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The Death of Bill Brown

[ Roud 609 ; TYG 41 ; Ballad Index KiTu131 , KiTu133 ; Bodleian Roud 609 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd sang the poaching and murder ballad The Death of Bill Brown in ca. 1956 on his Riverside LP English Street Songs. Like all tracks from this album, it was reissued in 2008 on the A.L. Lloyd compilation CD Ten Thousand Miles Away. Lloyd also included this song in his book Folk Song in England where he noted that it was “obtained by Frank Kidson from a singer in Goole, Yorkshire”. And he commented in the first album's sleeve notes:

There are two distinct broadsheet songs which tell of the unhappy death of Bill Brown, a poacher shot by the gamekeeper at the village of Brightside, near Sheffield, in 1769. That a version of one of them might still be collected from tradition as late as the beginning of this century should be attributed to the extraordinary vitality which many of the broadside ballads had in the minds and hearts of the commons of England. Certainly the character of Bill Brown and the desire to avenge his death was sufficient to raise the necessary sympathetic bond between street singers and their audiences.

Ray and Archie Fisher sang Poor Bill at Leith Town Hall, Edinburgh, in November 1963. The concert recording was released in 1964 on the album The Hoot'nanny Show Vol. 1.

The Clancy Brothers sang Bill Brown in 1970 on their album Flowers in the Valley.

Roy Harris sang The Death of Bill Brown on his 1972 LP The Bitter and the Sweet. A.L. Lloyd commented in the album's sleeve notes:

When the practice of enclosing common-land for the benefit of lofty landlords was stepped up in the 18th century, it caused hardship and fierce resentment over the broad acres. For some reason, resistance to this injustice was specially fierce in the triangle roughly bounded by Sheffield, Lincoln and Nottingham, and within this area for more than half a century there was virtual guerrilla was between poacher and keeper. The sullen bloodshot ballad of Bill Brown, who was shot dead at Brightside, near Sheffield, in 1769, is characteristic of the poacher broadsides that moved the disaffected villagers of the time (and for long after). The tune was noted in Lincolnshire by Frank Kidson's devoted informant, Mr Lolley, about eighty years ago.

Arthur Howard, who was born in Holmfirth in 1902, learned The Death of Poor Bill Brown from his father and was recorded singing it in 1981 by Ian Russell. This was published in the same year on his LP Merry Mountain Child, and was included in 1998 on the EFDSS CD A Century of Song. The album's booklet commented:

The Death of Poor Bill Brown is a true story of how a poacher was shot by a gamekeeper in the village of Brightside near Sheffield in 1769. Arthur learned the song from his father and believed it to be the oldest song in his repertoire. Frank Kidson included the song in Traditional Tunes; the tune came from Goole and had also been noted in Leeds. Kidson's words were from a broadside, the song having been published by printers in London, Preston, Hull and Chesterfield.

Peter Bellamy learned The Death of Bill Brown from the singing of A.L. Lloyd, and sang it live at the Cockermouth Folk Club in January 1991. This concert was published on his cassette Songs an' Rummy Conjurin' Tricks.

This very old VHS tape shows Peter Bellamy singing The Death of Bill Brown and Goodbye Old Paint at home in the late 1980s:

Magpie Lane sang Bill Brown in 1994 on their CD Speed the Plough.

John Spiers and Jon Boden recorded Bill Brown in 2008 for their CD Songs. They commented in the liner notes:

After the Acts of Enclosure (1760-1830) the age-long conflict between poacher and keeper took on deeper political resonance. In many cases the poacher would only be taking back what had been stolen from the common people by the powers-that-be. This perhaps accounts for the cold-blooded vehemence of this revenge ballad. Bill Brown was shot at Brightside near Sheffield in 1769.

Jon Boden also sang Bill Brown as the October 16, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He commented in his blog:

Bert Lloyd makes great play out of the class war contained in poaching ballads (i.e. the enclosures were an act of theft perpetrated upon the rural proletariat so poachers were celebrated as class warriors taking back what had been theirs). It's one interpretation. I think the poignancy of this song comes from the fact that poacher and gamekeeper knew each other—possibly grew up together, but end up killing each other.

Lyrics

A.L. Lloyd sings The Death of Bill BrownPeter Bellamy sings The Death of Bill Brown

You gentlemen, both great and small,
Gamekeepers, poachers, sportsmen all,
Come listen to me simple clown,
I'll sing you the death of poor Bill Brown,
I'll sing you the death of poor Bill Brown.

You gentlemen, both great and small,
Gamekeepers, poachers, sportsmen all,
Come listen to me simple clown,
I'll sing you the death of poor Bill Brown,
I'll sing you the death of poor Bill Brown.

One stormy night, as you shall hear,
'Twas in the season of the year.
We went to the woods to catch a buck,
But in that night we had bad luck,
Bill Brown was shot and his dog was stuck.

One stormy night, as you shall hear,
It being the season of the year,
We went to the woods to catch a buck,
But in that night we had bad luck,
For Bill Brown was shot and down was struck.

Well, we got to the woods, our sport begun,
I saw the gamekeeper present his gun,
I called on Bill to climb the gate,
To get away, but it was too late,
For there he met his untimely fate.

Well, we got to the woods and our sport begun,
I saw the gamekeeper present his gun,
And I called on Bill to climb the gate,
And get away, but it was too late,
For there he met his untimely fate.

I know the man that shot Bill Brown,
I know him well and could tell a clown.
And to describe him in my song:
Black jacket he had and red waistcoat on;
I know him well and his name is Tom.

But I saw the man who shot Bill Brown,
I know him well and could tell the clown.
For to describe him in my song:
Black jacket he had and red waistcoat on;
I know him well and his name is Tom.

I dressed myself next night in time,
I got to the wood as the clock struck nine;
The reason was, and I'll tell you why,
To find that gamekeeper I did go try,
Who shot my friend, and he shall die.

So I dressed myself next night in time
And I got to the wood as the clock struck nine;
The reason was, and I'll tell you why,
For to find that gamekeeper I did go try,
Who shot my friend, and he shall die.

I ranged the woods all over, and then
I looked at my watch and it was just ten.
I heard a footstep on the green,
I hid myself for fear of being seen,
For I plainly saw it was Tom Green.

So I ranged the woods all over, and then
I looked at my watch and it was just ten.
I heard a footstep on the green,
So I hid myself for fear of being seen,
For I clearly saw that it was Tom Green.

I took my gun all in my hand,
Resolved to fire if Tom should stand;
Tom heard a noise and turned him round.
I fired and brought him to the ground,
My hand gave him his deep death wound.

So I took my gun all in my hand,
Resolved to fire if Tom should stand;
He heard the noise and turned him round.
I fired and brought him to the ground,
My hand gave him his deep death wound.

Now revenge, you see, my hopes has crowned.
I've shot the mam that shot Bill Brown.
Poor Bill no more these eyes will see;
Farewell, dear friend, farewell to ye,
I've crowned your hopes and your memory.

So revenge, you see, my hopes has crowned.
I've shot the mam that shot Bill Brown.
Poor Bill no more these eyes will see;
Farewell, old friend, farewell to thee,
I've crowned your hopes and your memory.

Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Add: The Death of Poor Bill Brown.