Sangstories - Stories of Scottish Songs

Tales of Scottish traditional and newer songs sung by Sangschule of Linlithgow

A Wee Bird Cam Tae My Apron

It fell on a mornin, a mornin in May,
My faither's coos they a' went astray,
I loutit me doon on the heather sae gay
And a wee bird cam tae my apron

Wi a ri do a dum and a ri do a day,
Ri do a dum and a ri do a day
Wi a ri do a dum and a ri do a day,
Since a wee bird cam tae my apron

Oh, aince my apron it was wide,
It covered me fae side tae side,
Noo my knees it scarce can hide
Since a wee bird cam tae my apron

I saw my mother on the stair
Combin doon her yellow hair,
She says "What's that you've got in there,
Sae weel rowed aneath yer apron?"

It's neither vagabond nor loon,
He's the best stey maker in the toon,
And he's made me a stomacher tae
bear up my goon,
And he's rowed it aneath my apron.

I saw my faither on the stair
Combin doon his yellow hair
He says "What's that you've got in there,
Sae weel rowed aneath yer apron?"

It is my mantle and my shirt,
I hae nae will tae daidle it,
I hae nae will tae daidle it,
So I rowed it aneath my apron

As I was walking doon the street,
Siller slippers on my feet,
It's a' my freens I'd the ill will tae meet
Wi my braw lad rowed aneath my apron

Words:
Daidle
:get something dirty or wet
Loutit me doon: I bent down, I lowered myself
Rowed: Rolled up
Loon: rascal
Mantle: loose sleeveless cloak
Stey-maker: stay-maker, corset-maker
Stomacher: a decorative V-shaped article of women’s clothing, 
used to be worn over the chest and stomach.

This traditional song was brought to Sangschule by Aileen Carr. It gives an example of the dangerous nature of the “wee bird” that a girl may meet when out alone in the countryside, or in company of a young man – causing her apron to rise in a way that cannot long be hidden from her mother and father and all her friends.

It has a lot in common with a song recorded in the 70s from traveller Betsy or Bessie Whyte in Tocher no.23, the magazine of the School of Scottish Studies. It is called “The Tamosher” and there are at least two interpretations of the meaning of this word.

First, the note in Tocher explains: “Bessie learned the song from Bryce’s mother (her mother-in-law). But for the use of a slang word (which Bessie, when asked, said was not cant but old Scots) we might have some hesitation in printing this. The ‘tamosher’ is ‘the thing that makes a wean’ though in the song it seems to mean the wean itself too.”  Tocher continues that the word may be connected with the Gaelic for reproach, disgrace, or offence, “or perhaps more likely with the English term ‘John Thomas.’”

But there is another interpretation of the interesting word “tamosher” in Come Gies A Sang. Editor Sheila Douglas credits Betsy with the song, prints an extra verse, (the last) and says “tomasher” is a corruption of the word “stomacher”, a stiff panel women wore over the chest ending in a point over the stomach. “The symbolism attached to it in the song clearly refers to pregnancy, to conceal which ‘she bundled it and rolled it in her apron’ as wearing it would have made her condition plain to see.” This is the Tocher version with the extra last verse:

Oh there wis twa bonnie lassies, and they were dressed in blue
And they went out some rushes for tae pu’
And one o them got a wee thing before she did return
And she bundled it and rolled it in her apron

Now the very first man she met wis her father on the stair: 
Oh daughter, dear daughter, what have you got there?  
Who gave  to you the tamosher, to wear the starched gown,
And you bundled it and rolled it in your apron?"

 Now was it to the baker, or was it to the clown,
Or was it to the bonnie boy who sails the world around?
Who gave to you the tamosher, to wear the starched gown,
And you bundled it and rolled it in your apron?”

 “No, it wisn’t to the baker, it wasn’t to the clown,
But it was to the bonnie boy that sailed the world around,
And he gave to me the tamosher to wear the starched gown,
And I bundled it and rolled it in my apron”

Noo there goes little Molly when she is in the town 
Wi her riggy rocky slippers and the newly starched gown
Wi her riggy rocky slippers and the newly starched gown
An she bundled it an rolled it in her apron

An English ballad called “Gathering Rushes” brings in the “wee bird” that came to her apron:

Up and down the valley all in the month of May / She was gathering rushes just at the break of day
Bur before she came home she had bore a little son / And she rolled him underneath her apron

Well she cried at the threshold as she came in the door/ And she folded in her apron the little babe she bore
Said her father, “Where’ve you been, oh my little daughter Jane / And what’s that you’ve got underneath your apron?”

“Oh father, dear father, it’s nothing” then said she, / It’s only my new gown and that’s too long for me,
And I was afraid it would draggle in the dew, / So I rolled it underneath my apron.”

But in the dead of night, when all were fast asleep, / This pretty little baby well it began to weep –
Said her father, ”What’s that bird a-crying out so clear, / In the bedroom among the pretty maidens?”

“Oh father, dear father, it’s nothing” then said she,/ It’s just a little bird that fluttered to my knee,
And I’ll build for it a nest and I’ll warm it on my breast / So it won’t wake early in the May morning.”

But in the third part of the night, when all were fast asleep,/ This pretty little baby again began to weep
Said her father, “What’s that baby a-crying out so clear / In the bedroom among the pretty maidens?”

“Oh father, dear father, it’s nothing” then said she, / It’s just a little baby that someone gave to me;
Let it lie, let it sleep this night along with me, / And I’ll tell you its daddy in the May morning.”

“Oh was it by a black man or was it by a brown, / Or was it by a ploughing lad a-ploughing up and down –
That gave to you this stranger you wear with your new gown, / That you rolled up underneath your apron?”

“No, it wasn’t by a black man, it wasn’t by a brown, / I got it from a sailor lad who ploughs the watery main;
He gave to me this stranger I wear with my new gown / That I rolled up underneath my apron.”

“Well was it in the kitchen got, or was it in the hall? / Or was it in the cowshed or was it in the stall?
I wish I had a firebrand to burn the building down, / Where you met with him on a May morning.”

“No, it wasn’t in the kitchen got, it wasn’t in the hall /And neither in the cowshed and neither in the stall;
It was down by yonder spring where the small birds they sing, / That I met with him on a May morning.”

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