Article MT205

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

No.  29: Norfolk printings of murder and execution (4)
The Gressenhall cache, part two1

Following on from consideration of the larger number of broadside ballads of murder and execution in Gressenhall we can now examine the remainder that, as noted previously, mark a fascinating change in language use.  Firstly, we are confronted by the astonishing case of Frederick Deeming, known also by a number of aliases - including that of 'Williams' when he was first suspected of murder. 

This was in, of all places, Melbourne in 1892.  He had arrived as 'Alfred Williams' with his wife, Emily (née Mather), in December 1891.  She subsequently disappeared and her body was eventually discovered, cemented under the hearthstone of the house in Melbourne that 'Williams' had rented.  His real name was then unearthed, enquiries made, and a connection established with the disappearance of Deeming's first wife, Marie, and their four children all of whom were then discovered buried in a house at Rainhill, near Liverpool.  Deeming, meanwhile, under the name Swanson, had left Melbourne for Sydney where he persuaded a Kate Rounsefelt to marry him.  In the course of enquiry she was prevented by the police from joining Deeming in Western Australia where he was arrested by the police for the crimes aforementioned.  Deeming was hanged, despite pleas of insanity, in Melbourne on May 23rd 1892.

According to our material - in two four-page booklets which contain Deeming ballads along with others - as 'Williams' the man was apprehended in Melbourne (Australia) for the murder of a Miss Mather and it was subsequently discovered that, as his real self, Deeming, he had also murdered his wife and two children in Rainhill, Liverpool, some years before.2  This, then, more or less accords with the facts as known.  In the Gressenhall account, these surface mostly in a prose passage (the same prose text is found in both booklets), and include the information that a woman and her children had been found buried in cement in a house in Rainhill.  A description of the precise positioning of the woman and children is given but that is where the account stops.  We have no information as to how connection was made between the murders in Australia and in England and no idea of what proceedings may have followed.  The particular printing look to have been put out before all the details of the case were known by the printer.

There are three ballads in a four-page booklet that has a generic title of Wholesale Murders In LiverpoolFive Bodies Found Buried in Cement - with portraits on the cover of Deeming, his wife and three children.  The first ballad is untitled.  It has a suggested tune of Same Old Game.  This ballad is, surprisingly, quite lighthearted in tone.  For example, the first lines run as follows -

As sensations all the go, listen, and I'll let you
Of a covey they have collared over the sea,
For the deeds done in the past, they have smugg-
                  ed him now at last,
      And I wonder if the Ripper he can be …
One notes the association with Jack the Ripper that certainly indicates just how much such a case had involved public imagination and fears - the furore surrounding Jack the Ripper is, like that associated with the execution of Corder, of the Mannings and of Rush, worth separate consideration.  In the present ballad, a four-line chorus continues in the same vein as the opening lines:
Now Deeming has been caught, and to justice has
                  been brought,
And his Rummy Tummy capers now will cease,
Lawson Williams what's his name they'll stop
                  your little game,
For he's ten times worse, than blooming Charley
                  Peace … 3
He was handy on the job and he paid put many a
For as swindling you couldn't find his match.
And to crown his handiwork; he at murder did
                  not shirk;
And like Bluebeard let him go down to old scratch.
And, in a final stanza:
Now says Mrs.  Jones I wonder if they'll bring him
                  o'er the sea,
And I can only set my eyes upon him once,
I'd take Harry?  Trim and Bob and they'd hit him
                  on the nob,
And I'd lay my life they'd quickly make him dance …
After a fashion, then, a portrait emerges but the strikingly gratuitous treatment of the crime contrasts vividly with all that we have come to expect in murder and execution balladry so far.

A second ballad in the same four-page booklet is a more serious affair, this time entitled Brutal Murder, Of A Woman & Four Children, At Rainhill, near Liverpool.  The tune suggested in this case is Just before the Battle and the piece begins with a similar reference to that found in the first ballad:

The dreadful deeds of Jack the Ripper
Was bad enough for us to hear …
The piece hoped that such deeds were done with entirely - but that Rainhill had experienced another crime.  A chorus tells us of the murder but adds the familiar rider, 'as we hear'.  'Williams' is introduced 'But that is not his proper name' who was:
One of those people full of cunning,
Swindling and robbing all the time
Into the halter his neck was running
By committing cruel and secret crimes.
It is even suggested that he had killed others besides his wife and children.  Of the latter the piece reminds us that their throats had been cut and then that they had been buried in cement.  Evidently, too, 'Williams' left the house at Rainhill 'with another lady' whom he married.  That is all we learn abut Deeming's (sic) first crimes.  Our next encounter in the piece is with the murder in Australia and again there is some speculation - 'God knows how many other murders' he had committed …  
He seems to have been a cruel villain,
With a heart as hard as granite stone …
Finally, 'Crimes like these are most bewildering' but they will all be discovered and, as for 'Williams', 'on the gallows he will die'.  The sentiments are certainly in keeping with those in other known murder balladry.

The third ballad, Lines On The Execution of Deeming - to the tune of Cast Out - is found, as noted above, in a separate booklet along with the Gurd ballad and the whole issue has an overall heading of Execution Of Deeming.  Alleged Confession.  Last Moments; with which there is a header block illustrating prison gates and a scaffold.  The Deeming ballad begins as follows:

We shall never hear no more of Deeming,
Or whatever his name may be …
There is a four-line chorus in which it is stated that 'Deeming's got what he deserved'.  Then the case is recounted: how Deeming had been brought up in Birkenhead and was a troublesome youth (he is known to have been in both India and South Africa).  Indeed, 'His history reads like a novel' although the Australians 'didn't fail to unravel' his 'villainous' crimes.  At the trial 'he sneer'd and he jeer'd at the jury', but the gallows 'has ended his day'.  The piece reverts to Melbourne and Deeming's 'Long lying letters' even though a black flag was unfurled for him.

In a final stanza:

He stood 'neath the terrible gallows,
      His thoughts we should all like to know,
Stern men hardened and callous,
      Deeming no pity did show. 
So he was sent to that 'dark and mysterious shore'.

Again, a portrait of sorts emerges and, together with what we learned previously, a comprehensive account of Deeming's crimes can be assembled, much distorted by the varied tone of each piece and, of course, in respect of actual sequence.  Ultimately, a printer's acquaintance with facts is demonstrated, sometimes scant and partial with little corroboration of detail.  This is, to an extent, in keeping with conventional murder and execution balladry; but the traditional features of imagery (the fatal tree) and pleas for mercy and warnings have quite disappeared and we should bear in mind that the printer is likely to have been associated with newspaper production and not made in the mould of Catnach and Pitts.  One set of ballads does not make a revolution, of course, but the differences are clear.  There is, by the way, a passing reference - 'he was forced to confess' … this is, in the face of overwhelming evidence, the only concession to the claim on the cover page of one of the booklets. 

The ballad form, then, has been made use of but whether, as artefact, it had the same impact as ballads issued contemporarily with crimes committed even fifty years before must be a moot question.  Certainly the first piece in this trio is pitched at almost a cynical level. 

Finally, the sources of tunes are interesting.  Once upon a time we could find regular references to tunes such as Chevy Chase, thus offering a link with ballad production through the centuries.  Gradually a different range of tunes was employed (such as those appearing and reappearing in connection with naval heroes - The Arethusa is an example) as balladeers employed the normal practice of using whatever tunes were currently fashionable; and in connection with the texts in the Gressenhall cache the range of tunes appeared to be culminating in references to commercial successes such as were enjoyed in music-hall.  Amongst tune-titles given in connection with Deeming and others as discussed in this article areTeddy O'Neale which appeared certainly pre-1868 and is thought to have been composed by a Shamus O'Leary although the words are by Eliza Cook (1819-1889); Just Before the Battle, Mother, a George F Root piece dating from the American Civil War, thought to have been written around 1862 (it has a reference to The Battle Cry of Freedom in it) and published in 1864; Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay, sung by Lottie Collins and apparently written by Henry J Sayers in 1891 (there is also a claim for authorship by a Richard Morton); I'll Be Your Sweetheart, written by Harry Dacre (1860-1922), in 1899-1900 (Dacre, British-born, who emigrated to America, also wrote Daisy Bell in 1892); Nelly Dean, written by Henry Armstrong and made famous by Gertie Gitana (Gertrude Mary Ashbery) - although this particular manifestation did not occur until 1907; and Yip-I-Addy-A-Ay, written by W B Cobb and J H Flynn and first appearing in 1908.4

The case of Dr Thomas Neil(l) Cream, who is referred to as both 'Neill' and 'Cream' in various accounts, is, like the Deeming pieces, illustrative of this newer use of and changes in ballad traditions.  The case attracted widespread interest if only because Neill, like Deeming, was once suspected of being Jack the Ripper, his crimes being those of murdering prostitutes.5 In the Gressenhall cache there is a four-page booklet in the style of those already considered in which we find no less than six ballads but, whilst there is a cover illustration, there are no prose accounts, so we can, in this case, compare like with like - the ballad alone.  The booklet pieces look, from the varying print-face, to have been assembled from three different sources but the chief interest lies in the tenor of each piece.

The first, untitled, has Teddy O'Neale suggested as a tune.  It opens thus (note 'we hear', a regular qualification in the ballads as discussed):

In the great world of London with five millions of people,
All sorts of crimes almost each day we hear …
This crime - or, more accurately, a series of them - is one involving 'Young women who from virtue have fallen' and a chorus sums up:
The mystery of Lambeth must be discovered,
The girls have been poisoned 'tis as the day,
Thomas Neil (sic) who is charged now blackmailing,
If he knows the truth let him speak out and say.
The ballad goes on to indicated how the girls were 'quietly' buried and then the poison was found, the main thrust of the ballad being at the alleged blackmail:
      … what can we think of the charge of extortion,
      Trying to get money by means of blackmail,
Threatening letters sent as a caution,
      Must all be found out and we hope they won't fail.
This man, Thomas Neil (sic), sent letters to 'gentlemen' …'.  The ballad opines, rather weakly, that 'He's an innocent man or else he's a villain', that he is destroying the peace of mind of families.  Of course, there is only his 'bare word', 'But enquiries we know will surely go further', because 'Character is at stake and it means ruin'.  Only the final two lines refer back to the murder of the prostitutes:
The storm o'er head is only just brewing,
      To clear up the fate of the dead in the grave.
It looks certain that the ballad refers to early stages in the ongoing enquiry.

A second ballad echoes the degree of levity shown above in the case of Deeming.  It is entitled They'll give Niell (sic) TA-RA-RA BOOMDEAY For The Girls he's left behind him and, predictably, the suggested 'Air' is I'll Give him Ta-raboom-de-ay.

The latest job we have on hand is poisoning
                  they say,
Dr.  Freddy Neil he led the ladies all astray
He'd keep them out till late at night,
And put the darlings in a fright,
Then give them pills to set them right,
Oh what a naughty game to play.
One notes the presence of 'they say' which, as in so many cases here, puts a distance between event and ballad comment.  There is a chorus beginning 'Single ladies pray warning …' (a throwback of sorts) but the ballad goes on to indicate how Neil 'played his card so very well, he used to cut a dash', how the girls used to think it all 'jolly sport' to pass their time with 'Fred' … the phraseology is modern.
He might be Jack the blooming Ripper,
                  who the dickens knows.
He don't cut up their bodies, but poising
                  he goes,
He's a traveller he says in drugs,
He travelled here to catch the mugs
He'd better poisoned all the bugs,
With his box of blooming boom-de-ay.
Neil is described as a 'naughty wicked doctor' and he would 'go down below some day'.  Meanwhile 'Have a care now ladies do' and 'Don't take a pill to bring you to' because 'you'll get Ta-ra-a Boom-de-ay'.

Clearly here there is a discrepancy between the gravity of the situation and the cavalier language.  The piece appears to have been merely tossed off - there is no obvious connection in terms of the time of the action and this ballad commentary save that Neill (sic) has not yet, as it were, been charged and sentenced.  Further, this ballad and the one previously discussed are hardly specific, relying more on innuendo.  For the record, Neill stood trial for the murder of Matilda Clover, who died on October 21st 1891from the effects of poisoning.

Next in 'sequence' in the booklet is Trial and Sentence of Neill.  The variant spellings of the name encountered so far might reveal carelessness as much as anything else but this piece, the last one discussed and the next are all set in the same type-face so may have come from the same source or hand.  This one pursues the lighthearted touch of the first in the 'sequence':

Now Neil he was no pal of mine,
With nice young girls he'd cut a shine,
They never thought he'd do that crime,
      He'd meet them night and morning;
And by their side he'd walk along,
He'd tell a tale or sing a song,
Old Nick he'll have him no e're (sic) long,
      For he'll be strung upon the morning. 
The remaining three stanzas follow the same course - how Neil would 'give them a pill to take, dear me' and they would be 'found dead in the morning'.  We do find, in addition, that Neil had apparently done the same thing in America although there his 'little game' had been stopped.  Now:
Its (sic) all U P it was a shame,
      And they'll stop his wind in the morning.
Neil's sentence, in this ballad, has been 'passed' and:
      … now to all he'll say good-bye,
His strychnine pills are all my eye,
He's wicked old quack you can't deny,
      And they'll give him a drop in the morn-
In a final stanza ' … young girls' are warned to be careful not to let a doctor have his way.  Neil (sic), in Newgate Gaol, will, nonetheless, be 'tucked up' in the morning.

Neil's Sentence - again to the tune of Teddy O'Neale - has a somewhat more serious tone.  The progress of the case is reviewed with a fair amount of speculation and 'comment'.  Neil (one uses the ballad spelling) has been sent 'to a doom' that 'he well deserves':

For the crimes he has done, always consisted,
      In taking care his own life to preserve,
A man well brought-up and educated,
      A man who the results of his poison well knew,
To the taking of life he never hesitated,
      And used all the cunning a murderer could do.
There is a chorus containing a straightforward summary of Neil's crimes.  A further stanza emphasises that, as a medical man, Neil knew what he was doing.  The victims had done no harm except perhaps to each other (a puzzling irrelevance, perhaps) and 'Perhaps all of them had fathers and mothers (a revelation, indeed) 'Who had lost them in London until they were dead'.  Neil's American connection is further expanded, Neil having been convicted and sentenced to death but given only a ten-year sentence in the end, the authorities thinking that he would probably die of a then current illness …

There is some moralising over the girls leaving their mothers for a 'gay life' but becoming 'disgraced and degraded'.  Beauty is all very well whilst it lasts but after it has gone (a seemingly facile if common enough view and not dissimilar to similar views expressed within the known conventions of balladry) 'they' are deserted 'And unknown and uncared for they go to their grave'. 

Neil, meanwhile, never expected to be found out but the judge did his duty and 'there was no mercy there'.

The last two ballads in the booklet are, respectively, Execution Of The Devius (sic) Agent Dr.  Neill and Execution of Neill (note the spellings of the name), the first to the tune of Railway Train, the second to an obvious favourite, Teddy O'Neale, both with the same type-face, different to all others in the booklet.  The first offers yet another sprightly perspective though there are faint echoes of ballad convention.  For example, the opening line is 'I'll not keep you long, if you'll listen to my song' but this immediately deteriorates from conventional style - 'I'll tell you about a very naughty man'; and, then - Neil (spelled inconsistently, then) has now been 'tucked':

For his physic all my eye, and so to all he said good-bye
      And he's gone to the old bogie down below.
The chorus is more in keeping with what is emerging as a newer tone:
So young girls beware of such doctors have a care
They've strung him up old Neil you all must know,
They've stopped his little game, what he's done it was a
And they'll warm him when they get him down below.
Again the word 'naughty' appears …   Again, Neil 'at 9 he danced out Ta-ra-ra boom-de-ay'.  Evidently he had been a 'nice old gentleman' to meet:
But he's had a hearty choke, no more he'll drink or
For he didn't know his luck, O what a treat.
At trial, the ballad notes, Neil's defence pleaded that:
He is off his chump they cried and to save him how
                        they tried,
But they quickly bowled his artful little game …
Bellington (sic), the hangman, was called and put a rope around 'the old villain's throat', and 'Touched a spring and wollop, Neill has ceased to live'.6

Again there is a faint echo of convention: 'So a warning take I say, ladies blyth and gay' (sic) but, in the line of almost scatological reference, 'tell all doctors' to take their 'blooming hook away'.

The final piece is more sententious.  The world is well rid of 'a base hearted villain' who cared not for the 'poor victims (sic) mothers' although his 'scheme' ended in 'bubbles'.  A chorus underlines Neil's 'deserved' fate.  The verdict 'All England knew' …   Justice Hawkins put on the black cap and Neil was taken from his 'miserable dungeon' (a variant of our more familiar 'dark' and 'dismal' cell).  Neil's last hours are imagined until the 'officers of Newgate' took him away.

The Doctor was soon to eternity hurried,
It don't take much time in these modern days … '
'We' hope that Neil had 'repented of his cruel ways'.  Now:
      … this Dr.  Neil the foul London poisioner (sic),
Is one of the worst ever sent from the world. 
Overall in these Neill ballads, the movement away from ballad convention in phraseology in particular is clear enough although echoes remain.  Many of the devices previously familiar, the image of the 'fatal tree', the appeal to God, imagined insights into the murderer's mind, have disappeared.  A vestige of warning does remain as well as the use of choruses and a specific allusion to the prisoner's cell, and this does suggest that the printers - writers - did bear previous balladry in mind, not least in the continued use of the form itself.  What replaces convention, though, is a contemporary mixture of the banal and the downright facetious.  In this particular set at least a 'sequence' can be discerned but whether this was deliberate in the assembly of the booklet or purely accidental is not possible to determine.  The same question arises in connection with the assembly of the ballads on Deeming and Wood and the Albury case.

The penultimate booklet in the Gressenhall set, historically speaking, concerns the case of Harold Apted who murdered seven-and-a-half years-old Frances Eliza O'Rourke in 1902.  Apted's victim was found lying face down in a pond at Southborough, near Tonbridge, after she had been sent on an errand by her parents.  She had been stabbed to death and a knife found near the body (according to the booklet) was identified as belonging to Apted.  He had been seen in the area earlier in the day, and the police found bloodstains on his clothing.  He was hanged in Maidstone on the 18 March 1902 aged twenty.7

There are five ballads in the booklet revealing a 'sequence' similar to others described above.  The front cover includes a title - Execution Of Harold Apted, The Tonbridge Murderer although, strictly speaking, only one ballad deals with the occasion of execution - and an illustration, Scene On The Scaffold, that falls within the tradition of the Walker header blocks discussed in the previous piece in this series.  In this case there is a suspended figure, half-glimpsed above the closed gates of a jail.  Javelin men mount the top of the building.  It is not without significance that Trial and Sentence of George Henry Wood … has the same illustration and so do the booklets containing the Deeming and Neill ballads; and, moreover, it features with a piece (to be discussed below) on Crippen.  Given also that all the headline type-faces on these booklets are of the same sort we can begin to firm up the possibility of there being one particular source, probably that of a newspaper initially.  It is hoped to consider this matter further as information comes to light - but it has been confirmed that the material came to Gressenhall in booklet form and was not so arranged by the museum.  If these Gressenhall booklets were printed without reference to a regular publication then they echo - though they do not replicate - those compilations issued by Catnach, Pitts and others that contained a variety of material or a collection of material on the one subject in the manner of naval celebration already discussed in connection with Nelson on this site; but, of course, much changed in appearance.

The 'sequence' in the booklet is not that of the progress of the case, the first piece being on the execution of Harold Apted, the second about events after Apted's execution, the third a comment on the murder itself, a fourth concerning the sentence and a fifth summing up the whole story (it is not suggested that, with regard to the latter piece, this was intentional).  Here we begin with the third piece, Lines on..(sic) TONBRIDGE MURDER and Outrage, which was written by a James Lauri.  The appointed tune is Once we were sweethearts:

A home once so bright filled with
                  gloom and despair
There's one we have missed, we cannot
                  find her there,
She whom we loved and cherished
                  thro' life,
Why kill her and cause all this sad
                  grief and strife?
Poor little Frances why take her away
What harm had she done then, why
                  should they slay.
A chorus repeats the sentiments in the first stanza - 'Poor little darling we all loved so well' - and suggests that she is now sleeping with the angels.  A second stanza is wholly imaginary, beginning with the phrase, 'In fancy' and going on to describe her 'sweet ringing voice', the 'sound of her footsteps', how she would 'run for that loving embrace' and how 'Kindness was writ on her innocent face'.  Her 'playmates' weep for her …   She is 'with her Maker'.  A third stanza proceeds in similar vein - 'To injure that baby, his heart was of stone' … why 'cause her alarm', the 'poor little darling', the 'sweet little flower'.  It is hoped that 'he' will soon be punished.  A final stanza is slightly more general: 'We all love our children' although we can never tell what fate has 'in store':
Grim death often steals them, - to
                  plead is in vain,
Oh, sad are our thoughts when our
                  loved ones are slain …
It is hoped that God will 'bless her parents in their grief and strife' and punish the guilty party.

This is not an unsurprising outpouring in terms of sentiment but nothing is said about the actual murder and the piece hardly involves the kind of conventional phraseology of known murder and execution balladry.  Only the form itself remains to remind us of a previous history of composition; but this is in 1902 and it does confirm the way that the form was still being used and, perhaps, this offers a suggestion of its prior importance amongst printers and public alike.

The fourth piece in the booklet, Sentence on Harold Apted, second in historical time sequence, holds its inherited form and language even more clearly but, in this case, with more easily recognisable features from earlier broadside balladry.  The tune suggested is Just before the battle, Mother:

In a prison cell dejected
      A wretched Convict now does lie,
For a cruel crime of murder,
      On the scaffold due to die …
The name of the murderer was 'Harold Apted' and he should now pray for his soul.  A chorus insists that he is now in his 'Condemned Cell' and 'crying' to God for mercy.  A second stanza recounts how Frances O'Rourke was 'cruelly' murdered (the epithets are, clearly, limited), how the hope is that her 'precious soul' is in heaven and how the 'Holy Book' has 'plainly' said that he who sheds the blood of another shall have his own blood shed.

There is a reversion to the narrative of events, how Apted was brought up at 'the last assizes held at Maidstone' and how the jury found Apted guilty and the judge had pronounced the 'awful' sentence of death.  A fourth stanza insists that Apted, for whom the 'solemn bell will toll', should try to make peace with 'heaven'; and, finally:

Young and old pray take a warning,
      To murderous passions do not give way,
For if you do you will repent it
      On your last and dying day.
The piece is, then, well within familiar convention, ending, predictably enough, before execution.

On the same page and under the same title there is another ballad, the tune suggested this time being Railway Train.  More or less all of the case is covered, beginning:

Listen old and young as well, a story I will tell,
Near Tonbridge there was done a dreadful deed,
It was on New Years Eve, we have reason to
A little girl was murdered, so we read …
We note the opening phrase, similar to those in what we are now able to call older balladry 5not that much older); and the distancing.  A chorus jumps the gun somewhat:
Upon the scaffold high, Harold Apted you must
For the wicked deed that you have done,
For the crime you did that day,
With your life you'll have to pay
And very soon you'll go to Kingdom Come.
The rest of the ballad recounts the finding of the body - ' … oh, what a shocking sight!'; the tracing of the murderer through the circumstantial testimonies of neighbours; the appearance of a pocket knife with which the deed was supposedly done; and there is a reference to the pond in which her body had lain.  In the following lines, the presence of a knife in 'her hair' contradicts the information given previously that the knife was found, simply, near the body (but, according to a Times report, turns out to be true8).
Oh!  what a scene of strife!  In her hair they
                  found the knife,
'Tis said he violated her as well.
What a wretch he must have been!  Dreadful was
                  the scene
What little Frances suffered none can tell.
Again there is a certain distancing in the use of the phrase ''Tis said'.  Then, it is hoped that God will help the parents.  Frances' 'little playmates' will 'shed a tear'. 

A final stanza records how Apted was found, how the jury agreed 'that he must guilty be' and how the judge passed sentence.  The last two lines slip into a less serious mode:

And now he's gone in fright, Old Nick has got him
And he'll take him top a warm shop down below.
If nothing else the character of the piece underlines the change in the language of balladry that was taking place during the latter years of the century, slipping into a contemporary vernacular; with just a few echoes (the epithet 'wretch', for example) of an earlier - though not much earlier - period.

A fourth piece resurrects a more familiar ballad form somewhat (to the tune of Old Clothing).

The Tonbridge Tragedy it is ended,
      The Murderer now has met his fate;
None can escape God's justice,
      Must come either soon or late,
It was a fearful death to suffer,
      To die in shame and misery,
And Harold Apted had to stand
      Upon the fatal gallows tree.
A four-line chorus tells us that Apted was hanged on March 18th and the he now lies in a 'murderer's tomb'.  A second stanza suggests that there was 'Never such a cruel murder', a name, Fubes, is given, as that of the person who actually discovered the body of Frances O'Rourke, the murderer now goes to the scaffold, and Frances O'Rourke's 'soul is now in heaven' - the murderer, by contrast, inhabits 'the shades below'.

The next stanza describes the day of execution, when Apted passed 'through the cheerful morning air' to the scaffold, 'an object of despair', 'And the drop he trembling trod'.  A fourth stanza reverts to the ending of his trial and how 'The worthy Chaplain' begged Apted to 'make his peace on high'?  Apted's purported words are then recorded:

“ (sic) May God protect my dear relations,
      And Heaven receive my guilty soul.
Some of the features of earlier balladry can thus be found; the ever-present 'justice' of God (always conveniently the same as earthly justice, of course); Apted's (supposed) final appeal to the same under the encouragement of the Chaplain.  We also note that this is the only ballad in the whole of the Gressenhall batch that mentions the 'fatal tree', proof that earlier balladry or at least expressions associated with execution were held somewhere in the recesses of the current printer's mind.  On the other hand, the details of the murder are not recounted.  The time sequence is adjusted.  There is no warning to others nor a confession.9  The links with previous balladry are becoming soluble.

A fifth ballad reverses the process once again although it is not suggested that this sequence was planned - type-face is varied between this ballad and the one just described.  Here, under the same title as the previous ballad, Execution of Harold Apted, the ballad (the suggested tune is I'll be your Sweetheart) begins, rather surprisingly, as follows:

Oh, Harold Apted, bonny we shall miss you,
      Old bogey's waiting for you down below,
And all the little devils they will kiss you,
      And what you're there for they will let you know,
For taking that dear baby's life away,
The penalty of law you'll have to pay.
A chorus is, likewise, a touch frivolous, although this seems to have been because whoever penned the piece knew Apted's life more intimately than any 'official' reporter: 'Good bye old Dobbin you won't drive a van any more' and 'Farewell for ever to your chums on earth'.

Similarly, in a second stanza:

You'll see that fat old vixen Mother Dyer,
      Playing cards along with Charlie Peace,
And all the devil imps stuck round the fire,
      Eating whelks and frying bread and cheese … 10
Even when Apted is meant to have heard the 'bell a-tolling':
      What must have been his feelings on the hop,
I reckon he felt like a ship a-rolling
      I wonder how he liked the hangman's drop …
Finally, the piece bids farewell 'to all your tricks and all your rambling' and 'Farewell to all your rabbits and your knives'; to Apted's 'gee-gees' and, then, 'to all your taking children's lives' …  The whole tone is alien to our previously encountered conventions. 

In this set of ballads we note, in particular, that each ballad is an entity: without the support of prose accounts as they had been in many Norfolk ballads (and, indeed, elsewhere).

The last ballads of all in the Gressenhall cache to be considered are about Crippen.11  The story of Hawley Harvey Crippen is well-enough known.  He was actually born in America (September 11th 1862) and, after marrying once, married again - one Kunlgunde Mackamotski, who normally went under her stage name of Belle Elmore - and came to Britain in 1900 as a kind of homeopathic doctor although, because his American qualifications did not allow him obtain a full post, took in lodgers to supplement income.  Belle Elmore, a mediocre singer by all accounts, disappeared in 1910 having nagged and henpecked Crippen, turning him to the embraces of other women including his then secretary Ethel le Neve.  Belle Elmore herself is reputed to have enjoyed flirting with other men.

Crippen, at any rate, gave out that Belle had returned to the States and had died in California.  Ethel le Neve then moved into Crippen's house at Hilldrop Crescent, Holloway.  The police had searched the house but found nothing.  However, Crippen and Ethel le Neve had panicked, fled to Brussels and then set off for Canada from Antwerp, with Ethel disguised as a boy.  The police conducted a second search in Holloway and eventually Belle Elmore's body, disembowelled and mutilated, was discovered in the cellar there and traces of poison found in her blood. 

The captain of the vessel on which Crippen and Ethel le Neve were sailing became, in any case, suspicious of the curious relationship between Crippen and this 'boy' and sent a wireless telegram to the police in England to this effect whereupon an Inspector Dew also sailed for Canada on a faster ship and confronted Crippen.  This wireless communication was the first of its kind.

Crippen was arrested; both he and Ethel le Neve were tried - separately - and she was acquitted whilst he was found guilty of murder and hanged on November 23rd in Pentonville prison.  These are the bones of the story although there are several interesting aspects of the case in terms of criminal justice and there was even dispute over whether Crippen did murder his wife, one view inclining to suggest that he had aided his wife with medicine and accidentally given an overdose.

The ballads appear in the four-page booklet form as described above and are set along with a prose account that gives a run-down of Crippen's history, noting his birth-date, and concentrating on his relationship with Belle Elmore.  When, according to this prose account, he took up with 'Miss Le Neve', Crippen admitted that 'So far as I know' his first companion 'did not die, but is still alive'.  He thought that she had gone to live with a Bruce Miller with whom she had conducted a long relationship.  The Miss Le Nevre 'was then 'living with me as my wife'. 

Miss le Nevre herself subsequently offered the information that Crippen had first told her his wife was dead - and then had said that she had gone to America.  Here the account ends and the first of the ballads appears: Execution of Dr.  Crippen, obviously not the first possible ballad in any sequence.  A second ballad, for example, covers the deeds of Crippen.  A third dwells, once again, on his execution.  A fourth is a kind of gloss on Crippen's career.  A fifth returns us to the execution.

We take the second and fourth ballads as starting-points.  The title of the second ballad, The Naughty Doctor, immediately sets a tone that is less than entirely serious and this is compounded by the suggestion of Yip-I-addy-I-ay as tune.  The text is, likewise, relatively light in expression.  Crippen is shown to have put his 'dear wife' underground and then:

… he hooked it away from us all one fine day,
      With his dear little typewriter too,
And they had a nice chase to find his sweet face,
      Soon right over the ocean he flew.
A chorus follows:
Crippen, my laddie, they'll make you pay,
      Whatever made you run away?
And pop off with your lover right over the sea,
      Dressed as a boy, and so smart was she.
Soon the piper you'll have to pay, hooray,
      They'll give you some physic one day,
At a end (sic) of a string, some day you might sing,
There are two more stanzas, the first noting how 'this artful gay feller' put bodies (described merely as ''em') under the bricks of his coal cellar; and then how he 'bunked off from France into Spain' and, further, how 'him and Ethel, they boarded a vessel' in order to 'bunk off to Canada's shore'.  The captain evidently aided the authorities 'To send him to England once more'.  And that is all.  The details of murders are quite overlooked … the nature of the crimes almost ignored.  The piece, it may be added, was written by James Lauri who had made his appearance in one of the Apted ballads described above.

The fourth ballad, another by James Lauri, is set to the tune Nelly Dean which, in hindsight, is another perhaps less than appropriate association.  The text is, all the same, reasonably serious in tone although we might suspect a certain lowering of intention and quality in lines such as those that conclude the first stanza, itself concentrating on a crime that 'has caused a feeling sad and drear':

His heart to her grew cold and her grief remains untold
      Then to the world's surprise, poor Cora disappears.
A chorus maintains this level of communication:
He left you for another, Cora dear,
      He took your life for her, Cora dear,
In your grave you now lay low,
      He'll be punished as we know,
For the harm he did to you, my Cora dear.
A second stanza recalls 'the day we missed you, Cora dear', and how 'We' wondered 'what caused you to disappear'; although 'You're sleeping now on high, our hearts still heave a sigh' for happy days that have 'gone by' ('Cora dear').  That repeated 'Cora dear', in the long run, offers convenience of rhyme and expression rather than telling observation.  A third stanza is no different: 'We all know his wicked motive, Cora dear” and, further, 'for another', Crippen was 'tempted to slay'.  Cora now is 'On yonder shore' where 'All the angels watch they're keeping, Cora dear'.  She, 'Poor darling', had been slain and he will be 'punished'.

The remaining three ballads centre on Crippen's execution, the first being anonymous, the second and third from named authors, H Poulson from Newcastle-on-Tyne, and a Frank Barrett.  The anonymous piece, set to the tune Girl I left behind me (at once a little jolly, one might think), begins as follows:

They've found Crippen guilty, and
      For that they'll make him suffer,
For the murder of his darling wide,
      He killed her after supper …
- not promising in respect of appropriate expression.  It continues in a way that assumes quite close knowledge of events:
That's what his sweethearts (sic) done for
      But after all he blessed her,
He made her fly a blooming kite,
      And like a boy he dressed her.
The chorus quite compounds the lighthearted tone:
Poor old Crippens (sic) gone to sleep,
      We all know where to find him,
He said good-bye and piped his eye,
      For the girl he left behind him.
And so it goes on, wondering what might have happened if Crippen had not been caught - presumably 'some little Crippens' would have emerged.  If, of course, one had him in sight, then:
We'd lay him on his darby kell
      And tell the girls to kick him.
However, he had 'gone below' with 'mother Dyer' where he would see 'the old Chapman too', 'Poking up the fire' together with whom 'they'd have some jolly fun' and - it looks as if the reference is to 'mother Dyer' herself:
She'll tickle Crippen's fancy and
      She'll love him swelp me never.
Finally, 'we'll bid 'em all adieu'.  Crippen will miss his 'Christmas Party' because they would all (below) be 'Doing the lock step' together.  So:
Good bye you naughty doctor now,
      You're down among the sinners,
They'll find you such a nobby job,
      Serving up the dinners.
It is always difficult to take such stuff seriously without making rather pompous comparisons with High Art poetry and with such a distance between apprehension now and what would have been a closer understanding of how the vernacular was working at the time.  Perhaps such a rumbustious approach was well suited to incomprehensible horrors.  Yet, at the same time, Poulson's contribution is more familiar, even suggesting quite close acquaintance with previous ballad conventions.  Thus,
In Pentonville's grim Jail in the Condemned Cell,
      A man is sitting in the morning's gloom;
Swift the moments fly, the hour is drawing nigh,
      When he must go to the Scaffold and his doom …
Crippen has killed his wife - a 'cruel tragedy' - 'And to all must bid a last farewell'.  A chorus confirms the tone of relative seriousness:
Oh, the passing bell is tolling, while the clergyman is
      For mercy for just one departing life;
Then the fatal bolt is drawn and Crippen has atoned
      For the cruel and cowardly murder of his wife.
A second stanza reviews the case: how Crippen was convicted of his crime, 'cruelest of our time' (sic); how he was sentenced to die; made an appeal; but was justly condemned.  It is noted that he had 'showed the greatest skill' in the killing; had thought not to have left any trace of guilt; had fled overseas with another woman; but was still in reach of 'the long arm of the Law'. 
Then a key grates in the door, and the murder of
                        poor Belle Elmore
Is seized with fear, his time had come he knew …
and 'with a solemn tread' Crippen is led to the scaffold where, after a last look at the sky, 'the poisoner, Dr.  Crippen is no more'.  The tune suggested was Where the sunset turns the ocean blue to gold, at first glance something of an ironic choice.

Frank Barrett's piece - set to Topics of the Day - eventually falls back on rather feeble jollity.  It begins:

It was a London murder as filled us full of woe,
      And how some people do these deeds we really do not know …
The motive must only have been that of 'gold and lustful gains'.  Now:
Naughty Dr.  Crippen he married a young wife,
      And tired of her he must have been, so he took away her
Belle Elmore was an actress one of wondrous fame
      Sly old Dr.  Crippen he was very much to blame.
A chorus yet again uses the word 'naughty' to describe Crippen - 'they have hung you I believe'.  'You' had 'fancied' Miss Le Neve, but the jury 'found you guilty' and 'With the hangman's rope around your neck he gave you your last drop'. Again, too, certain details of the case are paraded.  No doubt Crippen had thought himself clever although he 'trembled' when the search for his wife began.  'She had died in Calefornia (sic)' - at least 'that's what old Crippen said' although 'he knew' that she lay dead in his cellar.  One of his wife's 'best friends', a Mr Nash, even went to 'Calefornia' to find her (this is true enough) but on his failing to find a death certificate, an inspector Dew was sent out and captured both Crippen and Miss Le Neve.  A third stanza offers more detail:
When he found he was suspected, his mind it did annoy,
      So he bolted off to Canada, with Le Neve dressed as
                        a boy;
With a pocket full of safety pins they quickly sailed
      But Miss le Neve was awkward and she gave the
                        game away …
The captain and Steward guessed the truth that Le Neve was 'a Miss' even when 'sly old Dr; Crippen' would 'throw her many a kiss'.  Le Neve - the ballad says - could not bear to wear trousers but preferred a skirt.  So - the ballad jumping forward a bit - 'At the late Assizes, old Crippen he was tried' and, whilst Le Neve got off 'scot free' since 'learned counsel' had no evidence to show her complicity in the murder, Crippen 'on the scaffold he has died'.

Even though the piece was entitled Execution of Dr. Crippen, it could hardly be said to dwell on the latter, as Poulson's piece had done.  It is altogether more perfunctory, very much in keeping with what seems to have been a new tone in balladry already discussed.


In sum, the particular cache has revealed how changes in ballad expression were coming into prominence, perhaps - bearing in mind how complex a thing such changes are at any period - the consequence of a newer morality attendant on mass newspaper circulation.  It must be emphasised that we are dealing only with murder and execution ballads and that any change in a wider range of material has yet to be properly assessed.  But the Gressenhall repository can be viewed as an important source for the study of ballads albeit that the particular selection here (the most of the whole Gressenhall repository, it has to be said) might only reveal a donor's special interest rather than offering a comprehensive account of ballad survival.  And, certainly, the older ballad world of well-worn phraseology can be seen to be slipping away; itself a legacy of a yet older set of circumstances that, in its expression, even during the first half of the nineteenth century, was somewhat old-fashioned.  The mere fact of survival of means, though - the production of ballads themselves at such a late date - bespeaks a lingering familiarity in affection and belief that printers were happy to exploit. 

We might add that its Norfolk aspects can be seen to be in keeping with those ballads discussed in the two previous articles in this series and that, therefore, the collections as a whole reinforce each other and their continuous activation of ballad form.

There is now a wider context too.  The majority of the Gressenhall cache was issued at a time when public hanging had ceased, after 1868.  The psychology of ensuing comment by ballad-makers and newspapers is, therefore, under scrutiny.  What was it, finally, that appears to have led such commentators first to continue but then to abandon time-honoured conventions of presentation?  Was it, for instance, the specific absence of public spectacle that allowed the liberties of facetious and even scurrilous language use as the victims of the rope became distanced from contact, the supposed retribution also removed: a possibility that a hanged figure came to represent not actual, struggling, terrified human beings but bogeys, caricatures, mere ciphers; that conscience had, indeed, made cowards of both perpetrators of execution and of printers?  Was it, perhaps, a reflection of a decline in overt religious condemnation, so absolute over the most part of the nineteenth century, and the substitution of a more opportunistic approach to events?  We might interject here to note the unmistakeable entry into view of what we now know of as the 'serial killer' but it does not seem as if attention in ballad form as we have it in this cache introduced any concomitant concepts or standpoints.  Our concern, in any case, is primarily with the changes in language use itself although, inevitably, this must have been a result of changes in sensibility.  Ballad form, whilst prolonged in usage, clearly began to yield its position of close proximity to the hopes, fears and education of a populace once overwhelmingly illiterate and very much dependent, outside its own everyday commerce and social cohesion, on independent but paternal agencies for the spread not just of news but of ideas, guiding principles, debate: the squirearchy, the church, latterly the school.  We set against this the long-standing activities of pedlars, hawkers and travelling workers not to mention an individual's predelictions for travel, the continuing need to leave the hearth in order to find work and service in the army and navy.  But the advent of a portrayal of news in digestible form, the emergence, in a phrase, of mass communication, though hardly smooth and all-embracing, could not but produce a changing inter-action.

As pointed out much earlier, these changes in mores deserve careful attention (not within the present writer's immediate capacity) before any comprehensive summary can be assembled.  Meanwhile we can continue to jiggle free the layers of our understanding of the nineteenth century ballad trade.

Roly Brown - 14.5.07
Oradour sur Vayres, France

Appendix: a list of the murders, hangings and other sentences discussed above, all verified as having taken place

1.  Frederick Deeming
2.  Thomas Neil Cream
3.  Harold Apted
4.  Hawley Harvey Crippen
hanged 23/5/1892 Melbourne
hanged 25/11/1892 Newgate
hanged 18/3/1902 Maidstone
hanged 23/11/1910 Pentonville


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