Around the green gravel the grass is so green;
All the pretty fair maids are plain to be seen;
Wash them in milk, and clothe them in silk,
Write their names down with a gold pen and ink.
All but (poor Mary) her sweetheat is dead;
She has left off her wedding to turn round her head.
[Additional verse from Worcestershire, contributed by Mrs Harley:
"O mother, O mother, do you think it is ture?"
"O yes, child, O yes child!" "Then what shall I do?"
"We'll wash you in milk, we'll dress you in silk,
And write down your name with a gold pen and ink."]
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Source: Lucy Broadwood and J A Fuller Maitland. 1893, English County Songs, Leadenhall Press, London
Lucy Broadwood described this children's game as follows. It is not entirely from the notes whether is the Derbyshire or Worcester version of the game being described.
This game is played by girls only, all joining hands and dancing in a ring. One, called the "mother", who by the way does not stand in the middle, but in the ring, names the girls in any order she pleases. As each girl is named, she turns her back on on the ring and covers her face with her hands or pinafore; the game then goes on without her.
This dismal little game, which has been found in many parts of the country, is obviously a dramatic representation of mourning, and the suggested explanation of "green gravel" as a corruption of "green grave" is almost undoubtedly the right one. In the Scottish lowlands, about a hundred years ago [c 1790 - dmg], the attendants on a corpse newly laid out went out of the death-chamber, returning to it backwards. Is there possibly a reference to this or a similar custom in the words "turn round your head" in this game?
Roud: 1368 (Search Roud index at VWML) Take Six
Related Songs: Green Gravel (Lancashire) (thematic)