> Martin Carthy > Songs > The Man of Burnham Town

Birmingham Boys / The Man of Burn(ing)ham Town

[ Roud 665 ; Master title: Birmingham Boys ; Ballad Index VWL068 ; Mudcat 19421 ; trad.]

Ralph Vaughan Williams collected The Man of Burningham Town in 1908 from Mr Locke of Rollesby, Norfolk. He included it in 1959 in his and A.L. Lloyd’s The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

Martin Carthy recorded The Man of Burnham Town with Dave Swarbrick in 1967 for their album Byker Hill; it was included in 1971 on their compilation album Selections. Martin Carthy commented in the original album’s sleeve notes:

There are usually pretty savage recriminations in folk song against wives who stray from the “straight and narrow” but rarely, if ever, stories of the reverse happening. Normally when men “stray” it is a huge joke and the cue for drinks all round: this is not to say that the songs are not good—some are superb. The Man of Burnham Town was collected from Harry Cox by E.J. Moeran in 1922 and the tune is one which keeps you on tenterhooks until the last to find the root note.

The Selections sleeve notes added:

This collection even includes the contentious The Man of Burnham Town, at one point one of the most popular songs in Carthy’s set, but which he subsequently renounced and refused to perform again after realising the full horror of lyrics that appeared to condone wife beating. Being traditional doesn’t excuse its nastiness, says Carthy.

Cliff Haslam sang The Man of Birnamtown in 1976 on the Living Folk album Here’s a Health to the Man and the Maid.

Tom and Barbara Brown sang this song as The Man of Dover on their 2002 WildGoose CD Prevailing Winds.

Compare to this song Mike Waterson’s A Stitch in Time, where a woman gets back on her abusing husband. Martin Carthy sang it on Right of Passage.


Martin Carthy sings The Man of Burnham Town

In Burnham Town there lived a man
And he had such a lovely wife
And so dearly she loved bad company
So dearly she loved her life, boys, life
So dearly she loved her life

So this poor man he goes to sea
A living for to get
If he spent one penny his wife spent two
And it’s all for the want of wit, boys, wit
And it’s all for the want of wit

When this poor man came home from sea
It being late in the night
Enquiring for his own dear wife
She was his joy and heart’s delight, boys, oh his light
Oh she was his heart’s delight

Oh she’s just gone down to her sister’s
Shall I go fetch her in?
Then he begun to think, Oh no
I’ll go meself to drink, boys, drink
I’ll go meself to drink

As he was going down the road
He heard such a dismal noise
And who should it be but his own dear wife
Along with the Burnham boys, brave boys
Along with the Burnham boys

This poor man stood a-thinking
And his heart was nearly broke
Then he went back and he fetched the maid
While he prepared a rope, a rope
While he prepared a rope

Then she came a-skipping and a-jumping in
Gave him such a joyful kiss
Saying, You’re welcome home, kind husband dear
Long time you have been missed, me boys
Long time you have been missed

So we’ll bar the door so neat and snug
And let us go to bed
For the pain that do lay in my breast
Oh it can no longer wait, me boys
Oh it can no longer wait

Then he took a stick and he beat her
Till she was wonderful sore
Forbear, she cried, O husband dear
And I’ll never do that no more, no more
And I’ll never do that no more

Oh if you do I’ll make you rue
And curse the day you were born
For a cuckolding of your husband dear
I’ll make you wear the horn, me boy
Oh I’ll make you wear the horn

So all you women in Burnham
Come listen unto me
And don’t you spend your money on waste
When your husband is out on the sea, my boys
When your husband is out on the sea


Transcribed by Garry Gillard.