Jarvis, Mrs Harriet

Collection date: Sept 1904

Area: Somerset - Bridgwater Town


Mrs Harriet Jarvis of Bridgwater (1834-1911): age 70, 1 song 'The Drowned Lover' (FT414) on 7 Sept 1904: How Cecil Sharp met up with Mrs Jarvis as his first singer in Bridgwater is a mystery. He recorded her address as No.14 Court, West Street. In the 1901 census (ref RG13/2284 f113 p11) she was indeed at that address, aged 67, widow of Edward Jarvis, living with her son Albert, 42, a brickyard labourer. She was baptised Harriet Willis on 28/12/1834 at St Mary’s Bridgwater and married Edward Jarvis Dec qr 1854 (Wells 5c 1040). She was a laundress, while he was initially a timber heaver at the docks, then a brickyard labourer. They had 9 children and lived in one of the ‘courts’ (poor housing) off West Street. She was buried at St Mary’s Bridgwater on 18/2/1911 aged 72.

Sharp had been staying in the town for a few days at the end of his seven-week summer holiday in Somerset. His wife and four young children had spent the whole time up in Clevedon and Sharp had been free to go song collecting, mostly in the Langport area - a massive total of 180 texts and tunes harvested in his notebooks. Perhaps he was overloaded with material; and perhaps also he had low expectations of finding many ‘traditional folksongs’ in a busy built up town. He had already notated elsewhere several sailors’ songs – about press gangs, sea battles etc. But Mrs Jarvis’ song ‘The Drowned Lover’ (Roud 466: click vwml link) was a bit different, being the sad lament of a young girl awaiting the return of her sailor sweetheart from months at sea, only to find him washed up (drowned) on the seashore. It was a popular ballad sheet of the early 19th century printed as ‘The Lover’s Lament’. It is also called ‘The Constant Lovers’ and is still sung today.

Sharp may not have thought much about this song and never actually published Mrs Jarvis’ version but perhaps he saw enough potential in the bustling port to return the following summer.

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