Coulter's Candy / Ally bally bee

Written by Chris Thornton | 30th of August 2023
Coulter's Candy / Ally bally bee

Coulter's Candy is a song often sung to young children in Scotland. My granny sang it, my mother sang it, and I sang it to my children. It's a great soothing song and often helps to calm young children down before you put them down to sleep... the pleasing melody can be hummed too for the same effect.

This song in my own family has been passed down at least 4 generations, but none of us really knew where it originated and the meaning behind the lyrics.

Let's find out more about one of Scotland's most beloved traditional Scottish songs.

Where is Coulters Candy from?

Coulter's Candy is a Scottish folk song, originating from Galashiels in the Scottish Borders. Although it has become a folk song and a nursery rhyme in modern Scotland, its original use was as a jingle for selling candy.

Who wrote Coulter's Candy?

Robert Coultart (1832-1880) wrote the song as an advertising jingle to sell his own candy - a hard-boiled aniseed-flavoured sweet - on his regular candy round. He also sold his product at markets and all the country fairs around the Borders area of Scotland.

Sadly, Coultart died of a brain tumour and did not make his fortune selling his candy, despite this very catchy jingle. I think he would approve that it has lasted 160 years and has become part of Scottish culture.

Galashiels statue tribute to Coultart

In tribute to the song and Coultart, two statues of a boy and girl and Coultart himself were erected in Galashiels town centre by the Scottish Borders Council. The statues depict Coultart selling his candy, a boy, Jock from the song running with his bawbee to purchase his candy, and "wee Jeannie" sitting on the wall enjoying her candy.

Hundreds attended the opening ceremony, including 30 direct relatives of Coultart. Photos can be seen on the councils Flickr page.

What is sweet boiled candy?

The hard candy or boiled sweet that Coultart sold is very similar to the same hard candy we enjoy today. Sugar syrup is heated to a temperature of around 160 °C, it cannot be heated over 186 °C as it will melt fully and ruin the finished product.

The partially melted syrup is then flavoured, and in this case, Coultart added aniseed to flavour his candy. The syrup is cooled to the point where it is malleable and then formed into the desired shape. As it approaches room temperature it hardens and becomes brittle.

Coultart would have formed his candy into small mouth-sized pieces and sold it by the bag to children whilst whistling or singing his popular jingle.

Who sang Coulter's Candy?

Folk singer Jimmie Macgregor recorded and performed the song on national TV throughout the 1950s and 1960s, boosting its popularity.

It has been covered by many folk singers over the years, and of course, sung by many families to small children.

What does Coulter's Candy sound like?

Please see the Youtube video below to hear what the song sounds like.

Coulter's candy lyrics

Although the song is pretty long here, we would normally only sing (and repeat) the first verse, which can also be used as a chorus if singing the other verses. The first two verses basically outline a child crying because they would like "a wee bawbee" which was a half penny coin, so they can purchase some of Coulter's Candy.

Some shrewd marketing in the 2nd verse pushes the candy as a weight gain method for children - Poor little Jeanie is getting thin - now she has a double chin.

Ally bally, ally bally bee,
Sittin' on yer mammy's knee,
Greetin' for a wee bawbee,
Tae buy some Coulter's candy.

Poor wee Jeannie's gettin' awfy thin,
A rickle o' banes covered ower wi' skin,
Noo she's gettin' a wee double chin,
Wi' sookin' Coulter's Candy.

Little Jock an errand ran,
An’ got a penny frae the man,
Which ne’er again did leave his han’
Till he coft Coulter’s Candy

Mammy gie's ma thrifty doon,
Here's auld Coulter comin' roon',
Wi' a basket on his croon,
Selling Coulter's Candy.

When you grow old, a man to be,
you'll work hard and you'll sail the seas,
an' bring hame pennies for your faither and me,
Tae buy mair Coulter's Candy.

Coulter he's a affa funny man,
He maks his candy in a pan,
Awa an greet to yer ma,
Tae buy some Coulter's candy.

Little Annie's greetin' tae,
Sae whit can puir wee Mammy dae,
But gie them a penny atween them twae,
Tae buy mair Coulter's Candy.

This additional verse is sometimes sung in northeast Scotland:

Coulter's Candy, a penny a lump,
'At's i' stuff tae mak ye jump.
If ye jump you're sure tae fa',
Coulter's Candy, a penny fur a'


I hope this has been an interesting article for you on the origins of this popular song.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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5th of December 2023 @ 00:05:02

I spent the summer in the Scottish Borders and often went to Galashiels where there a statue to Coulter has been put up in the square.

Ruth Rosie
12th of April 2023 @ 03:04:36

My grandma who was from Nairn, sang it to me as a child and now I'm a folk singer and recently rediscovered it. Happy memories!

18th of January 2023 @ 19:18:12

Sang song to kids now grandchildren as I’m English just wanted to know more about lovely lullaby

Alison Harbottle Cross
12th of July 2022 @ 04:45:15

I was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne and know this song sooo well! Haha! I have lived in Canada for the past 40 years and sang this lullaby to all 4 of my children! Instead of saying Coulter's , I must admit my parents always said sugar candy! Hope no offense is taken to my border friends.