Come all ye men both great and small,
Gamekeepers, poachers, sportsmen all,
Come listen to this little song
And I’ll sing you the death of poor Bill Brown,
I’ll sing you the death of poor Bill Brown,
Right fol-de-ral laddie-i-o.
One starry night as you shall ’ear,
All in the season of the year,
We went to the woods to get a fat buck,
But ee that night we ’ad bad luck,
For Bill Brown got shot and ’is dog got stuck.
When we got to the woods our sport begun,
Ah saw the gamekeeper projectin’ ’is gun;
Ah called to Bill to climb the gate,
To drop the fat buck, but it was to’ late,
For ’twas there ’e met ’is untimely fate.
As ’e lay dyin’ on the ground
In this sad state poor Bill I found;
When ’e saw me poor Bill did cry,
‘Avenge my fate.’ ‘Ah will,’ says I,
For many’s the hare we’ve caught nearby.
Next night I dressed myself in time,
I got to the woods, the clock struck nine;
The reason is I’ll tell you why,
To find that gamekeeper I shall try,
Who shot my friend, and ’e shall die.
For I know the man who shot Bill Brown,
I know ’im well an’ can tell ’is clown,
And to describe ’im in my song,
Black jacket ’e ’ad an’ red waistcoat on,
I know ’im well an’ they call ’im Tom.
I ranged the woods all round and then
I looked at me watch an’ it was just ten;
I ’eard a footstep on the green,
An’ Ah laid me down for fear Ah’d be seen,
For plainly I saw that it was Tom Green.
I took my fowlpiece in my hand,
Resolved to fire if Tom should stand.
’E ’eard a noise and turned ’im round;
Ah fired and brought ’im to the ground;
My hand gave ’im the deep death wound.
So now to conclude and finish my song,
I shot the man who shot Bill Brown;
Poor Bill no more these eyes shall see;
Farewell, dear friend, farewell to ye;
But I’ve crowned the last hopes of ’is memory.
This is a traditional song about Yorkshire, collected in Yorkshire.
Will added the following notes on the background to the song:
‘Ah don’t know weer ’e’d picked that up, but ’is father collected songs before Arthur. The’ called ’im Haig Howard, Arthur’s father. Ah never knew ’im but Ah’ve seen pictures of ’im.’
Though this poaching song was printed by Such in London it was mainly printed in the north, probably first by Shelmerdine of Manchester, then Walker of Durham, the Forth brothers at Pocklington and Hull, and finally Harkness of Preston. By the time it got to Such the title had been reduced to ‘Poor Bill Brown’. All printed versions have the same nine stanzas as sung by Will.
The song has not been recorded in oral tradition often and Will picked it up having heard it sung frequently by Arthur Howard in the Holmfirth area.
Another earlier Bill Brown poaching song printed by most of the northern printers was set in Brightside, Sheffield in 1769. It tells a similar story although Bill’s killer is called Shirtly, he is tried at York Castle, and gets off due to bribing the judge. The later song may be a refacimento of the earlier though they have no text or structure in common. Paul Davenport, in the notes to a version of the later song in The South Riding Songbook, p11, informs us ‘The story is true and took place at Dalton Brook near Thrybergh, South Yorkshire’ which would imply that both songs are about the same event.
The tune is close to that used for other poaching songs, notably the Nottinghamshire ‘Thorney Moor Woods’ (Roud 222), but it also has some phrases in common with the tune used for ‘Sing us another one do’, the common tune used to sing limericks to.
Bill Brown printed by Crome of Sheffield (Copies in Sheffield City Library and York Minster Library)
In seventeen hundred and sixty nine, As plainly doth appear then.
A bloody scene was felt most keen, Till death it did draw near then,
Of poor Bill Brown of Brightside town, A lad of well known fame then,
Who took delight both day and night, To trace the timid hare then,
With wires strong they marched along, Unto brave Thriberg town then,
With nut brown ale that ne’er did fail, And many a health went round then,
Brave Luna bright did shine that night, To the woods they did repair then,
True as the sun their dogs did run, To trace the lofty hare then;
A lofty breeze among the trees, While shining he came on then,
Like Cain he stood hunting for blood, With his bayonet and Gun then,
Then he did charge with shot quite large, George Milner did him spy then,
This rogue’s intent was fully bent, One of those lads shall die then,
His cruel hand he did command, That instant for to fire, (then,)
And so with strife took poor Brown’s life, Which once he thought entire then,
His blood aloud for vengeance cry’d. (The keeper he came on then-line missing from Crome sheet)
Like cruel Cain up to him came, And so renewed his wounds then,
Now this dear soul ne’er did controul, Nor think that man no ill then,
But to Dalton brook his mind was struck, While his dear blood did spill then,
For help he cried but was denied, No one their (sic) nigh him stood then,
And there he lay till break of day, Dogs licking his dear blood then.
Farewell dear heart now we must part, From wife and children dear then,
Pity my doom, it was so soon, That ever I came here then,
Farewell unto my brave dear lads, Whoever range the fields then,
This cruel man’s murdering hand, Has caused me to yield then.
In grief and pain till death it came, To embrace his dear soul then,
Who took his flight to heaven straight; Where no man can controul man,
While the country round heard of the sound, Of his dreadful doom then,
Put it in vogue to find the rogue, That he might have justice done him then,
With irons strong he marched along, Unto the castle fair then, (York Castle in other versions)
In a dark cell he was to dwell, Till the judge did appear then.
George Milner bold as I have been told. Deny it here who can then,
He ne’er was loath to take his oath, that he was the murdering man then.
There was a man who there did stand, Whose heart (did) shake amain then,
But gold did fly they can’t deny, Or at Tyburn he’d been hung then,
They’d ne’er been bold to hear it told, To hear of Shirtly’s doom then,
Judge put it by to the Almighty high, And had him judged too soon then,
There’s brave Ned Greaves who ne’er did fail, To crown poor Bill Brown’s name then,
George Milner brave defies each knave, (That travels o’er the plain then,)
With sword and gun we know will run, Though the law it doth maintain them,
Yet poor Brown’s blood lost in the wood, for vengeance cries amain then.