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Bedlam City

[ Roud 968 ; Master title: Bedlam City ; Ballad Index BrMa971 ; Bodleian Roud 968 ; trad.]

Derek, Dorothy and Nadine Elliott sang Bedlam City in 1976 on their Traditional Sound Recordings album Yorkshire Relish.

Claire Lloyd with Folly Bridge sang Bedlam City in 1992 on their second WildGoose cassette, Unabridged. They noted:

A traditional English song, collected by Lucy Broadwood in 1893 [and published in English County Songs], and sung here by Claire Lloyd, who learned it from the singing of Derek and Dorothy Elliot. It is about a young girl whose beloved soldier-boy has gone off to fight, probably in the Peninsular Wars against Napoleon. There are many folk-songs on a similar theme from that period.

‘Bedlam’ was the Bethlehem Royal Hospital in London. Officially a mental asylum, it also gave refuge to women with no means of support. Members of the public were allowed in to view the ‘lunatics’ and offer food and comfort to the inmates.

The Askew Sisters sang Bedlam City in 2007 on their WildGoose CD All in a Garden Green. They commented in their liner notes:

We found this song in the Hampshire edition of Folk-Songs of England, a book of traditional songs collected by George Gardiner and edited by Cecil Sharp, complete with piano accompaniment. Intrigued at the short number of verses, we went through the original manuscripts to find the complete version, only to discover that it wasn’t there! We later found out from the late Frank Purslow that the tune comes from a version of Eggs in Her Basket collected in Twyford, and that the words were probably taken from a broadside.

Emily Spiers sang Bedlam City in 2010 on her CD The Half-Moon Lovers.

Arthur Knevett sang Bedlam City on his 2016 CD Simply Traditional. He commented in his liner notes:

Bethlehem Royal Hospital, or Bedlam as it became known, was an asylum for the insane in the City of London. It was founded in the 13th century and originally situated near Bishopsgate, but in 1675 the hospital was moved to Moorfields. Bedlam is the setting for many female laments of which this is one. This version was submitted by Mr F. Scarlett Potter to Lucy Broadwood and J.A. Fuller Maitland for inclusion in the Warwickshire section of English County Songs. Mr Potter only knew three verses (verses 1, 3 and 4), verses 2 and 5 are from a broadside printed by W. Wright of Birmingham.


Folly Bridge sing Bedlam City

Down by the side of Bedlam City
There I heard a maid complain,
Making a moan and a sad lamentation,
“I’ve lost my love, my only swain.”

Chorus (after each verse):
Billy is the lad that I do admire,
Billy is the lad that I do adore.
For his sake I lie a-dying
For fear I’ll never see him more.

Can you hear the cannons rattle?
Don’t you hear the trumpets sound?
Billy is a-dying in the battle,
Dying from his bloody wound.

Can you see my Billy’s a-coming?
Can you see up in yonder cloud?
Billy with the angels all around him,
Billy in his bloody shroud!

(repeat first verse)