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> Steeleye Span > Songs > The Bold Poachers
> John Kirkpatrick > Songs > Oakham Poachers
> Shirley Collins > Songs > The Oakham Poachers

The Bold Poachers / The Oakham Poachers

[ Roud 1686 ; Ballad Index McCST098 ; trad.]

Martin Carthy sang the tragic ballad The Bold Poachers in 1971 on his album Landfall; this track was also included on Martin Carthy: A Collection. Martin Carthy commented in the original album's sleeve notes:

The Bold Poachers and Here's Adieu to All Judges and Juries come from roughly the same time in history, being early 19th century transportation songs from Norfolk and Sussex respectively. They convey, along with O'er the Hills (which hails from the late 17th century), something within the simple factual almost journalistic framework of the writing, more than simple resentment at being forced to leave home, proving for me the truth of the maxim, that it's not what a song says, necessarily, but what it does that counts. Thousands of songs have very little apparent, but layers and layers underneath.

Two years after Carthy, his former bandmates of Steeleye Span recorded this song—shortened by four verses—for their album Parcel of Rogues. They noted:

Transportation, usually to Australia or the Americas, was, to rustic people who rarely travelled further than the local market town, tantamount to a sentence of death.

In Norfolk, where this song was collected, there was a tradition whereby a bottle of the transported man's urine was hung up in his house. If it clouded it meant he was ill and if it wasted he was believed to have died and his family went into mourning.

A good 25 years later, Steeleye Span's singer Maddy Prior repeated this, recording The Bold Poachers with very similar verses for her solo album Ravenchild. She commented:

An American film maker, many years ago made a short film of Steeleye Span's version of this song. He portrayed one of the brothers as being about 9 years old which gave the song an abiding poignancy.

Ewan MacColl sang The Bold Poachers in 1972 on his Argo LP Solo Flight.

Wiggy Smith sang The Oakham Poachers in “The Cat & Fiddle”, Whaddon, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, on January 2, 1974. This recording made by Mike Yates was published a year later on the Topic LP Songs of the Open Road and in 1998 on the Topic anthology To Catch a Fine Buck Was My Delight (The Voice of the People, Vol. 18).

John Kirkpatrick sang Oakham Poachers in 1977 on his and Sue Harris' Topic album Shreds and Patches. He played it again in concerts with the John Kirkpatrick Band that were released a year later on their live album Force of Habit. He commented in the liner notes:

This glorious traditional song is mainly what you find on the pages of The Foggy Dew, a selection by Frank Purslow published by EFDS Publications in 1974. Goliath Cole sang a couple of verses to the collector George Gardiner in Hampshire in 1908, and Mr Purslow raided other versions to give a fuller text in his book. More raiding was done by Mr Kirkpatrick, mainly from listening to the way Wiggy Smith did it on the Topic LP Songs of the Open Road.

The song was first pressed on the 1977 duo LP Shreds and Patches but if anything ever cried out for a big folk-rock arrangement it was this, and one of my greatest pleasures in this band was being onstage with Graeme [Taylor] as he took flight into this solo, which was never less than immense and always a total show stopper.

Colin Thompson sang Oakham Poacher in 1980 on his Fellside album Three Knights.

Shirley Collins and Julie Carter sang a much shorter version called The Oakham Poachers in 1982 live in London. This recording was published on her 4CD anthology Within Sound. Their version is from the singing of Wiggy Smith too.

Chris Coe sang the Poachers Song in 2001 on her CD A Wiser Fool.

Crucible sang The Bold Poachers in 2003 on their WildGoose CD Changeling.

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sings The Bold Poachers Shirley Collins sings The Oakham Poachers

Concerning of three young men
One night in January
According laws contrary
A-poaching went straightway

It was on last February,
Against our laws contrary.
Three brothers being wet and weary
Off a-poaching they did go.

It's of two noble young men
One night in January
According laws contrary
A-poaching went straightway

They was inclined to ramble
O'er moor and moss and ramble
Where pheasants they do tremble
And keepers they draw near

Off to Oakham woods they rambled,
In among those briars and brambles,
And it's outside but near the centre
Off into ambush they did lie.

Oh the keepers dared not enter
Nor cared those woods to venture
But outside round their centre
All in them bush they lay

Oh these poachers soon grew tired
To leave they soon desired
But then young Parkins fired
And he spilled one keeper's blood

These three brothers being brave-hearted
They boldly kept on firing,
Until one of them got the fateful blow
And it showed they were overthrown.

Oh he on the ground lay dying
And in his blood there lying
And no assistance nigh him
To see him where he lay

And as they were leaving
And homeward they were speeding
The other keeper he come stealing
They fired at him also

Oh he on the ground lay bleeding
And for his life there pleading
While through the woods come speeding
His mournful pity cry

They were taken with speed
All for that inhuman deed
For them there was no reprieve
All in the court next day

Off to Stafford goal they were taken,
And so cruelly were they beaten.
And it's in Stafford gaol they now do lie
Until their trial comes on.

Oh the judge and the jury tried us
And we for pity cried us
Oh mercy don't deny us
We're not prepared to die

Now, come all you jolly poachers
That does hear of we three brothers,
For it's our brothers' sakes makes our heart aches
And they begged with us to die.

Oh the jury they consulted
Some said we should be gaoled
And others said transported
But the judge said we must die

Oh it never happened before
Two brothers hanged together
Two brothers hanged together
For the doing of one crime

Steeleye Span sing The Bold Poachers Maddy Prior sings The Bold Poachers

Concerning of three young men
One night in January
According laws contrary
A-poaching went straightway

Concerning of three young men
One night in January
According laws contrary
A-poaching went straightway

They were inclined to ramble
Amongst the trees and brambles
A-firing at the pheasants
Which brought the keepers nigh

They were inclined to ramble
Amongst the woods and brambles
A-firing at the pheasants
Which brought those keepers near

The keepers dared not enter
Nor cared the woods to venture
But outside near the centre
In them old bush they stood

The keepers dared not enter
Nor cared those woods to venture
But outside round the centre
In them old bush they stood

The poachers they were tired
And to leave they were desired
And at last young Parkins fired
And spilled one keeper's blood

The poachers they grew tired
To leave they soon desired
But at last young Parkins fired
And spilled one keeper's blood

Fast homeward they were making
Nine pheasants they were taking
When another keeper faced them
They fired at him also

Fast homeward they were making
Nine pheasants they were taking
When another keeper faced them
They fired at him also

He on the ground lay crying
Just like some person dying
With no assistance nigh him
May God forgive their crime

He on the ground lay crying
Just like some person dying
With no assistance nigh him
May God forgive their crime

Then they were taken with speed
All for that inhuman deed
It caused their hearts to bleed
For their young tender years

Then they were taken with speed
All for that inhuman deed
It caused their hearts to bleed
For their young tender years

There seen before was never
Three brothers tried together
Three brothers condemned for poaching
Found guilty as they stood

There seen before was never
Three brothers tried together
Brothers condemned for poaching
Found guilty as they stood

Exiled in transportation
Two brothers they were taken
And the other one hung as a token
May God forgive his crime

Exiled in transportation
Two brothers they were taken
And the third one hung as a token
May God forgive their crime

John Kirkpatrick sings Oakham Poachers  

Young men of every station
That dwell within this nation,
Pray hear my lamentation,
A sad and a mournful tale.

Concerning of three fine young men
Who lately were confined
And heavily bound in irons
In Oakham county gaol.

It was on last February,
Against our laws contrary,
Three brothers quite unwary
Off a-poaching went, we hear.

Through Oakham Woods they rambled,
Through briars and through brambles,
And they fired at pheasants random,
Till it brought the keepers near.

Those keepers did not enter,
Nor dared those woods to venture.
But outside and near the centre,
In ambush they did lie.

Then homewards they were making,
Nine pheasants they were taking.
Until the keepers faced them,
And they swore that they should die.

All these brothers being brave-hearted
They boldly kept on firing,
Till one of them got the fateful blow
And they were overthrown.

Thus he lay there a-crying,
Like one who was a-dying
With no assistance nigh him,
His blood in streams did flow.

May He who feeds the raven,
Grant these men peace in Heaven.
And their sins may be forgiven,
Ere they resign their breath.

For to gaol they quick were taken,
So cruelly were they beaten
Till the judge he guilty found them
And he sentenced them to death.

So come all young men take warning
And don't the laws be scorning,
For in our day just dawning,
We're cut off in our prime.

And all you jolly poachers
As is are we three brothers
It's for our brothers' sake makes our heart aches
And begged with us to die.

Acknowledgements and Links

Transcribed from Martin Carthy's singing by Garry Gillard. Thanks to Patrick Montague for correcting the Steeleye Span lyrics.

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Req: Oakham Poachers.