All Around My Hat (song)

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This article is about the song. For the album, see All Around My Hat (album).
"All Around My Hat"
Written 19th century
Writer(s) Traditional
Language English

The song "All Around my Hat" (Roud 567[1] and 22518,[2] Laws P31) is of nineteenth-century English origin.[3] In an early version,[citation needed] dating from the 1820s, a Cockney costermonger vowed to be true to his fiancée, who had been sentenced to seven years' transportation to Australia for theft and to mourn his loss of her by wearing green willow sprigs in his hatband for "a twelve-month and a day," the willow being a traditional symbol of mourning.[4] The song was made famous by Steeleye Span in 1975.[5] A more traditional version is available on a release sung by John Langstaff.[6][7][8]

In Ireland, Peadar Kearney adapted the song to make it relate to a Republican lass whose lover has died in the Easter Rising, and who swears to wear the Irish tricolor in her hat in remembrance in The Tri-coloured Ribbon.


A young man is forced to leave his lover, usually to go to sea. On his return he finds her on the point of being married to another man. In some versions he goes into mourning, with the green willow as a symbol of his unhappiness (willow is considered to be a weeping tree). In other versions he reminds her of her broken promise, and she dies mysteriously. In some versions he simply contemplates his lover left behind, without actually returning to find her being married. In other versions, the young man is a street hawker who is mourning his separation from his lover who has been transported to Australia for stealing.


The song has typical archetypal elements of the separated lovers, the interrupted wedding, and the inconsolable rejected lover. In the "Yellow Ribbon" variants, the adornment is a reminder of lost love, similar to Ireland's The Black Velvet Band.

Historical background[edit]

The song is found in England, Scotland and Canada, all seafaring nations. In Ireland it has been adapted to a modern conflict - the Irish Republican movement.


The Bodleian Library has a version. This version has some cockney words.

A traditional version and variant texts[edit]

A traditional version (sometimes known as I will wear the Green Willow) in common use in the 1950s and 1960s was:

My love she was fair and my love she was kind too
And many were the happy hours, between my love and me
I never could refuse her, whatever she'd a mind to
And now she's far away, far o'er the stormy sea.

All 'round my hat I will wear a [or: the] green willow
All 'round my hat for a twelve month and a day
If anybody asks me the reason why I wear it
It's all because my true love is far, far away.

Will my love be true and will my love be faithful?
Or will she find another swain to court her where she's gone?
The men will all run after her, so pretty and so graceful
And leave me here lamenting, lamenting all alone.

All 'round my hat I will wear a green willow
All 'round my hat for a twelve month and a day
If anybody asks me the reason why I wear it
It's all because my true love is far, far away.

A variation of this had the following verse stanza:

My love she was fair, and my love she was kind
And cruel the judge and jury that sentenced her away
For thieving was a thing that she never was inclined to
They sent my love across the sea ten thousand miles away.

A version popularized by Steeleye Span used the traditional chorus (shown above) and these verse stanzas (from Farewell He):

Fare thee well cold winter and fare thee well cold frost
Nothing have I gained but my own true love I've lost
I'll sing and I'll be merry when occasion I do see
He's a false deluding young man, let him go, farewell he.

The other night he brought me a fine diamond ring
But he thought to have deprived me of a far better thing
But I being careful like lovers ought to be
He's a false deluding young man, let him go, farewell he

Here's a half a pound of reason, and a quarter pound of sense
A small sprig of time and as much of prudence
You mix them all together and you will plainly see
He's a false deluding young man, let him go, farewell he.

Textual variants[edit]

Sabine Baring-Gould printed a version in "A Garland of Country Song" in 1895. This version is very close to the best-known version, by Steeleye Span.[9] This is probably a more recent variant of the nineteenth-century song.

  • cf. "The Green Willow" ("All around my hat" lyrics)

Songs that refer to All Around My Hat (song)[edit]

Jasper Carrott sang a parody "It's my bloody ribbon and it's my bloody hat" at the Cambridge folk Festival in 1976.


Motifs of the song include separated lovers, a broken token, and death for love, common themes in tragic love songs.

Television and movie references[edit]

The song She Wore a Yellow Ribbon appears in John Ford's film of the same name. In the 'Watching TV' episode of British television sitcom Men Behaving Badly, Gary and Dorothy repeatedly end up singing the Steeleye Span version of the song while trying to remember the theme tune to Starsky and Hutch. Paul Whitehouse also sings the first lines of the song in an episode of The Fast Show, changing a key word in each line with "arse".


Album/Single Performer Year Variant Notes
The Voice of the People volume 6 Eddie Butcher 1955 Another Man's Wedding
Sings American and English Folk Songs and Ballads John Langstaff 1959 All Around My Hat Listed on the label as "All 'Round My Hat" and sourced from S. Baring-Gould's anthology. (Tradition Records, TLP 1009)
Now Is the Time for Fishing Sam Larner 1959–1960 Green Broom In this version, a Cockney costermonger vowed to be true to his fiancée, who had been sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia for theft, and to mourn his loss by wearing green willow sprigs in his hatband for "a twelve-month and a day," in a traditional symbol of mourning.
"Maritime Folk Songs" (anthology by Helen Creighton) Neil O'Brien 1962 All Around My Hat American version.
"Mainly Norfolk" Peter Bellamy 1968 All Around My Hat
Peadar Kearney Tri-coloured Ribbon This is an adapted version of the song, where a Republican lass swears to wear the Irish tricolour in her hat in remembrance of a lover who has died in the Easter Rising.[10]
From the Beggar's Mantle Barbara Dickson 1972 The Orange and the Blue This is a Scottish version. A couple vow loyalty to each other before the man goes to sea. He returns just as his "inconstant lover" is about to be married to someone else. He points out her treachery, and she dies mysteriously before the night of the honeymoon. He goes into mourning, wearing the willow for twelve months, followed by a coat of orange and blue.
All Around My Hat Steeleye Span 1975 All Around My Hat/Farewell He This electric folk group took it to number 5 on the charts, with the original version interpolated with lyrics from another early 19th Century song - "Farewell He" - which turned the song into a conversation, with the original words of constancy alternating with a sermon to young girls on the inconstancy of young men. This is the only Steeleye Span song later covered by a mainstream band (Status Quo, below).
All Around My Hat José Hoebee 1986 All Around My Hat José Hoebee (of Dutch girl group Luv') recorded a cover version of the song inspired by Steeleye Span's rendering.
Don't Stop Status Quo 1996 All Around My Hat Status Quo invited Maddy Prior (of Steeleye Span) to sing harmony.
Hat Trick (album) The Mollys 1997 All Around My Hat Songwriter Nancy McCallion of electric folk group The Mollys updated the song to the 20th century. The "tri-coloured ribbon" hatted singer (Catherine Zavala) ends by threatening that if absent John doesn't return before the "twelve-month and a day", she will "take the bloody lot" of various attractive guys, including one met at a bus stop.[11]
Three Quarter Ale Three Quarter Ale 2003 All Around My Hat/Farewell He Three Quarter Ale invited Lindsay Smith to sing the final verse on it.
Different Tongues Brian Peters 2003 All Around My Hat

Musical variants[edit]

  • "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon"

Other songs with the same tune[edit]

  • "The Death of Brush"
  • "The Jolly Miller"
  • "The Death of Brugh"


  1. ^ Vaughan Williams Memorial Library - Roud 567
  2. ^ Vaughan Williams Memorial Library - Roud 22518
  3. ^ S.G. Spaeth. A History of Popular Music in America, pp. 83–84 (1948, ISBN 978-0-394-42884-0), quotes a song said to be from around 1840, that goes, "All round my hat, I vears [sic] a green villow [sic]."
  4. ^ See Othello, 4:3, in which Desdemona sings a willow song and asks Emilia about omens of weeping. Another Elizabethan willow song mentions the wearing of the green willow; this is in a poem by John Heywood, dated circa 1545 (Br. Mus. addit. No. 15,233): "All a green willow, willow, willow, All a green willow is my garland." See Norman Ault, Elizabethan Lyrics, pp. 14–15, 519 (1949). Robert George Whitney Bolwell, The Life and Works of John Heywood, identifies this Heywood work as the song, "The Ballad of the Green Willow." He points out that this is a predecessor of Shakespeare's Willow Song, which merely changes the word "is" in the refrain to "must be."
  5. ^ Their video version is available on [|Youtube]. (This is not the traditional version; it is a rock version.)
  6. ^
  7. ^ A variation from Devon was collected from the singing of Harry Westaway in Belstone, Devon.
  8. ^ Harry senior, Harry junior and Bill Westaway of Belstone, Devon; Westaway One Name Study
  9. ^ Yellow Ribbon,
  10. ^ Tri-coloured Ribbon,
  11. ^ Hat Trick,

External links[edit]