Article MT278

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

No. 39: A Berkshire murder ballad1

To an extent, the following discussion views the murder ballad in question in a position as a peg on which to hang several lines of enquiry.  The attempt is made to see how the ballad fits into a general context of murder balladry - to what extent it mirrors characteristics already explored in articles on this site and, of course, how it differs.  It is hoped that it does not sink under the weight of evidence; and the decision has been taken to keep references in notes to a reasonable minimum and to add an appendix that offers material that can facilitate further exploration.

First: an outline of the particular case is given.  The Newbury Weekly News of Thursday March 15th, 1877 began a report as follows:

Two policemen, Inspector Joseph Drewett and PC Tom Shorter, were on their rounds in a decidedly rural area habitually following a search for those engaged in some alleviation of poverty - principally in the taking of game.

Geographically, Hungerford lies on the south side of the River Kennett.  There are two north-south roads to the east of Hungerford that do not conjoin but lead to and from the A4 at different points (this does not, then, include the main south-north road through Hungerford that 'stops' at the east-west junction with the A4).  One road runs north from the south side of the river through part of Denford, next to Hungerford, and up to the A4; and the second, closer to Hungerford, leads from the A4 up through Eddington to what is now the M4 and beyond to Great Shefford and Wantage.  The murders took place a mile up this road, at a crossroad near to what was and is known as Folly Farm.

On the night in question, Drewett and Shorter were almost stumbled across by the perpetrators who were, indeed, in search of a bird or two and, pertinently, armed with guns - there is no mention of traps of any sort - and do not seem to have been aware that the policemen were in the neighbourhood (or were exceedingly confident that they would not be apprehended) …   With a similar degree of apparent nonchalance, William Tidbury, a brother of the two men involved, Francis and Henry Tidbury, was himself roaming at large with his father-in-law, William Day.  In fact, it was William who had called on his brothers and they 'went out' together.  They met William Day (William Tidbury's father-in-law) at 'Mr Piggott's rickyard', where William Tidbury and William Day stopped 'to do the engine' - where they worked.  Henry Tidbury, in his statement to the police, called this 'putting a plug in the engine'.3

Since the police had suspected William Tidbury of leading a poaching gang it the prospect of a clash was not at all distant.  The law itself was clear enough on the matter of intending poachers, especially those who were carrying firearms during such an affray.  Whether or not there was injury of loss of life the poachers would suffer the most severe fate.  Equally, the carrying of staves was a matter for punishment. 

As events unfolded and as statements were taken, other personnel emerge who help fill in the picture.  According to a later account, William Hedges, keeper of the toll-gate on the turnpike (the A4), saw the brothers walking north just before eight o'clock.4  Newspaper reports indicated that the daughter of a man named Briant (they lived near to Folly Farm in Denford Lane) heard the voices of the Tidbury brothers (Francis and Henry) at around half-past ten.5  Circumstantially, then, the three Tidburys and Day could be placed at the scene of the crime.

The acts of murder seem not to have been premeditated but, rather, a reaction to discovery.  Francis Tidbury's statement of confession, although breathless, gives a vivid picture of what transpired …

… just before we got to the toll bar, the two policemen came up, and Henry run a little way and they came and caught hold of me, and showed a light, then Mr Shorter run after Henry a little way and could not catch him; then Mr Shorter came back and they both caught hold of me; and Henry ran back; the policeman pulled me up to Henry and caught hold of him; we were all struggling together; then Henry's gun went off, I don't know whether he pulled the trigger or not; can't say; Mr Drewett then fell down; then Mr Shorter ran away and Henry ran after him, and I ran after Henry, and when I got to him he had knocked Shorter down, and then I hit him a time or two; I can't say how often I hit him.  I hit him on the head with the barrel of the gun, the one which was not broken; then we went to Mr Drewett and then we hit he, and then we went down Gypsy-lane a little way … 6

Henry Tidbury himself said that:

The impulse for Francis' attack, then, is clouded but his actions were certainly brutal since Drewett's head, according to newspapers reports, had no bone in it unbroken.

The Berkshire Chronicle of Saturday March 17th 1877, gave the information that PC Shorter and Inspector Drewett had been due to meet up on their rounds in the neighbourhood of Denford and that PC Golby, patrolling in Hungerford, thought to see where Drewett had got to.  Golby walked through Eddington Toll Gate (on the A4) and up to 'about eighty yards from the Denford Toll Bar' and:

It might be thought that some of the details must have been communicated by those who examined the bodies - on the spot and after.  We should note that the tobacco-box turned out not to be relevant article of evidence.

In the Hungerford case, underlining a well-known phenomenon, Drewett, according to the Newbury Weekly News report already cited, knew Francis Tidbury - such acquaintance being a feature of other similar crimes as evidenced in ballads about James Rutterford, Bill Brown and the 'Blackburn poachers'.10  Pertinently, in a second statement made in Reading, after his full confession made earlier, Francis Tidbury said that 'just before we got to him Drewett said "Oh Tidbury, don't kill a fellow"'11.

Finally, after the deaths of the policemen, the two perpetrators went home, coolly or not, both insisting that neither of them said anything to anyone.  William Tidbury found out that his brothers had been poaching and, indeed, had committed their crime; but urged them to say nothing.

All four men aforementioned were arrested and eventually brought to trial.  Newspapers only give the confessions of Francis and Henry Tidbury.  The reasons become clear … The Newbury Weekly News began its report of the Assizes as follows:

A plea for a reprieve for Francis, aged twenty at the time13, was organised but turned down.  Francis and Henry Tidbury were hanged in Reading gaol on Monday March 12th 1877.  Two crosses mark the spots where the bodies of the two policemen were found although their positioning does not quite square with the details given in newspaper reports, being closer together than was suggested and, in any case, being sited (in the hedgerow today) where the one that might have marked the spot where PC Shorter's body was found does not obstruct the highway.

Just to add a touch of perspective, we are reminded of the cases of William Graham, James Rutterford and the Albury murderer who killed their discoverers and who were sentenced to death for this crime - and not specifically for the poaching offences themselves although these offences did, of course, compound the killings.14

The bones of the particular case and the verdict in court are, then, clear enough.  However, we should remember that public hanging in England had ended in 1868 and so the execution of the Tidbury brothers took place in what was called the 'Photographing Room' in Reading gaol.  Present were the Chaplain, Marwood the executioner, the Governor and Deputy Governor, a surgeon, the Under Sheriff and several warders.  We read that there was little disturbance - a dozen or so people outside the prison at the beginning of the day, the crowd swelling to around five hundred at the hour of execution, none of the mayhem that might have been found during hangings at an earlier date - particularly during the eighteenth century.  It is also worth recording the executions of Corder (1828), Rush (1849) and the Mannings (1849) as examples of how crowds can be seen to have gathered and behaved.  There are alleged to have been between 7,000 and 20, 000 spectators in Bury St.  Edmunds at the execution of Corder, who had murdered Maria Marten; between 12,000 and 20,000 at the execution of Rush in Norwich (special trains carried people in for the spectacle); and between 30,000 and 50,000 for the execution of the Mannings at Horsemonger Lane in London:

Dickens attended this last and gives a vivid, horrified description of what passed.15  Behaviour was, at the least, undignified, unfeeling and bordering on disturbance if not riot.  We recall, too, the scenes at Nottingham in 1844 when Wiiliam Saville was executed.  Somehow the crowd got out of hand, several people were killed and a score injured.16

In the Hungerford case, the spectacle of execution itself being denied, the public had no immediate access to what transpired except for an often excruciating dwelling on detail in newspapers and then in reports from the inquest and up until after the executions.


To come to the nub of the case: the Newbury Weekly News indicated that:

We know, from study of other executions, that this was a common enough feature even if, at times, we might suspect that the reporter wrote of something that was expected to happen but could not actually be confirmed.  Nonetheless, at least one ballad on the Hungerford murders survives: a product of 'H. Such'.18  Like many other 'murder ballads', it is a somewhat sanctimonious affair and only flirts with actuality.  Well-known devices of suggestion and of piety appear and it looks as if the ballad was produced before the executions were carried out.

The ballad, entitled Brutal Murder in Berkshire, opens with a prose introduction as follows:

At once, a context and a tone are established - the word 'desperate' is key in the latter case.  There being no year-date, we might assume that the ballad was issued quite close to the time of the murders, principally because there is nothing in the ballad to suggest that full proceedings - at the Assizes - had begun; description of the execution of the Tidbury brothers is entirely absent; and the reference in the quotation given above to the Monday surely indicates an appeal to a readership that was being informed about an event that had just taken place.

Indeed, the opening stanza of the ballad does appear to confirm red-hot news (my italics):

There follows a chorus:

How the balladeer knew that the bodies were cold and that the policemen had had their brains beaten out whilst they lay on the ground suggests a leap of imagination or a close acquaintance with the process of examination by the police.

Whatever the case, there are lines that have a familiar ring, playing on the sentiments of the reader:

very much a journalistic trick as can be witnessed in James Broadhurst's piece on Catherine Foster (executed in 1847):

And feelings are played on further.  Such murders, says the ballad, escape 'an Englishman's love of fair play'.  There are similar sentiments (as example) in The Shocking Murder at Bayswater:

In the Hungerford ballad, the point in newspaper reports about the victims being beaten on the ground is made; pools of blood lay around; no chance of defence by the victims was possible; and 'The unequal struggle soon came to an end'.

We are used to such hyperbole; and the narrative here is stretched out but thinly.  A date, 'the 11th of December', is given - apparently 'a dark gloomy night'; the police spread the alarm; much sympathy was shown for the dead; four men were taken 'with blood on their clothes' (oddly, according to reports, whilst blood appears to have actually been found on the clothes of Francis and William Tidbury and William Day, none could be found on those of Henry Tidbury).  That is really all the detail given about the crime itself: dribs and drabs and hardly consecutively.

There is some self-congratulation:

And there is another familiar gesture (my italics):

In this latter respect, MT articles 156, Tawell the Quaker, and 157, Constance Kent and the Road Murder surveyed other ballads that offer examples of the particular feature of second-hand reporting - and some details are given below in the Appendix.

In the Hungerford ballad, to speculation and a shifting of responsibility we can add more (seemingly) self-satisfied padding:

This is characteristic of the simplistic moral tone adopted by murder ballads.  For example, in the 1877 ballad Execution of H.  March The Wymondham Murderer (incidentally, another case where a victim was beaten to death, this time 'with a bar of iron'), the final stanza reads:

Whatever the circumstances of particular murders, ballads seem to perpetuate a similar kind of comment (see Appendix).

Lest the Hungerford ballad be overwhelmed in this spreading discussion: we note that, as it develops, we revert, briefly, to fact - 'Four men are charged with this crime' - before there is a jump once more to opinion and, indeed, condemnation:

and, finally:

The echoes of hope, like those of moral judgement, as found in other ballads, are unmistakeable.


The kind of dissection as evidenced here, easy enough in retrospect, is, nonetheless, useful as a way of seeing how the particular ballad lies in the context of other such ballads: what features are consistent and what features are altered.  In one way, this is to digress …   In the Hungerford case there are no extracts from confessions, for instance.  There are no full appeals to God's mercy although there is a certain religiose aspect.  The murderers do not indulge in self-flagellation in verbal terms - in the Hungerford case, we have not got to a point where the Assize verdict may have prompted this. 

But these features are found in other murder balladry and would appear to reflect expectation engendered by the composers of the ballads within a contemporary set of mores.  For example, an appeal to God's mercy is found in ballads that concern Charlotte Yaxley (1841), Catherine Foster (1847), Thomas Sturley (sentenced to death in 1848), and William Thompson (1854).25  Further, we are treated to a degree of verbal self-flagellation on the part of the perpetrator - again in the Sturley case and then in a Harkness ballad on the fate of Catherine Foster and then, this time more in the nature of straightforward (sic?) remorse, in Robert Walker's piece on Richard Knockolds (1824).26

Nor were printers averse to giving advice and making judgement as Robert Walker's piece on John Self (executed in 1841) exemplifies.  It begins thus …

… and ends as follows:

As regards confessions, The Last Moments and Confessions of Wm.  Sheward offers a ballad example:

There are lines that seem to act like a chorus, beginning, 'With the dreadful knife I slew my wife'.  The rest of the ballad is something of a detailed description of the deed interspersed with remorse.28

Thus, the evidence, if not always exactly paralleled in each case, nevertheless stacks up so as to indicate characteristic ways amongst printers of presenting ballads.

If, considering the evidence given immediately above, the Hungerford ballad does not exactly conform, there are still enough details to set it firmly within the context of conventional murder ballad production as it existed throughout the nineteenth century where the whole moral tone, the skirting with actuality and the pious hopes are all demonstrated …

To bring us back to the starting-point, though: we should note Robert Walker's piece on the execution of John Self in Norwich in 1841 (my italics), where we find the following lines:

The Newbury Weekly News, then, as shown above, was using the same terms in connection with the Hungerford murders some twenty-odd years later.

There are still one or two more details to consider.  Thus, the tune that was suggested - Driven from Home … relates to a popular piece - with the same textual scansion - written by Will S.  Hays and published on Broadway (New York) in 1868.  In itself, such a transfer from America to British broadside balladry contrast vividly with the situation during earlier periods when even older British songs were referred to as source for a tune in later broadside balladry, a well enough known phenomenon.  Two examples will suffice: Chevy Chase, for instance, was once a favourite; and many ballad texts cite Derry Down.  Most references to these tunes, it is true, involve ballads printed before the nineteenth century.30  Conversely, during the latter part of the nineteenth century many murder ballads - such as those that feature in discussion in the Gressenhall cache (MT articles 203 and 205) - use more or less contemporary tunes - we note Just before the battle, mother used for a ballad on the Apted murder (Harold Apted was hanged in 1902); Teddy O'Neale in a ballad about the Cream murders (Cream, known also as Neill, was hanged in 1892); and Nelly Dean and Yip I addy I ay for ballads about Crippen (hanged in 1910).  These tunes are but examples.  We should not, of course, ignore one Crippen ballad that used The Girl I Left Behind Me for a tune but it does seem that, in general, latecomers in the ballad stakes, at the latter end of the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth, did tend to use newer tunes.

This is surely an area worth exploration.

Then, too, there would be much useful indication of 'kind' in respect of ballads (roughly speaking: murder ballads, shipwreck ballads, country idylls and so on) in a careful perusal of text and the embedded images and archetypes.  This, probably, is most useful where ballads that, as Mayhew put it, were composed 'of a subject'.  In terms of hierarchy, 'Next to murders', apparently, 'fires are tidy browns … '31  There is much other ephemeral stuff that, perhaps, does not merit such attention except as it reveals how printers continuously dipped into the works of minor poets and other scribblers and into the realms of past-times such as theatre-going, in the latter case playing on the popularity of current 'numbers'.

Concentration on 'kind', especially in the detailed male-up of balladry, does show that ballad printers did differ in the emphases they placed on certain areas of production.  Current work on Walker in Norwich and Fowler in Salisbury is helping to reveal such differences; and one also notes those northern English printers who included ballads on local sports such as wrestling and hunting-on-foot: Stewart of Carlisle, for instance with items such as A New Song Called the Bolton Fox Hunt Westmorland; A New Song in Praise of Halliwell (a wrestler) and The Wrestlers' Delight.  This kind of ballad is not found in the stock of southern English printers.  However, some printers in the south-west of England, as described in previous articles about printers in Devon and Cornwall, included a fair amount of 'religious' balladry in their stock.  Walker, in Norwich, dwelt for a long period on local election material.  With this in mind, the study of individual printers is always worthwhile to set against generalisations - the idea, for instance, of a sort of national stock, valid in many respects but not necessarily wholesale.32

There is one more point to be made.  The date of issue of the ballad, 1877, indicates that Such was still printing - and, as far as can be ascertained, there is as yet no date available that tells us when he ceased to issue ballads.  Such did not die - one notes - until 1882 and Steve Roud has made it clear that the family firm continued to function into the twentieth century.33

So - as far as the relationship between the Hungerford ballad and others of the same kind it is clear that vocabulary and imagery offer indications of the overall processes of composition with which we are familiar throughout the nineteenth century where - not to repeat too much - there is little regard for the specific details of events and more an appeal to the imagination.  The relationships between ballad-maker, printer and the public - the whole complex of event and then composition of a ballad and its dissemination are still proved to be - in 1877 - a valid way of marking and communicating an event as far as printers were concerned and where a public was involved.  Such processes appeared at an even later date, up into the twentieth century - the well-known examples of ballads about Crippen come to mind immediately.  There had, as yet, been no permanent substitute for the process of ballad-making and of public distribution of ballads.

It is noticeable, too, that printers adhered to conventional morality where murder was concerned - there was no questioning of the sequence of offence, condemnation and retribution.  There was an acceptance of the order of things amongst printers and the public alike - to the extent that ballads in a rush for commercial benefits sometimes got it wrong and either events did not quite turn out as might be expected or, more often, bets were very much hedged.  Thus, as in the case of the Hungerford ballad, a particular piece did not necessarily take into account trial proceedings and sentencing. 

Quite a lot, then, can be gleaned from and suggested by even a single ballad.  It remains to consider other single ballads that can contribute to the sum as well as to look at the whole output of a particular printer in order to find both similarities with others and distinctive approaches - some articles are in preparation.

Roly Brown - 30.1.13
Oradour sur Vayres, France


A number of possible themes have been opened up in the discussion above and there are a host of references that could have been added to the main text.  However, it was thought best to try to keep the import of the main text as focussed as possible so that, whilst some references have been included in footnotes, there follows, even as a slightly clumsy device, additional material …

Picking up, firstly, on the puzzle over how the Hungerford ballad was not included in the Such catalogue (as described in text), we note his printing of The Dreadful Murder of Emma Coppins (Bodleian Allegro archive as Firth c. 17(183) and dating from 1859; and The Somerset Tragedy, a ballad on the Road murder of 1860 involving Constance Kent (noted elsewhere in this article).  Both these were issued from 123 Union Street, London, where Such worked between 1850 and 1863.  Lines on the Sad Fate of Frederick Wm. Horry … dates from 1872 (I regret that, although the copy is real enough, I cannot place it in source … There is, by the way, a different ballad on the same murder in the Bodleian Allegro archive as Harding B 14(225), n.i.).  Such also printed The Murder of Harriet Lane (Bodleian Allegro archive as Firth c. 17(181a), the murder having taken place in 1875); Murder at Cambridge (Bodleian Allegro archive as Harding B 14(187) and printed in 1876 - this ballad uses the same tune as the Hungerford ballad does: Driven from Home); and Horrible Murder at Nantwich, (1879) - available on-line (Google the title).  These last three ballads were issued from 177 Union Street, despite their absence from the Such catalogue.  Add them to the two pieces that emerged from 123 Union Street and the puzzle is compounded.

Secondly, another small puzzle about printing has been exposed.  Execution of the Purfleet Murderer and Execution of the Purfleet murderer at Springfield Gaol, both Harkness printings, numbered consecutively as 1082 and 1083, are dated 1875 in the Bodleian Allegro archive.  In fact, Coates was executed in 1851.  Further, the two tunes given on the Harkness ballads are Just before the battle, mother and then Driven from Home (the same as for the Hungerford ballad) and we know that Just before the battle mother was not published until 1862 (a George Root composition from America) and that Driven from Home was not published until 1868 (main text above).  It may well be a case of massive retrospection on the part of Harkness; but it may also be possible that the Bodleian datings were wrong.  So far, this is an unresolved conundrum but the general evidence amongst murder ballads is that it was rarely worth a printer's while to revisit a scene years after public interest had declined.

In view of such an anomaly, as it was argued in text, it must be worthwhile to look carefully at each and every printer's career where information is sometimes confusing or lacking.

Turning once more to the content of pieces that help set the Hungerford ballad in context: there are several areas of imagery, tone and comment where a wealth of material is available for comparison.  Thus, when considering the kinds of moral judgements that are made in murder balladry - and using as a starting-point both the Hungerford ballad and Execution of H March (as referenced in the main body of this article) it must be emphasised that this moral judgement extended through all the range of murder ballads, whether concerned with rage, jealousy - or whatever.  In a ballad already referred to, Shocking Murder Of A Young Woman Near Russell Square (Clara Bruton, 1872 - the ballad is found in the Bodleian Allegro archive as Firth c. 17(92), n.i.), the opening lines confirm the kinds of appeal made to a readership:

Just as conventionally, the piece concludes:

In Shocking Murder In Gloucestershire, A Young Woman shot by her sweetheart (see the Bodleian Allegro archive as Harding B 14(192) - the ballad, unattributed, dates from 1874), there is a similar opening to the one quoted in the main text, viz:

The ending is equally severe:

In a completely different set of circumstances, in a ballad dating from 1877, Horrible case of Child Starvation at Sunderland (see the Bodleian Allegro archive as Harding B 14(242), unattributed), we note the final condemnation of the perpetrators, John Moss and his 'paramoor':

Thus there are echoes between phrases and sentiments from elsewhere and in the Hungerford ballad.  It is a similar phenomenon in a ballad that concerned a murder of five-years-old Edith Jeal at Kemp Town, Brighton in 1891 (see the Bodleian Allegro archive as Harding B 12(202)).  This piece was written, it is proclaimed, by one C F Brown who - and this gives the ballad a fascinating twist - has adopted ballad style absolutely as the beginning demonstrates - 'Come listen to my painful story'; and later - with a familiar assertion:

And there is a fierce moral verdict and sententious hope:

C F Brown may well have been representative of numbers of composers of ballads and this adds to the relatively scant evidence of the lives of ballad-writers - John Morgan, who wrote for Catnach, offers one of the best examples (see Leslie Sheppard's book on John Pitts, published in London by the Private Libraries Association in 1969 - p.46).  The Jeal ballad, incidentally, was printed by West, an otherwise obscure printer, in Brighton.

Another area for consideration is the extent to which ballads render a second-hand perspective as exemplified in, say, a ballad on the murder of Clara Bruton (1872) in which the following lines appeared (my italics):

Further, the phrase 'as we may hear' occurs in Horrid Murder Of A Gentleman … (Briggs, 1864); 'as we hear' in Lamentation of John Jones (1870); and 'so we hear' in Lines on the Fearful Murder near Burslem (of Eliza Bloor, 1878) … And then we find in Murder in Park Lane (Wainwright, 1875):

In MT article 157, Constance Kent, the subject of the article, we learn from a ballad (1865), was confined 'in a convent, close to Brighton, in the pages as we read'.  The Horrid Murder at Purfleet, discussed in the same article, contains the phrase 'as they say'.

The slight of hand evidenced is not confined to murder balladry.  See, for instance, the MT Enthusiasms article 49 that concerns the sinking of the pleasure steamer Princess Alice, where, in the course of the ballad we find 'So appalling a tale the papers they tell' (my italics).

Thirdly in this summary, appeals for mercy from on high and what has been termed 'self-flagellation' are rife amongst murder ballads and to those mentioned in text above, we can add A Copy Of Verses On F R Courvoisier to the tune Waggon Train ... - a popular one for all kinds of songs and, in respect of murder ballads, found, amongst others, for Execution of Mary Ann Cotton (Bodleian Allegro archive as Firth c. 17(98), n.i.) and in two Hodges printings - Life Trial Sentence and Last Farewell to the world of Anne Merritt (Bodleian Allegro archive as Johnson Ballads 548): Anne Merritt was executed in 1850; and Sarah Chesham's Lament … (Bodleian Allegro archive as Firth b.  25(406): the execution took place in 1851.  An appeal for mercy can be found in Sentence of John Aspinall Simpson … (Bodleian Allegro archive as Harding B 12(177, a case from 1881, n.i.):

and again, if indirectly (my italics), in Lines on the Sad Fate of Frederick Wm.  Horry (Bodleian Allegro archive as Harding B 14(225), n.i.), executed at Lincoln in 1872 for the murder of his (faithless) wife:

For 'self-flagellation', we might refer, as instance, to The Life Trial and Execution of Alex Richmond … (Bodleian Allegro archive as Firth c. 17(252), n.i.).  Richmond was executed in 1834.  Reference may also be made to a group of mid-century ballads: to Copy of Verses on Drory and Jael Denny (1851 - a Hodges printing in the Madden collection Reel 78, Number 72); Execution of Sarah Chesham (1851 - Hodges again: in the Bodleian Allegro archive as Johnson Ballads 498); The Life and Trial of Palmer (1856 - Bodleian Allegro archive as Firth b.  27(292), n.i.); The Lamentation of Dr Smethurst (1859 - a piece from Disley in the Bodleian Allegro archive as Johnson Ballads 317; Verses on the Condemnation of Franz Muller (1864 - from Fortey in the Bodleian Allegro archive as Johnson Ballads 447); and so on … Text follows very much in the line of those extended examples given above as three more extracts confirm.  The first is from the Richmond ballad:

- to which we may add more lines from another ballad on the same case (Bodleian Allegro archive as Firth c. 17(253:

The third extract is from the Smethurst ballad and is quite a forceful admission:

Where confessions are concerned, one is cited as it is in the case of Robert Lane's piece on the execution of John Stratford (1829 - found in the Colman collection in the Millenium library, Norwich) … In Execution Of The Purfleet Murderer (Richard Coates, 1851) we find

The Coates ballad can be found in the Bodleian Allegro archive as Harding B 14(184).

In the Sturley case in Norfolk a different set of circumstances emerged.  There is a broadside (found in the Colman collection in the Millenium library, Norwich) entitled The Trial Confession and Lamentation of Thomas A Sturley 'For wilfully shooting at his Uncle Samuel Page' (1848) - a mixture of prose summary and a ballad as was often the case in both Norfolk printings and those from elsewhere.  The judge did 'pass upon you the extreme sentence of the law'.  And there can be no mistaking the import of the ballad:

Indeed, 'For mercy now I hourly sue'.  However, Sturley was not hanged.  There is a whole sequence of subsequent events (being worked on currently) that remind us, at the least, not to take ballads (or, indeed, newspaper reports) at face value … This was the case with William Graham, poacher (examined in MT article 194), where a whole life for Graham can be traced from after the murder in which he was principal.

Lastly, in respect of tunes and Chappell's contribution, in Vol.  II of Popular Music … (p.  677) he notes that George Alexander Stephens (a popular enough writer during the eighteenth century and probably most known for 'Cease, rude Boreas … ', sometimes known as The Storm (which appears on several ballad sheets), used a Derry Down tune for his poem Liberty Hall which, as it happens, is also in the stock of Fowler, an eighteenth century printer in Salisbury - along with Wonderful Old Woman, The sweethearts and Moll Thompson's Mark set to the same tune … all this as an indication of how printers took it up.  In respect of Derry Down, we might even think that a phrase is being referred to as a reference point, a conjuring of memory and habit, rather than that a particular tune was being offered for use.


Article MT278

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