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The Ballad of the Butcher and the Bookbinder’s Wife

[Gillian Tolfrey]

The Witches of Elswick sang The Ballad of the Butcher and the Bookbinder’s Wife in 2005 on their second and last album, Hell’s Belles. They commented in their liner notes:

It was dark outside, there was a noisy, noisy moon and we’d been to a session at The Cumberland Arms. We stumbled back to Becky’s house in the Ouseburn Valley for some spooky stories. Once there, her partner Simon entertained us with this glorious tale inspired by local history, a spirited imagination and lots of alcohol. Gillie immortalised it in this lively / tragic / moral / comedy song.


The Witches of Elswick sing The Ballad of the Butcher and the Bookbinder’s Wife

In Byker Town there lived a butcher
And he had five handsome sons;
He’d a beautiful wife caused him no strife
And he cherished them everyone.

His days were filled with laughter and love
Till one day he took a stroll
And there he spied the bookbinder’s wife
And lust it did take hold.

Beware the arms of another’s lady,
Beware the arms of another’s wife!

Well this fair lady she was eager,
By his strong arms she was enthralled.
And she’d a smile about her features
That surely did say it all.

And they walked down all by the Ouseburn
And they drank more than most
When the bookbind save them kissing,
And he was pale as any ghost.


He had heard tell of four young witches
Who could help with his distress.
He found them by the Cumberland Alehouse
And with his problem he did them press.

Though we harm none we have the power
To counsel you in your grief.
Here is a book that you bound for us,
The spells and potions of our belief.


The butcher’s sons were all out drinking
When one fell on a broken glass;
He bled to death with his brothers watching,
All for his father’s love of a lass.

The second son went out a-walking,
Stumbled into a tunnel dark;
He stepped inside, doors slammed behind him,
He was trapped and there he starved.

The butcher’s third son while out a-courting
Walked his lady down by the stream;
He bowed down to her and fell in backwards,
Swans pecked out his eyes so green.

And then the fourth son went out hunting,
Rested up by a shady beck;
As he lay sleeping a beast came creeping
And sunk his teeth deep into his neck.

Now the fifth son was a dancer,
He went to dance on yon high hill;
He stepped his foot in a pool of water,
A fork of lightning did him kill.


The butcher, driven mad with sorrow,
Jumped off a bridge into a stream.
A pack of rats ate his flesh and features,
Licking each and every bone clean.

So any man who takes a notion
To indulge with another’s maid:
Think of the bookbinder’s evil potions
And the vengeance that he displayed.

(3× Chorus)


Thank you very much to Garry Gillard for help with the lyrics, and finally for the corrections from the Witches’ mouths when our hearing wasn’t good enough.