To you my dear companions accept these lines I pray;
A most impartial trial has been occupied this day.
'Tis from your dying Broughton, to show his wretched fate,
Pray make your reformation before it is too late.
The loss of your companion will grieve your hearts full sore,
I know that my fair Ellen will my wretched fate deplore;
Thinking of those happy hours that now are past and gone,
That I, unhappy Broughton, would I had ne'er been born.
3 [not sung]
One day unto St. James's with large and swelling pride,
Each man had a flash woman walking by his side,
And at night we did retire unto some ball or play;
In these unhappy pleasures our time did pass away.
Brought up in wicked habits which wrought in me no fear,
How little did I think that my time had been so near;
But now I'm overtaken, and bound, condemned and cast to die,
Exposed a sad example to all those that pass me by.
O that I had but gone unto some far and distant clime,
That a gibbet post for Broughton would never have been mine;
But as for such like wishes they are vanity and vain,
Alas, it is but folly and madness to complain.
One night to try and slumber I closed my weeping eyes,
I heard a foot approaching which struck me with surprise;
I listened for a moment, a voice made this reply,
’Prepare thyself, Spence Broughton, tomorrow thou must die.’
7 [not sung]
O awful was the messenger, and dismal was the sound,
Like a maniac in distraction I rolled upon the ground;
My tears now flow in torrents, with anguish I am torn,
O poor unhappy Broughton, would I had ne'er been born.
Farewell, my wife and children, to you I bid adieu,
I never should have come to this had I stayed at home with you;
But I hope through my Redeemer to gain the happy shore;
Farewell, farewell for ever, Spence Broughton is no more.
Spence Broughton is no more.
This is a traditional song about Yorkshire, collected in Yorkshire.
We know much about Broughton from two contemporary prose broadsides which can be consulted in Sheffield City Libraries Local Studies Department, Miscellaneous Papers 207M and 208M. One, The Last Dying Speech and Confession etc., also gives a brief life history from which we find he was born at Marton, Lincolnshire, to respectable wealthy parents who set him up with a farm. After falling out with his wife he went to London where he fell under the influence of criminals. The other purports to be a Pathetic and affecting letter to his wife, the night before his Execution. He was 46 when he died.
We leave the summary of his crime to that great pioneer of folk song collection, Frank Kidson, who, in his Traditional Tunes of 1891 provided us with the only known tune (in two versions).
‘Spence Broughton was a Sheffield man* who robbed the Rotherham postman on Attercliffe Common, and was executed for this crime at York, on the 14th April, 1792. His body was hung on a gibbet near the scene of the robbery, the gibbet-post remaining standing till 1827. The song appears to have lingered in South Yorkshire to our own time – a hundred years after its composition.’
The broadside ballad was widely printed from London to Edinburgh throughout the nineteenth century.
* He was actually based in London when these events occurred, though he and his accomplices appeared to have carried out their crimes mainly in Yorkshire.
Here the ballad is ably performed by professional singer/musician Robin Garside of Sheffield