Old Maid In the Garret
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John Renfro Davis

This may be a variant of a 17th century ballad by Martin Parker of London, The Wooing Maid. The Wooing Maid, which was sung to the tune If 'be the dad on't was printed on a broadside which was entered in the Stationers' Register June 18, 1636 by Thomas Lambert. Later versions are definitely similar to an early 19th century ballad, The Old Maid's Last Prayer (circa 1825).*

The Poor Auld Maid was in Greig's Folk Songs of the North-East (1914).

The song is known in Ireland as The Black Chimney Sweeper, because in the last verse a chimney sweep marries the old maid "for pity, And ever since he's got her, he vows that he'll keep her, And now she's in the arms of her black chimney sweeper."

Sam Henry lists other titles as: Come All You True Lovers, Don't Let me Die an Old Maid, I Long to be a Wedding, Sister Sally (the sister is sometimes named Sally) and The Spinster's Lament. Other variants and alternate titles (from Folksongs of Britain and Ireland) include: Auld Maid in a Garret, The Auld Maid's Lament.

Historical note: It was one thing to be an old maid, but after a woman had been an old maid a while she was referred to as a "thornback."

I was told by my aunt,
I was told by my mother
That going to a weddin'
Is the makings of another.
And if this be so then
I'll go without a biddin',
Oh kind providence
Won't you send me to a weddin'
And it's Oh Dear Me! How will it be,
If I die an Old Maid in the Garret?

Now there's my sister Jean,
She's not handsome or good-lookin'
Scarcely sixteen
And a fella she was courtin'
Now she's twenty-four
With a son and a daughter,
Here am I at forty-four*
And I've never had an offer!
And it's Oh Dear Me! How will it be,
If I die an Old Maid in the Garret?

I can cook and I can sew,
I can keep the house right tidy,
Rise up in the morning
And get the breakfast ready,
There's nothing in this wide world
That makes my heart so cheery
As a wee fat man to call me
His own dearie!
And it's Oh Dear Me! How will it be,
If I die an Old Maid in the Garret?

So come landsman, come townsman,
Come tinker or come tailor,
Come fiddler, come dancer,
Come ploughboy or come sailor,
Come rich man, come poor man,
Come fool or come witty,
Come any man at all!
Won't you marry out of pity?
And it's Oh Dear Me! How will it be,
If I die an Old Maid in the Garret?

*The age varies with the singer.

Related Links
  • Martin Parker
  • Spinster
  • Early College Women
    "There was a genuine fear that a good education would make a woman unfit for marriage and motherhood. And in fact, 50-60% of the first generation of college women did not marry or significantly delayed marriage."

From John Renfro Davis
Information from Bruce Olsen's Roots of Folk Website
and Folksongs of Britain and Ireland and
Sam Henry's Songs of the People
See Bibliography for full information.