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> Martin Carthy > Songs > Bruton Town
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> Tony Rose > Songs > The Murdered Servantman
> Bellowhead > Songs > Bruton Town

The Bramble Briar / Bruton Town / The Murdered Servantman

[ Roud 18 ; Laws M32 ; Ballad Index LM32 ; trad.]

Bruton Town is a version of the story Isabella and the Pot of Basil, made famous by Boccaccio in The Decameron, but the ballad obviously draws on popular tradition since then. It is also known as The Bramble Briar, The Jealous Brothers, The Merchant's Daughter, and The Murdered Servantman, and can be found in 100 English Songs, edited by Cecil Sharp who collected it in 1904.

A.L. Lloyd sang The Bramble Briar in 1956 on his and Ewan MacColl's Riverside anthology Great British Ballads Not Included in the Child Collection. His songs from this series were reissued in 2011 on his Fellside anthology Bramble Briars and Beams of the Sun.

Louis Killen sang The Bramble Briar in 1964 on his LP Ballads & Broadsides (reissued on the Topic CD anthology English and Scottish Folk Ballads) and he sang it as Bruton Town in 1989 on his cassette The Rose in June.

Martin Carthy sang Bruton Town in 1966 on his Second Album. He commented in the album's sleeve notes:

In The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, A. L. Lloyd writes “this is based on a story that was probably not new when Boccaccio made it famous in the 14th century. Hans Sachs put it into verse some two hundred years later and Keats rewrote it as the Ballad of Isabella and the Pot of Basil.” It would appear that Keats's version owes more to Boccaccio while the English traditional variants of the song have a lot in common with Sachs's version. The tune is from Mrs Overd of Langport, Somerset, with a composite text.

Ewan MacColl sang The Bramble Briar (Strawberry Town) in 1966 on his Topic album The Manchester Angel.

Queen Caroline Hughes sang The Brake of Briars in a recording made by Peter Kennedy in her caravan near Blandford, Dorset, on April 19, 1968. It was published in 2012 on the Topic anthology of songs by Southern English gypsy traditional singers, I'm a Romany Rai (The Voice of the People Series Volume 22).

Pentangle sang Bruton Town in 1968 on their eponymous album The Pentangle. They also sang in live at the Cambridge Folk Festival 2011.

Maddy Prior sang Bruton Town in 1968 on Tim Hart's and her duo album Folk Songs of Old England Vol. 1. The record's sleeve notes commented:

The village of Bruton in Somerset claims to be the locale of this ballad there being a lengthy version on the wall of a local public house. The story of the girl who severs the head of her dead lover whom her brothers have murdered, hides it in a pot of herbs and dies lamenting, has been used by many writers including Boccaccio (1313-1373) in his story of Isabella and Lorenzo, Hans Sachs (1494-1571) and more recently Keats in his Isabella and the Pot of Basil, although in his version she merely finds the body. The tune, which is in the Dorian mode, and the first verse come from Mrs. Overd of Langport in Somerset, whilst the remainder is from the singing of Mrs. Joiner of Chiswell Green in Hertfordshire.

Sandy Denny recorded Bruton Town live at the Paris Theatre, London, on March 16, 1972 for BBC “Radio 1 in Concert”, broadcast on March 25, 1972. This recording was published for the first time in 1986 on her anthology Who Knows Where the Time Goes? and later in 2004 on A Boxful of Treasures and in 2007 on the 3CD+DVD set Live at the BBC.

Martin Simpson recorded The Bramble Briar in 2001 as the title track of his album The Bramble Briar. Martin Carthy played guitar on the album, but not on this track.

Bellowhead learned Bruton Town from Folk Songs of Old England and recorded it in 2008 for their album Matachin. Jon Boden sang Bruton Town again as the November 12 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

And Tony Rose recorded this song as The Murdered Servantman in 1976 for his third LP On Banks of Green Willow. A live recording of Bruton Town with quite different verses from Cheltenham Folk Club in 1969 was included in 2008 on his CD Exe. Tony Rose commented in the 1976 album's sleeve notes:

Another ballad with a distinguished literary pedigree is The Murdered Servantman, whose plot is traceable through Keats (Isabel and the Pot of Basil) and Hans Sachs to Boccaccio, which means the story is probably pre-14th century. Not so Frank Purslow, in whose Wanton Seed the song can be found!

Nancy Kerr and James Fagan sang Strawberry Town on their 2002 Fellside CD Between the Dark and Light.

Ed Rennie sang In Bruton Town in 2004 on his Fellside CD Narrative.

Sara Grey sang The Jealous Brothers in 2009 on their Fellside CD Sandy Boys.

George Gardiner collected A Famous Farmer in 1907 from Elizabeth Randall, aged 50, in Axford, Hampshire. Sarah Morgan sang this version in 2009 on the WildGoose CD The Axford Five.

Brian Peters sang The Brake of Briars in 2010 on his CD Gritstone Serenade.

Bryony Griffith sang The Murdered Servant Man in 2011 on her and Will Hampson's CD Lady Diamond. They learned it “from the book The Wanton Seed edited by Frank Purslow” and their verses are quite similar to Tony Rose's.

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sings Bruton TownSandy Denny sings Bruton Town

In Bruton Town there lived a noble,
He had two sons and a daughter fair.
By night and day they were contriving
To fill their sister's heart with care.

In Bruton Town there lived a noble man,
He had two sons and a daughter fair.
By night and day they were contriving
For to fill their sister's heart with care.

One night, one night of restless slumber,
One brother rose up from his bed.
He heard the servant court their sister,
He heard they had a mind to wed.

One night, one night, our restless young girl,
One brother rose up from his bed.
He heard the servant court their sister,
Oh, he heard they had a mind to wed.

He early rose the very next morning,
A-hunting through the woods to go.
And there he did this young man a-murder
In the bramble briar his body threw.

Oh, when he rose the very next morning
Went searching for the servantman,
And when he found him, this young man he murdered,
Oh, left him lying in the briars around.

“Oh, brothers, brothers, why do you whisper,
And what's become of the serving man?”
“We lost him where we been a-hunting,
We lost him where he'll ne'er be found.”

She went to bed a-crying and lamenting
And weeping for her own true love.
And as she slept she dreamed that she saw him
All covered all over with gore and blood.

Oh, she went to bed a-crying and lamenting
And thinking of her own true love,
And as she slept, she dreamt that she saw him
A-lying in the countryside all covered with gore and blood.

“Oh, brothers, brothers, why do you whisper,
And what's become of this servant man?”
“Oh, we lost him when we were a-contending,
We lost him were he won't ever be found.”

She early rose the very next morning,
She searched the woods and the country round,
And there she found her own dear jewel,
In the bramble briar where his body they'd thrown.

Oh, she early rose the very next morning
And searched the countryside around,
And there she saw her own dear jewel
A-lying in the briars where he'd been found.

Three days and nights she did stay by him,
She kissed his eyes that could not see.
And to keep him from the heat of the sunshine,
She covered him with green leaves from off the tree.

Three days and nights she did stay by him,
She thought her heart would break with woe,
Till a cruel hunger came upon her
And in despair to her home she did go.

Three days and nights she'd lie by him,
She thought her heart it would break with woe.
When a cruel hunger came upon her
And in despair to her home she did go.

“Oh, sister, sister, why do you whisper,
And won't you tell us where you've been.”
“Stand off, stand off, you bloody butchers,
My love and I you have both slain.”

“Oh, sister, sister, why do you whisper,
And won't you tell us where you've been?”
“Stand off, stand off you bloody butchers,
My love and I you have all slain.”

Tim Hart & Maddy Prior sing Bruton Town Tony Rose sings The Murdered Servantman

In Bruton town there lived a farmer,
Who had two sons and one daughter dear.
By day and night they were conspiring
To fill their parents' heart with fear.

Now a famous farmer, as you shall hear,
He had two sons and one daughter dear.
Her servantman she much admired,
None in the world she loved so dear.

He told his secrets to no other,
But to her brother this he said:
“I think our servant courts our sister.
I think they have a mind to wed.
I'll put an end to all their courtship.
I'll send him silent to his grave.”

Said one brother to the other:
“See how our sister means to wed.
Let all such a courtship soon be ended:
We'll hoist him unto some silent grave.”

They asked him then to go a-hunting,
Without any fear or strife,
But these two bold and wicked villains,
They took away this young man's life.

They called for him to go a-hunting.
He went out without any fear or strife.
And these two jewels they proved so cruel:
They took away that young man's life.

And in the ditch there was no water,
Where only bush and briars grew.
They could not hide the blood of slaughter,
So in the ditch his body they threw.

It was near the creek where there was no water,
Nothing but bushes and briars grew.
All for to hide their cruel slaughter
Into the bushes his body threw.

When they returned home from hunting,
She asked them for her servantman.
“I ask because I see you whisper,
So brothers tell me if you can.”

When they returned from the field of hunting,
She began to enquire for her servantman:
“Come, brothers, tell me, because you whisper:
Come, brothers, tell me if you can.”

“Sister, sister, you do offend me,
Because you so examine me.
We've lost him when we've been a-hunting.
No more of him we could not see.”

“Sister, we are so much amazed,
To see you look so much at we.
We met him where we'd been a-hunting
No more of him then did we see.”

As she lay dreaming on her pillow,
She thought she saw her heart's delight;
By her bed side as she lay weeping,
He was dressed all in his bloody coat.

And she lay musing all on her pillow.
She dreamed she saw her true love stand.
By her bedside he stood lamenting,
All covered with some bloody wounds.

“Don't weep for me, my dearest jewel,
Don't weep for me nor care nor pine,
For your two brothers killed me cruel
In such a place you may me find.”

“Nancy, dear, don't you weep for me,
Pray Nancy, dear, don't weep nor pine
In that creek where there is no water
Go and there you shall my body find.”

So she rose early the next morning,
With heavy sigh and bitter groan,
The only love that she admired,
She found in the ditch where he was thrown.

So she rose early the very next morning
With many a sigh and bitter groan.
In that place where her true love told her
It's there she found his body thrown.

The blood all on his lips was drying,
His tears were salter than any brine.
And she's kissed him, loudly crying:
“Here lies a bosom friend of mine.”

Three days and nights she did sit by him,
Till her poor heart was filled with woe,
Then cruel hunger came upon her,
And to her home she had to go.

Three nights and days she stayed lamenting
Till her poor heart was filled with woe.
Until sharp hunger came creeping on her:
Homeward she was forced to go.

When she returned to her brothers:
“Sister, what makes you look so thin?”
“Brother, don't you ask the reason of me,
Oh, for his sake you shall be hung!”

“Sister, we are so much amazed
To see you look so pale and wan.”
“Brothers, I know you know the reason,
And for the same you shall be hung!”

These two brothers both were taken,
And bound all down in some prison strong.
They both were tried, found out as guilty,
And for the same they both were hung.

Tony Rose sings Bruton Town

In Bruton town there lived a farmer,
Who had two sons and a daughter dear.
By day and night they were contriving
To fill their parents' heart with fear.

Then said one brother to no other,
But unto his brother this he said:
“I think our servant courts our sister,
I think they have a mind to wed.

If he our servant courts our sister,
That's made from such a shame I'll say.
I'll put an end to all their courtship
And I'll send him silent to his grave.”

A day of hunting was prepared
In Thornywoods where the briars grow,
And there they did that young man murder
And in a brook his body they threw.

“Oh welcome home, my dear young brother,
Our serving man is he behind?”
”We left him where we've been a-hunting
We left him where no man can find.”

She went to bed crying and lamenting,
Lamenting for her heart's delight.
She slept, she dreamed she saw him by her
All bloody red in gory plight.

His lovely curls were wet with water,
His body all agape with blows.
Oh love for thee I'm served(?) for murder
And I'm lying now where no man knows.

So she rose early the very next morning,
Unto by yonder wood she spared.
And there she found her own dear jewel
In the gory plight so bloody red.

She took her kerchief from her pocket,
She took his head upon her knee.
And then she wiped those dear eyes softly
She wiped those eyes that could not see.

“And since my brothers have been so cruel
To take your tender sweet life away,
One grave shall hold us both together
And along with you in death I'll stay.”

Acknowledgements

Martin Carthy's Bruton Town and Tony Rose's The Murdered Servantman were transcribed by Garry Gillard.