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Jock o’ the Side

[ Roud 82 ; Child 187 ; Ballad Index C187 ; trad.]

J. Collingwood Bruce, John Stokoe: Northumbrian Minstrelsy James Kinsley: The Oxford Book of Ballads Sir Walter Scott: Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border John Stokoe: Songs and Ballads of Northern England

Ewan MacColl sang Jock o’ the Side in 1982 on his and Peggy Seeger’s Blackthorne album Blood & Roses Volume 1. They noted:

John of the Side is one of the names given in a list of marauders against whom complaint was made to the Bishop of Carlisle “presumably after” Queen Mary Stuart’s departure for France; not far, therefore, from 1550. It almost certainly refers to “John Armstrong of the Syde”.

The Armstrongs were an important family in Liddesdale from the middle of the 14th century onwards. “By the middle of the 16th century they had become the most important sept, as to numbers, in that region, not only extending themselves over a large part of the Debateable Land but spreading into Eskdale, Ewesdale, Wauchopedale and Annandale. The Earl of Northumberland, in 1528, puts the power of the Armstrongs with their adherents at about three thousand horsemen.” (Child)

Their frequent forays against their more respectable neighbours are the subject of several stirring ballads, two of which, Kinmont Willie (Child 186) and Archie o’ Cawfield (Child 188) are, to all intents and purposes, repetitions of the story of Jock o’ the Side. Child was enthusiastic about the ballad, describing it as “one of the best in the world, and enough to make a horse-trooper of any young borderer, had he lacked the impulse”

Gordon Mooney played the tune of Jock o’ the Side on his 1998 album of music of the Scottish Borders played on the cauld wind pipes, O’er the Border.


Ewan MacColl sings Jock o’ the Side

Now Liddesdale has ridden a raid
He’d hae done better to bide at hame;
For Michael o’ Whinfield he is deid
And Jock o’ the Side is prisoner ta’en.

His mither’s awa’ by the waterside,
She’s kilted her kirtle abune her knee,
And when she cam’ tae Mangerton
The tears were rinnin’ doon frae her e’e.

“Whit news, whit news?” the Laird he cried,
“O, whit’s the news ye’ve brocht tae me?”
“The news is ill, my brither dear,
For Michael is deid end they’ve ta’en my Johnny.”

“O never ye fear, ray sister dear,
For I hae cows and ewes fu’ mony;
My barns and byres are a’ weel-filled
And I’ll gie them a’ to save our Johnnie.

“There’s three o’ my men will ride the nicht,
A’ harnessed wi’ Toledo steel;
The English dogs’ll rue the day,
They’ll aye remember our Johnnie weel.

“The Laird’s Jock, ane, and the Laird’s Wat, twa,
And Hobbie Noble the third will be;
Thy coat is blue but ye hae been true
Since England banished thee to me.

“Noo, Jock, my man, hear whit I say.
Ye’ll shod your horses wrang way roond;
And it’s no’ like gentry ye will ride,
But gang like beggars upon the ground.

“Ye will nae show your Spanish blades,
But cover them a’ wi’ beggin’ weeds,
And ye will gang like country loons
And ride bare-backed upon your steeds.”

And when they cam’ tae Newcastle toon,
Jock cried: “The gates we maun ding doon
But the porter stood on the wall sae high
And cried, “Ye canna come in the toon.”

Jock’s lowpit doon frae his horse’s back
And wrung the keeper’s neck in twa;
They’ve ta’en his life and they’ve ta’en his keys
And cast his body ahint the wa’.

And when they cam’ to Newcastle gaol
Unto the prisoner they did ca’:
“Sleep ye or wake ye, Jock o’ the Side?
We’ve come to fetch ye ower the wa’.”

“O, wha is it there that speaks sae big
To Jock o’ the Side, wha lies in chains?
I sleep saft and I wake aft
And I doubt that I’ll ever be free again.

“Fifteen stane o’ iron chains
And bolted bars they’ve laid on me;
Though a’ Liddesdale were here the nicht
I fear they never could set me free.”

“O, haud your tongue noo, Jock o’ the Side,
We need nae mair but just us three;
Ye work within and w e’ll work without,
For we hae promised to set ye free.”

The firstan door that they cam’ tae,
They opened the lock without the key;
And Hobbie he kicked the next door doon, Says,
“Come awa’, Jock, it’s time to leave.”

The Laird’s Jock broke the iron bands,
And Jock o’ the Side on his back he’s tae’en.
And he’s gane lowpin’ doon the stairs
Wi’ Jock o’ the Side and the iron chain.

Noo, Hobbie he said tae the Laird’s ain Jock,
“Some o’ the weight ye may lay on me.”
“Ye needna bother yoursel’,” said Jock,
“I count him as licht as a bumblebee.”

Then oot o’ Newcastle they a’ did ride,
Jock o’ the Side and his kinsmen three;
And they’re awa’ through the broken yetts
Rantin’ and singin’ sae wantonly.

“O Jock, ye ride sae winsomely,
Wi’ baith o’ your feet hingin’ on ae side;
Your chains they ring like weddin’ bells,
O Jock, my man, you’re a bonnie bride.”

And when they cam’ tae the riverside
The water o’ Tyne ran like the sea;
And the Laird’s saft Wat, he roared and gnat,
“We’ll a’ be drooned and I’m feared to dee.”

“Come fire or flood,” says the Laird’s ain Jock,
“There’s nae man dees afore his time.”
And he’s led them into the roarin’ flood,
And they hae crossed the water o’ Tyne.

They scarce had won to the northern side
When they heard the cries o’ men behind;
And they mocked and fleered at the English loons
Wha daurna cross the water o’ Tyne.

The sergeant o’ the English troop,
Says, “Tak’ your man, let him gang free;
Tak’ your man to Liddesdale,
But leave his fetters, I pray, to me.”

C’wa’ wi’ that!” says the Laird’s ain Jock,
Shoon for my guid grey mare they’ll be.
She carried them ower the water o’ Tyne
And I’m sure she’s bought them dear fae thee.”

Then they hae rid to Liddesdale,
Just as fast as they could ride;
And when they cam’ to Liddesdale
They cast the chains frae Jock o’ the Side.

They filled a bowl wi’ the guid red wine,
And after that they filled anither;
And aye the toasts birled roond and roond
Just as if they had been brither and brither.