Scarborough Faire

The town of Scarborough, located on the North Sea coast in North Yorkshire, England, was founded around 966AD. The original town was burned down by a band of Vikings, but it recovered under King Henry II, who built a castle on the headland and granted the town charters in 1155 and 1163. The middle ages Scarborough Faire was permitted by royal charter in 1253, a six-week trading festival that attracted merchants from all over Europe. It ran from Assumption Day, 15 August, through Michaelmas Day, 29 September. The fair continued to be held for 500 years, from the 13th to the 18th century.

The song “Scarborough Fair” appears to be related to a song “The Elfin King” that has been traced back to the mid-1600s. There were dozens of versions by the end of the 18th century, some of which referred to towns other than Scarborough. Many of the versions do not identify a specific location, but emphasize the love theme of the song. The line “parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme” dates to 19th century versions and may have actually been adopted from a different song with a similar theme.

The earliest known recording of “Scarborough Fair” was by Americans Gordon Heath and Lee Payant in Paris on the 1955 album Encores From The Abbaye. Another version was recorded on a 1956 album called English Folk Songs by Audrey Coppard. Yet another version was published by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger (half-sister of Pete Seeger) was in The Singing Island (1960). The version best known was done by Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel on their single in October 1966. Simon & Garfunkel used the melody from Coppard’s recording.

Paul Simon learned the song in London in 1965 from Martin Carthy, who had picked it up from the MacColl and Seeger songbook. McCarthy recorded it on an album in 1965. Simon & Garfunkel’s popular version followed as the lead track on their 1966 Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme album.

For my version, I’ve collected verses from various sources and put together what I felt flowed best as a story. To give the song a bit more of an “olde English” feel, I chose to spell “faire” with a final “e”.

Listen to a 1 minute preview of this track here: