Like most traditional songs there are many variations, of the title as well as the lyrics in this case. Extensive research on its origin and development can be found in Volume II of The Traditional Tunes Of The Child Ballads With Their Texts, according to the Extant Records of Great Britain and America
, by Bertrand Harris Bronson, which was published by Princeton University Press in 1962.
According to this book, none of the extant texts of the ballad is older than the early 19th Century but it probably dates from about the end of the 15th. A version was recorded by [ie sung to] musicologist Cecil Sharp on January 23, 1907 by Mrs. Ware of Eley Over Stowey. The same day, Sharp recorded "Cold Blows The Wind
" by James Chedgey of Bincombe Over Stowey.
Sabine Baring-Gould (who is best known for writing the lyrics to "Onward Christian Soldiers") collected a version, from J. Woodrich, a blacksmith of Wollacot Moor, Thrushleton, in 1889.
Probably the earliest recorded version is "Cold Blows The Wind" which was sung by Elizabeth Doidge, a nurse of Brentnor, and collected by Mrs Gibbons, the daughter of W.L.Trelawney, Bart, c1830. This version had the tune usually associated with "Childe The Hunter."
There is also "How Cold The Winds Do Blow," sung by Mrs Rugman of Dunsfold, Surrey, 1896; "Cold Blows The Wind To-night, Sweetheart," sung by Mrs, Bowker of Sunderland Point, Lancashire, in September 1909, and further afield, "The Auld Song From Cow Head
" sung by the Reverend Mr Gibbs Bull of Newfoundland in 1929.