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A story I will tell to you, it is of butchers three:
Gibson, Wilson and Johnson, mark well what I do say;
Now as they had five hundred pounds, all on a market day, 
Now as they had five hundred pounds to pay upon their way.

Chorus: With my hey ding ding, With my ho, ding ding,       
With my high ding ding, hey dey 
May God keep all good people from such bad company!

Now as they rode along the road as fast as they could hie,
"Spur on your horse," says Johnson, "for I hear a woman cry."
And, as they rode into the wood, the scene they spied around,
And there they found a woman lay a-swooning on the ground.

Now Johnson, being a valiant man, he bore a valiant mind,
He wrapped her in his great coat, and placed her up behind.
And as they rode along the road, as fast as they could ride,
She put her fingers to her ear and gave a screekful cry.

With that, came out ten swaggering baldes, with their rapiers in their hand,
They rode up to bold Johnson, and boldly bid him stand.
"Oh, I cannot fight," says Gibson, "I am sure that I shall die!"
"No more won't I", cried Wilson, "for I will sooner fly!"

"Come on, come on!" cried Johnson, "there are but five for me,
And woman, stand you there behind; we'll gain the victory"
The very next pistol Johnson fired was loaded with powder and ball.
And out of these five swaggering blades there's three of them did fall.

"Come on! Come on!" cries Johnson, "there are but two for me,
And, woman, stand you their behind; we'll gain the victory!"
As Johnson fought these rogues in front, the woman he did not mind,
She took the knife all from his side and ripped him down behind.

"Now I must fall," says Johnson, "I must fall to the ground!
For relieving this wicked woman she gave me my death wound!
Oh woman, woman, woman, what have you been and done?
You have killed the finest butcher that ever the sun shone on!"

Now, just as she had done the deed some men came riding by
And, seeing what this woman had done, the raised a dreadful cry.
Then she was condemned to die in links, and iron chains so strong,
For killing of bold Johnson, that great and valiant man.

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Source: Broadwood, L, 1908, English Traditional Songs and Carols, London, Boosey

Sung by Mr H Burstow, 1893.

 Lucy Broadwood wrote:

This is a version of an old ballad found in various forms on black-letter and white-letter broadsides of the 17th century (Roxburghe, Pepys, and Douce Collections, etc.). One copy (Rox. Coll. iii., 30, iv., 80), is called "The Three Worthy Butchers of the North. To a pleasant new Tune."  This has ten stanzas of ten lines each ; and choruses, used only in first and last verse, which run "With a hey down down, with a down derry dee, God bless all true men out of Thieves' company," and "God bless all true men that travel by Land and Sea, And keep all true men out of Thieves' company !"  Contrary to the usual custom in broadsides, the author's name, Paul Burges, is appended. In this version the butchers' names are "Kitson, Wilson, and Johnson," and we learn that they were "riding thorow Blankly-lane" when the treacherous woman-thief screamed.  The prudent Kitson, having often ridden that way and heard the same scream before, suspects a company of robbers ;  but the worthy Johnson declares that he cannot let a woman perish, and flies to her rescue.  He finds her bound with cords, she says by highwaymen who have just robbed her.  He cuts the cords, and is so moved with pity that he cries, "I have neither wife nor children ...... And thou shalt be the Lady of all, till death take life away."  In the final tragedy the woman, having "knock'd him down behind," takes a club and dashes out the brains of Kitson and Wilson "where they lay bound in woe," exclaiming "They were cowards- and as cowards they shall die!"  A "silly shepherd, hid in the hedge for fear,"at once " sent forth hue and cry, To a gentleman and his man as they came riding by,"but the thieves " got ship at Yarmouth " and escaped.

A second version (Roxburghe Coll. iii., 496), has the title " A New Ballad of the Three Merry Butchers, etc., etc., etc. To an excellent New Tune." It has eleven verses of four lines each, and a chorus “With a high ding, ding, with a ho ding ding, with a high ding, ding dee, And God bless all good people from evil company."  The names are "Wilson, Gibson, and Johnson."  This is very much like the Sussex traditional version. The words "squeaking" and "screeking" in the old broadsides are preserved as "screekful " in the Sussex ballad.

Such and Catnach issued a modern ballad-sheet "Ips, Gips, and Johnson, or the Three Butchers."  This has eight verses of four lines, and no chorus. It is less like the second Roxburghe ballad than is the Sussex version, and it gives Northumberland as the scene of action.  Probably the story is genuine history.  Certainly the butchers' names, preserved in all variants, are amongst the commonest in Northumberland to this day.  On the other hand, "Blankly-lane " and "the Land's-end" mentioned in the first Roxburghe ballad are thought, by the editor of the Ballad Society's reprint, to be "Blakeney "near a Land's-end " promontory, at the mouth of the River Glaven in Norfolk.  Thence the thieves would naturally escape by way of Yarmouth.  The song (to a tune unfortunately not noted) was invariably sung at parish functions by an old inhabitant at Wretham, Norfolk, within the last fifteen years or so, to the editor's own knowledge; and versions, to several distinct tunes, have been recovered by recent collectors in Hampshire and Dorsetshire.  The editor has not, so far, met with the Sussex tune elsewhere.  It has some likeness to the air "Cupid's Garden."


Roud: 17 (Search Roud index at VWML) Take Six

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