigDuncan7 1429, "When I Was a Servant in Old Aberdeen" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Reeves-Sharp 81, "Rosemary Lane" (3 texts)
Reeves-Circle 112, "Rosemary Lane" (1 text)
RoudBishop #51, "Rosemary Lane" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cray, pp. 72-75, "Bell Bottom Trousers" (3 texts, 1 tune)
Randolph-Legman I, pp. 81-88, "Bell Bottom Trousers" (6 texts, 1 tune)
Chappell-FSRA 34, "The Boy Child" (1 short text, which Laws calls a "ribald fragment." Fragment it is, with only two of the regular verses, including "If it be a girl...." But I suspect the other two verses are a mixture from another, heavily bawdy, song, which we might title something like "eleven inches in")
Ohrlin-HBT 72, "Button Willow Tree" (1 text, 1 tune, with a cowpuncher as the visiting man!)
Gardner/Chickering ,165 "Jack, the Sailor Boy" (1 text)
Beck-Maine, pp. 183-184, "Home, Dearie, Home" (1 tet, 1 tune)
MacSeegTrav 43, "Rosemary Lane" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 166, "Bell-Bottomed Trousers" (1 text)
Colcord, pp. 167-168, "Home, Dearie, Home" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hugill, p. 498, "Home, Dearie, Home" (1 text, 1 tune) [AbEd, p. 366]
Shay-SeaSongs, pp. 146, "Bell-Bottom Trousers" (1 text; this follows a text and tune of "Home, Dearie, Home," i.e. "Ambletown," plus a stanza of Henley's adaption and an alternate chorus)
Niles/Moore, pp. 144-146, "The Waitress and the Sailor" (1 text, 1 tune, which seems to have been updated for the twentieth century but is still clearly this song)
Fuld-WFM, p. 139, "Bell Bottom Trousers"
DT 319, BELLBTTM* HOMEBOYS* RASPLANE RASPLAN2* ROSELANE*
Anne Briggs, "Rosemary Lane" (on Briggs1, Briggs3)
Liam Clancy, "Home Boys Home" (on IRLClancy01)
Jerry Colonna, "Bell Bottom Trousers" (Capitol 204, 1945)
Chris Willett, "Once I Was a Servant" (on Voice11)
Bodleian, Johnson Ballads 624, "The Servant of Rosemary Lane" ("When I was a servant in Rosemary-lane"), J. Jennings (London), 1790-1840; also Harding B 15(279a), Harding B 11(4221), "The Servant of Rosemary Lane"; Bodleian, Harding B 17(130a), "Home, Dear Home" (with the "Home, Dear Home" chorus, several verses of this, and perhaps a rewritten ending)
cf. "When I Was Young (Don't Never Trust a Sailor)" (plot, floating lyrics)
cf. "Ambletown" (floating lyrics, theme)
cf. "Pretty Little Miss" [Laws P18] (theme)
cf. "A North Country Maid"
cf. "Hame, Hame, Hame" (structure and some lines)
cf. "Fat'll Mak a Bonny Lassie Blythe an' Glad" (tune, per GreigDuncan5) and references there
Oak and the Ash, The
Once When I Was a Servant
NOTES: The history of this song is extremely complex and obscure. The extended family is listed in the Index under three titles: "Rosemary Lane," "Ambletown," and "When I Was Young (Don't Never Trust a Sailor)." However, these may represent as many as five songs, or perhaps only a single one.
The three basic plots are as follows:
* "Rosemary Lane" (a title selected because, unlike Laws's title "Home, Dearie, Home," it is unique to this version) is a British ballad of a servant who is seduced and then abandoned by a sailor. It exists under many titles, e.g. "Bell-Bottomed Trousers."
* "When I Was Young" has the same plot but in a very reduced form; what matters is not the method of the seduction but simply that it happens. This song frequently has a bawdier feel. It ends with a warning, "Don't ever trust (a sailor) an inch above the knee."
* "Ambletown" (another title chosen because it is unambiguous) involves a sailor who learns from a letter that he is a father, and desperately wants to return home to see the child.
The greatest difficulty concerns the relationship between "Rosemary Lane" and "Ambletown." In plot, they are quite distinct. A comparison of the lyrics, however, shows that as much as half the material in "Ambletown" occurs also in "Rosemary Lane" (which is longer, seemingly older, and much more common). As many as three stanzas regularly "cross": "If it be a boy, he will fight for the king"; "And it's home, dearie, home"; and "The oak and the ash and the bonnie birchen tree." (The latter two may be derived from yet another song, "A North Country Maid" ).
It should also be noted that "Ambletown" could function as an ending to "Rosemary Lane," particularly if the warning about not trusting a sailor is not the original ending. This has not, however, been observed in tradition.
Extensive examination of the texts of the songs could not finally resolve the question. The Ballad Index Board is tentatively of the opinion that "Rosemary Lane" and "Ambletown" now are separate songs, which have cross-fertilized heavily but remain distinct. It is quite possible, however, that one (probably "Ambletown") is an offshoot of the other, with a new (clean) plot built around the same verses.
In addition, "Rosemary Lane" has undergone extensive evolution *after* the cross-fertilization stage. Our guess is that it began with a relatively "clean" broadside of seduction (now seemingly lost). This likely contained the "If it be a boy" stanza, but probably not the others. Tradition then mixes in the other common stanzas, and set to work on the song, producing both clean and bawdy versions. - RBW, DGE, PJS
An addendum: Don Duncan brings to my attention the poem "O Falmouth Is a Fine Town," by William E. Henley (1878), which has the following first verse:
O Falmouth is a fine town with ships in the bay,
And I wish from my heart it's there I was to-day;
I wish from my heart I was far away from here,
Sitting in my parlor and talking to my dear.
For it's home, dearie home--it's home I want to be.
Our topsails are hoisted, and we'll away to sea.
O the oak and the ash and the bonnie birken tree,
They're all growing green in the old countrie.
Henley admitted that part of the song, including the chorus, was old. Duncan speculates that "Falmouth..." is the rewrite of "Rosemary Lane" we postulated above. This seems quite possible -- but if so, then Henley's poem has gone into oral tradition itself, and experienced a great deal of folk processing. Thus, the essential outline we described above seems to be accurate.
Just in case that weren't complicated enough, Allan Cunningham produced a poem, "Hame, Hame, Hame," which once again used some of the same lyrics: "Hame, hame, hame, hame, fain wad I be, O hame, hame, hame, to my ain countrie!" The rest, though, seems simply a hymn to home, "When the flower is in the bud, and the lead is on the tree, The lark shall sing me hame to my ain countrie...." For this text, see, the entry on "Hame, Hame, Hame."
The reference to "Rosemary Lane" is particularly interesting. "Rosemary" of course stood for remembrance in flower symbolism (cf. Binney, p. 86, who of course quotes Ophelia's "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance," plus some other evidence), which is very fitting in this context. But Cordingly, p. 7, notes that at one time the actual street had some significance to sailors. A brothel owner named Damaris Page was active in the 1650s and 1660s: "She had one on the Ratcliffe Highway that catered to ordinary seamen and dockworkers, and she also managed one on Rosemary Lane for naval officers and those who could afford the prices of the classier prostitutes."
Weinreb/Hibbert, p. 657, say that Rosemary Lane was once "an infamous street market for old clothes and frippery, familiarly known as RAG FAIR. It was run by Jews and supplied by itenerant collectors who gathered discarded or stolen clothes and rags. It was open every day and frequented mainly by local inhabitants." They do not mention either lodging hourses or prostitution. The lane was eliminated from the map in 1850 when it became Royal Mint Street. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.1
- Binney: Ruth Binney, Nature's Way: lore, legend, fact and fiction, David and Charles, 2006
- Cordingly: David Cordingly, Women Sailors and Sailors' Women, Random House, 2001 (I use the undated, but later, paperback edition)
- Weinreb/Hibbert: Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert, editors, The London Encyclopedia, Macmillan, 1983 (I use the 1986 Ader & Adler reprint)
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2017 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.