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Gallows Ballads: Victorian London

GUEST 31 Mar 10 - 07:47 AM
GUEST,Paul Slade 31 Mar 10 - 09:04 AM
Leadfingers 31 Mar 10 - 09:44 AM
dick greenhaus 31 Mar 10 - 01:03 PM
GUEST 05 Apr 10 - 12:08 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 05 Apr 10 - 01:11 PM
GUEST,giles earle 05 Apr 10 - 04:51 PM
GUEST,Paul Slade 05 Apr 10 - 05:33 PM
giles earle 05 Apr 10 - 06:25 PM
GUEST,Paul Slade 24 Jun 10 - 03:27 PM
matt milton 24 Jun 10 - 04:25 PM
GUEST,Paul Slade 25 Jun 10 - 04:02 AM
GUEST 14 Oct 10 - 09:41 AM
SylviaN 14 Oct 10 - 10:28 AM
GUEST,Neil D 14 Oct 10 - 11:42 AM
GUEST,punkfolkrocker 14 Oct 10 - 11:52 AM
theleveller 15 Oct 10 - 10:50 AM
GUEST,Paul Slade 16 Oct 10 - 12:00 PM
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Subject: Gallows Ballads: Victorian London
From: GUEST
Date: 31 Mar 10 - 07:47 AM

Broadside Ballads (PlanetSlade)

I'm note sure if this counts as folk music or not, but I've just posted a long essay about Victorian London's gallows ballads trade on my website.

These lurid narrative songs were knocked out overnight by the jobbing writers and printers of Seven Dials' notorious slum, and sold for a penny at chaotic public hangings. The songs described the condemned man's crime (usually murder), set out his supposed remorse and warned the (often very drunk) crowd not to follow his example. A highly sensational crime produced an equally popular execution, and in cases like this the associated ballads could shift as many as 2.5m copies. The trade was full of colourful characters like Jemmy Catnach, a printer who went to jail for one ballad claiming a Drury Lane butcher was selling human meat in his sausages, and John Morgan, king of the ballad writers and an archetypal drunken hack.

PlanetSlade has details of all this, plus a selection of the best ballads and the true-crime stories behind them. There's also a gallery of the broadsides themselves (some of which have wonderfully gory art) and a taste of John Morgan's innuendo-laden sex songs. It may give you some pleasure.


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Subject: RE: Gallows Ballads: Victorian London
From: GUEST,Paul Slade
Date: 31 Mar 10 - 09:04 AM

I should have added my name to the post above, but I always forget to fill in the "From" field. Apologies.


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Subject: RE: Gallows Ballads: Victorian London
From: Leadfingers
Date: 31 Mar 10 - 09:44 AM

Hang around and I'll have a look !


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Subject: RE: Gallows Ballads: Victorian London
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 31 Mar 10 - 01:03 PM

Great stuff! and a fine job of web publishing.


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Subject: RE: Gallows Ballads: Victorian London
From: GUEST
Date: 05 Apr 10 - 12:08 PM

Thanks, Dick. I'm glad you enjoyed it.


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Subject: RE: Gallows Ballads: Victorian London
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 05 Apr 10 - 01:11 PM

Very Good! A good hanging is great entertainment!


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Subject: RE: Gallows Ballads: Victorian London
From: GUEST,giles earle
Date: 05 Apr 10 - 04:51 PM

Fascinating stuff. I was especially interested by the section about the Mrs Dyer the Baby Farmer, which I know from the version collected by Philip Heseltine in the mid-1920s, in a pub in Oxfordshire. Appallingly bad song; great story.


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Subject: RE: Gallows Ballads: Victorian London
From: GUEST,Paul Slade
Date: 05 Apr 10 - 05:33 PM

Do you happen to know if that version was ever released on disc, Giles? The only audio version I've ever heard of Mrs Dyer is on a long-out-of-print Elsa Lanchester LP I managed to hear in the British Library's sound archive.


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Subject: RE: Gallows Ballads: Victorian London
From: giles earle
Date: 05 Apr 10 - 06:25 PM

Not as far as I can tell from a quick Google, I'm afraid.

-- But do you read music? E J Moeran did a voice(s)-and-piano arrangement of the song, and I'm told he worked directly from Heseltine/Warlock's manuscript copy. The arrangment was originally published by Curwen in 1927, and reissued by Thames a few years ago in vol.4 of their Centenary Edition of Moeran's songs.


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Subject: RE: Gallows Ballads: Victorian London
From: GUEST,Paul Slade
Date: 24 Jun 10 - 03:27 PM

I've just added four more vintage gallows ballads to my site. You'll find the full lyrics there, plus details of the true crime that inspired them and a gallery of the broadsheets themselves.

The new additions are:

The Life & Trial of Palmer (1856)
Boozy, gambling doctor poisons family and friends to clear his debts. Hanged at Stafford Gaol, but survives as footnote in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

The Silent Grove (1838)
Young man gets his girlfriend pregnant, then kills both her and the baby to avoid responsibility. One of many Bloody Miller/ Berkshire Tragedy variants – a combination of which eventually became Knoxville Girl.

The Liverpool Lodger (1849)
Evil lodger slaughters family and robs them. Victims include pregnant mother and two very young boys.

The Unnatural Murder (1618)
Disguised sailor returns home to his parents, hoping to surprise them with his new-found wealth. They mistake him for a stranger, kill him, and steal his gold.


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Subject: RE: Gallows Ballads: Victorian London
From: matt milton
Date: 24 Jun 10 - 04:25 PM

nice descriptions - they're a bit Harry Smith Anthology in that regard.

So gallows broadsides didn't have tunes with them then? Very fertile ground for an enterprising songwriter. Reading them, i can imagine a group like the Tiger Lilies setting them to music with grisly aplomb.


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Subject: RE: Gallows Ballads: Victorian London
From: GUEST,Paul Slade
Date: 25 Jun 10 - 04:02 AM

The ballads were printed as verses alone, Matt, with no musical notation. Often, they'd be composed to work with a familiar hymn tune, such as All People That on Earth Do Dwell, and some added a note saying "To to the tune of xxxxxxxxxxxxxx" above their first line.

They're ballads in the literal sense, in that they stick quite closely to that poetic form's rules - alternating three-beat and four-beat lines, for example. With so many well-known ballads already in their heads, most people would have been able to put a new set of these verses to music pretty instinctively. Finally, the sellers would often sing or chant choice verses from the ballads they were trying to sell, so there was a model there too.

There's more on all this in my piece. As you say, there's lots of scope for today's songwriters to revive these songs with tunes of their own devising. In fact, one of the reasons I launched into writing about the old ballads I've collected was to encourage precisely that.


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Subject: RE: Gallows Ballads: Victorian London
From: GUEST
Date: 14 Oct 10 - 09:41 AM

I've just added another four new Victorian gallows ballads to PlanetSlade's selection. As ever, you'll find each song's full lyrics there, plus my account of the case that inspired it and a scan of the ballad sheet itself. This month's additions are:

Murder at Westmill (1848)
Nine-year-old boy brutally murders his infant sister. Mother driven mad by the crime.

Streams of Crimson Blood (1829)
Burglar breaks into rich old couple's house and kills them both. 


The Murdered Maid (1932?)
Poverty-stricken yokels kill lodger for her savings. But it's really their own daughter. 


Cruel Lizzie Vickers (1853)
Alcoholic housekeeper bullies her way into elderly employer's will then beats him to death for the £1,000 involved. That's the ballad's version, but the Old Bailey jury found her not guilty. 



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Subject: RE: Gallows Ballads: Victorian London
From: SylviaN
Date: 14 Oct 10 - 10:28 AM

Paul, what a wonderful website - congratulations.

Wherever possible, I do my best to research the background to songs and this website will give me many hours of pleasure. Although the stories are often gruesome, the social history they contain, even if you take away the added sensationalism, is fascinating and truely instructive.

Thank you

Sylvia


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Subject: RE: Gallows Ballads: Victorian London
From: GUEST,Neil D
Date: 14 Oct 10 - 11:42 AM

I'll add my compliments to the others here. Very fascinating stuff and quite well researched.


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Subject: RE: Gallows Ballads: Victorian London
From: GUEST,punkfolkrocker
Date: 14 Oct 10 - 11:52 AM

cheers... bookmarked to keep and read later after the wife turns the telly off
and goes to bed..


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Subject: RE: Gallows Ballads: Victorian London
From: theleveller
Date: 15 Oct 10 - 10:50 AM

Superb site - well researched and written.


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Subject: RE: Gallows Ballads: Victorian London
From: GUEST,Paul Slade
Date: 16 Oct 10 - 12:00 PM

Thanks for the kind words, everyone. If you see anything on PlanetSlade you think other people might enjoy, please do help me spread the word. I'm egotistical enough to think I deserve more readers!


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