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Through Moorfields / The Fair Maid in Bedlam

[ Roud 605 ; Master title: Through Moorfields ; G/D 6:1079 ; Ballad Index LEB113 , ShH41 ; VWML GG/1/6/282 , HAM/4/30/6 ; Bodleian Roud 605 ; Wiltshire 293 , 546 ; trad.]

Lucy Broadwood: English Traditional Songs and Carols Roy Palmer: Folk Songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams Frank Purslow: The Wanton Seed

Ewan MacColl sang Through Moorfields on his 1965 Topic album The Manchester Angel. He noted:

Bishop Percy, in his preface to The Reliques of English Poetry, expresses surprise that “the English should have more songs and ballads on the subject of madness than any of their neighbours”. And indeed it is true that Bedlamite songs were fashionable in England for almost two centuries. For most of that period the mentally sick were looked upon as monstrous freaks and a visit to the madhouse was regarded as a legitimate form of recreation and entertainment, not so very different from a visit to the zoo in our own times. The nationwide pre-occupation with madness is reflected in the works of popular songwriters and dramatists from Elizabethan times onwards, and stories similar to the plot of Through Moorfields were stock favourites with novelists like Defoe and Smollett. The old Bethlem Hospital moved from Bishopsgate to Moorfields in 1675.

Sandra Kerr sang Through Moorfields in 1966 on the Critics Group’s first Argo album, A Merry Progress to London.

Chris Foster sang Bedlam on his 2008 CD Outsiders. He noted:

I sang this typical broadside song—of young lovers from different social classes forcibly parted by the woman’s unsympathetic parents—for many years. Then it drifted out of my repertoire. I rediscovered it when flicking through The Wanton Seed, another of Frank Purslow’s four little books, where I had originally found it.

The song was collected from Moses Blake at Emery Down, Lyndhurst, Hampshire, in 1906 by George Gardiner [VWML GG/1/6/282] . In days gone by it was a common pastime for voyeurs to visit places like the Old Bethlem Hospital (the Bedlam of the title), which was located in Moorfields, London, from 1675 to 1814. Hence the line “or are you come hither to make a fool of me” in verse 5.

The Askew Sisters sang Moorfields on their 2019 CD Enclosure. They noted:

We’ve always been quite interested in Bedlam songs as we grew up a few minutes from the Imperial War Museum, which housed the Royal Bethlem Hospital from 1815-1930 after it moved from Moorfields. Much like the woman in Georgie, the speaker in this song also falls victim to societal disapproval of love crossing class boundaries, but her fate is to be imprisoned in an asylum. Our version is based on a song collected from Robert White by Henry and Robert Hammond in December 1906 [VWML HAM/4/30/6] . White was living at Dorchester Union Workhouse at the time, and we wonder whether he saw any parallels to his own captivity in this song. We were entranced by the beautiful lyrical tune of his version, but the words were incomplete and jumbled up with a few lines from other songs. It is often tempting to completely clean up a song when this happens, but whilst building a text from a few similar versions, we left in a few of these floating lines at the end; they give a whole new dimension to reflect upon the incarceration of both the speaker and the singer, and somehow add a glimmer of freedom at the end of the song.


Ewan MacColl sings Through Moorfields

It was through Moorfields I wandered by myself all alone;
I heard a maid in Bedlam a-making a sad moan.
She was wringing of her tender hands, and tearing of her hair,
Crying, “Oh! cruel parents! you have proved to me severe!

“You have taken my own true love and to sea made him go,
Pressed all on a man-of-war which caused my overthrow.
It made me sorely to lament and tarned my poor brain.”
Crying, “Oh! Shall I ever see my own true love again?”

It was early the next morning this young sailor came on shore,
He walked and he talked down alongside by Bedlam door.
And be gave unto the porter a broad piece of gold,
Saying, “Bring that young girl to me, she’s the joy of my soul.”

Then he took her from her straw bed and set her on his knee,
Saying, “I’m that same young man that your parents pressed to sea.
But now my cares are gone and all my sorrows they are fled
Then adieu unto these chains and this cold straw bed.”

Chris Foster sings Bedlam

It was through Moorfields I rambled by myself all alone,
I heard a maid in Bedlam making her sad moan.
She was ringing of her tender hands and a-tearing of her hair,
Crying, “O my cruel parents you have proved to me severe.

“It was all through my own true love, your apprentice boy, you know
You have forced him to the seas which has proved my overthrow.
And this sad disconsolation which makes me to complain,”
Crying, “O shall I never see my own true love again?”

It was early the next morning this young sailor came on shore,
He walked and he talked down alongside of Bedlam door.
He overheard this fair young maid most grievously complain,
“I am afraid I shall never see the lad I love again.”

The sailor looked around him and he stood in a surprise,
Then looking through a window he saw her lovely eyes.
Then he gave to the porter a shining piece of gold,
Saying, “Show me to my wife for she’s the joy of my soul.”

Well when that the young man this young damsel he did see
He took her from her strawy bed and he set her on his knee.
“O are you that young man that my father sent to sea
Or are you just come hither to make a fool of me?”

“O yes I am that young man that your parents sent to sea
And I have now come back again all for the love of thee.”
“Well if it be so I can go free all my sorrows they are fled,
I’ll bid adieu unto these chains and this cold and strawy bed.”

Through Moorfields

Through Moofields and to Bedlam I went;
I heard a young damsel to sigh and lament;
She was wring-ing of her hands and tearing of her hair,
Crying, “Oh cruel parents! you have been too severe.

“You’ve banished my truelove o’er the seas away,
Which causes me in Bedlam to sigh, and to say
That your cruel, base actions cause me to complain,
For the loss of my dear has distracted my brain.”

When the silk-mercer first came on shore,
As he was passing by Bedlam’s door,
He head his truelove lamenting full sore,
Saying, “Oh! I shall never see him any more!”

The mercer, hearing that, he was struck with surprise,
When he saw through the window her beautiful eye;
He ran to the porter the truth for to tell,
Saying, “Show me the way to the joy of my soul!”

And when that his darling jewel he did see
He took her, and sat her all on his knee,
Say she, “Are you the young man my father sent to sea,
My own dearest jewel, for loving of me?”

“Oh yes! I’m the man that your father sent to sea,
Your own dearest jewel, for loving of thee!”
“Then adieu to my sorrows, for they are now all fled,
Adieu to these chains, and likewise this straw bed!”

They sent for her parents, who came then with speed;
They went to the church, and were married indeed.
So all you wealthy parents, do a warning take,
And never strive true lovers their promises to break.