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Quoting from the Bishoprick Garland, 1834:
Elsie Marley has given her name to a tune which is spirited and lively, which is frequently called for as a dance at the country fairs. Her maiden name was Harrison, and she was the first wife of Ralph Marley, who kept a public house at Picktree, bearing the sign of the Swan, with the appropriate motto: "The Swan doth love the water clear, And so does man good ale and beer." She was a handsome, buxom, bustling landlady, and brought good custom to the house by her civility and attention. On the march of the Dutch troops to Scotland, in the forty-five, the soldiers amused themselves by shooting at the Swan, and it remained a long time afterwards in a tattered condition, from having served as a target to the mercenaries. Elsie had a son, Harrison Marley, whose son Ralph was living a few years since, with a numerous progeny. Elsie suffered from a long and severe illness, and was at length found drowned in a pond near Bygo, where it is supposed she had fallen in by accident, and could not extricate herself through weakness. Concerning the line "A back o' the bush i' the garden, honey." was written- This is poetical license. Elsie was an active manager, and the household affairs were entrusted to here sole control. She went to Newcastle quarterly to pay the brewer's bill, &c; and on one of these occasions (it was the fair day) she had 20 guineas in her pocket, sewed up in a corner. On the Sand-hill she was hustled, and clapping her hand to here side, she exclaimed aloud. "O honney, honney, I've lost my pocket and all my money."-R. Marley.
This song came into my repertoire via the Tyneside Maritime Chorus which I joined in 2011. The Chorus sings it with great gusto.
It is quite possible that the old time music hall performer Charles Ernest Catcheside-Warrington performed this song as he published it in his Tyneside Songs Volume 4.
It is included in Songs and Ballads of Northern England, Northern Garlands, the Northumbrian Minstrelsy, Rhymes of Northern Bards (1812) and there is also a piano accompanied duet of Elsie Marley is given in Singing Hinnies Book 1.
This song may be found in the Tyneside Maritime Chorus songbook
"Elsie Marley" has been recorded by:
The High Level Ranters on "Northumberland Forever" CD(s) & MP3 Album(s)
Various Artists on "Along the Coaly Tyne" CD(s) & MP3 Album(s)
Various Artists on "Durham Big Meetin' Day - Around County Durham" MP3 Album(s)