"Lamkin" (Roud 6, Child 93) is an English-language ballad. It gives an account of the murder of a woman and her infant son by a man, in some versions, a disgruntled mason, in others, a devil, bogeyman or a motiveless villain. Versions of the ballad are found in Scotland, England and the US.
According to Roud and Bishop
"Lambkin" is not one of the major league Child ballads in terms of popularity, but it was widely known in England and Scotland, and even more so in North America. ... . The central character's name varies considerably, including, in just the English versions 'Lambkin', 'Lamkin', Lincoln' and 'Limkin", and he is various referred to as 'Long', 'Bold', 'Cruel' and 'False'.
They cite the analysis of Ann Gilchrist, who identified two threads: one Scottish, which retained the mason narrative; one Northumbrian, which lost the mason in early versions, thus encouraging singers to supply a different back-story. Versions collected in England stem from the Northumbrian thread.
Other versions follow the same basic story, but the antagonist has many different names, among them "Long Lonkin" "Balankin", "Lambert Linkin", "Rankin", "Long Lankyn", and "Lammikin". Later versions lose the opening of the story, which explains that Lamkin is a mason who has not been paid; in these, Lamkin becomes a sort of a bogeyman who dwells in the wild places; the lord, before leaving, warns against him:
- Says milord to milady as he mounted his horse,
- "Beware of Long Lankin that lives in the moss."
- Says milord to milady as he went on his way,
- "Beware of Long Lankin that lives in the hay."
These versions add peculiar incidents that add to the grisliness of the crime. Lamkin and the nursemaid collect the baby's blood in a basin which, along with the idea that the name Lamkin or Lammikin indicates the murderer was pale skinned and, therefore, perhaps a leper who sought to cure himself by bathing in the blood of an innocent collected in a silver bowl, a medieval cure.
The song has been recorded as "Long Lankin" on But Two Came By (1968) by Martin Carthy. Before that release, it was performed as "Bo Lamkin" by Appalachian folk musician Frank Proffitt. In 1973 Northumbrian folk group The High Level Ranters recorded it as "Long Lonkin" on A Mile To Ride. Steeleye Span recorded it as "Long Lankin" on Commoner's Crown (1975), and vocal trio The Devil's Interval also recorded it as "Long Lankin" on their debut album Blood & Honey (Wildgoose 2006). Dave Burland recorded "Lamkin" on his album You Can't Fool The Fat Man (1979) with Nic Jones. The Neofolk band Fire + Ice recorded "Long Lankin" on their album Gilded By The Sun (1992). Jim Moray recorded a version as "Long Lankin" on his album In Modern History (2010). A version was record by English traditional singer Ben Butcher as "Cruel Lincoln" in 1955 and issued on The Voice of the People Vol 3 in 1988. In the classical world, composer and librettist Fleur de Bray set the story of Long Lankin as an opera, which was premiered in August 2013 at the acclaimed London Tête à Tête Opera Festival.
The song was referenced in the title of the short story collection, Long Lankin, by John Banville. The American poet Robert Lowell also referenced the song in the title of his Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of poetry Lord Weary's Castle (1946). The song inspired the young-adult novel Long Lankin (2011) by Lindsey Barraclough.
- Roud, Steve & Julia Bishop (2012). The New Penguin Book of Folk Songs. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-141-19461-5.
- Roud & Bishop pp. 484-5
- Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, 1 (1932) 1-7
- , The English and Scottish Popular Ballads Vol.2, Francis James Child.
- , More Blood on the Stairs: A 'New' Version of Lamkin - Mike Yates, 11/11/04.
- , Long Lankin (folk song) - Martin Carthy.
- , Lamkin: The Motivation of Horror - John DeWitt Niles, p.56.