One day I took a ramble down by a running stream
Where the water lillies gambol - it was a lovely scene
And there I saw a maiden, a maiden from the dell:
She was gath'ring watercresses 'twas Martha the watercress girl.
Then her hair it hung in tresses, down by the stream that's close to the mill;
She was gath'ring watercresses, was Martha the watercress girl.
I asked if she was lonely, she answered with a smile:
'Kind sir, I am not lonely, for here I daily toil.
I have to rise up early my cresses for to sell:
My Christian name is Martha - they call me the watercress girl'
The day is not far distant when Martha will be mine,
And on our wedding morning it will be nice and fine.
I'll have to rise up early and dress up like an earl,
To go and marry Martha, the sweet little watercress girl.
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Source: Source: Everyman's Book Of British Ballads, ed. Roy Palmer.
Even without knowledge of the original street ballad, one would have to conclude tht the style and sentiment of this song is unmistakenly Victorian"
Collected by Roy Palmer from George Dunn (1887-1975), Quarry Bank, Staffordshire, 24-5-71 (Folk Music Joural, 1973, pp 292-3)
This song is generally credited to Harry Clifton. George Dunn's singing of it has recently been issued on CD by Musical Traditions: excellent notes on the song and on George Dunn by Roy Palmer can be found here George Dunn. There is a brief discussion about Harry Clifton, including a text of this song, on the Mudcat Forum Harry Clifton
Two broadside examples can be seen at Bodleian Library Broadsides; in both cases the printers and dates are not recorded.
The water-cress girl Harding B 11(4047)
The water-cress girl Harding B 11(1233)
Roud: 1541 (Search Roud index at VWML) Take Six