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Two/Three (Jolly) Butchers/Sportsmen

[ Roud 17 ; Laws L4 ; G/D 2:186 ; Henry H185 ; Ballad Index LL04 ; VWML SBG/3/1/804 ; Bodleian Roud 17 ; Wiltshire 686 , 1000 ; trad.]

Travellers' Songs from England and Scotland A Dictionary of the Isle of Wight Dialect Blyth Voices English Traditional Songs and Carols Everyman's Book of English Country Songs Marrow Bones The Idiom of the People The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs Sam Henry's Songs of the People The Folk Handbook Vaughan Williams in Norfolk Songs and Southern Breezes

This is a ballad about the betrayal of a good Samaritan.

Peter Doran from Belfast sang Three Old Jolly Sportsmen to Peter Kennedy and Sean O'Boyle on 24 July 1952 and/or 1 August 1952. This recording was included in 2014 on the Topic anthology of traditional songs, airs and dance music in Ulster, The Flax in Bloom (The Voice of the People Volume 27).

Bob Scarce of Blaxhall, Suffolk, sang it as Three Jolly Sportsmen in a Peter Kennedy recording made for the BBC in 1953 on the anthology Fair Game and Foul (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 7; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970). It was also included in 2013 on the Alan Lomax Archive album Singing at The Ship Inn and in 2014 on the Topic anthology The Barley Mow (The Voice of the People Volume 26). He was recorded for a second time by Keith Summers at The Ship Inn in Blaxhall in 1972. This recording was included in 2007 on the Musical Traditions anthology A Story to Tell: Keith Summers in Suffolk 1972-79.

Harry Cox sang Two Jolly Butchers in a recording made by Leslie Shepard in October 1965. It was included in 2000 on his Topic anthology The Bonny Labouring Boy.

Caroline Hughes sang The Three Butchers to Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger in between 1963 and 1966. They printed in their book Travellers' Songs from England and Scotland, and it was included in 2014 on her Musical Traditions anthology Sheep-Crook and Black Dog. Rod Stradling noted:

It is odd that Child did not include this popular ballad in his collection as it not only fulfils his definition of a ballad but has also been popular with country singers at least since 1678, when it appeared as a black-letter broadside under the title of The Three Worthy Butchers of the North.

Subsequent printing by broadside presses tended to reduce the story somewhat, but the general narrative and much of the early poetry has remained. The full story is as follows: two or three butchers are riding home from market carrying a large sum of money. The butchers hear a cry and find a naked woman bound to the ground. She explains that she has been robbed and left there by robbers. One of the butchers, usually Johnson, covers her with his coat and takes her up behind him on his horse. As they ride along the highway she screams or in some manner gives a signal, at which a band of robbers springs out in ambush and commands Johnson to halt. A fight ensues in which he kills most of the robbers before being stabbed from behind by the woman. The woman is captured and punished and Johnson’s death is lamented.

It’s a characteristic of songs containing the exploits of named protagonists that these names rarely remain constant. In this ballad, two of the three butchers have acquired a huge array of the most unlikely sounding names over the centuries, yet hero Johnson remains undiminished in almost every version.

Roud has 236 instances of this ballad—from most of the Anglophone world, with English examples being the most numerous—amongst which are 40 sound recordings.

Martin Carthy sang Two Butchers in 1966 on his Second Album. He commented in the album sleeve notes:

Fairly common on both sides of the Atlantic, the story stays essentially the same, only varying in the number of butchers, or in the number of robbers who range themselves again Johnson. A treacherous woman has always seemed more despicable than a treacherous man. This version is from the Cecil Sharp MSS.

Biggun Smith sang The Three Jolly Butcher Boys to Peter Shepheard in The Fisherman bar at Beachley Ferry, Gloucestershire, on 3 January 1967 during a visit with Danny Brazil. This recording was included in 2000 on the Musical Traditions anthology of the Smith Family, Band of Gold.

Sweeney's Men recorded this song as Johnstone in 1968 for their first album, Sweeney's Men.

The Halliard with Jon Raven recorded it in 1968 as The Three Butchers for their album The Halliard : Jon Raven.

John Faulkner and Sandra Kerr sang Three Jolly Butchers in 1969 on their Argo LP John & Sandra.

Tony Rose sang The Three Butchers in 1970 on his first album, Young Hunting. He noted:

Different variants of The Three Butchers crop up all over the south of England—this one having been collected by Lucy Broadwood in 1902 from Henry Burstow of Horsham, Sussex. [VWML SBG/3/1/804] . Although I've omitted it here, because I think it slows down the story line, this is the only version of the song to my knowledge, in which the singer sang a chorus:

With my hey ding, ding, with my ho ding, ding,
With my high ding, ding, high day
May God keep all good people from such bad company.

Roy Bailey sang The Three Butchers in 1971 on his eponymous Trailer album Roy Bailey. This track was also included in 1975 on the Trailer sampler Our Folk Music Heritage.

The Druids sang Three Jolly Sportsmen in 1972 on their Argo album Pastime With Good Company.

Roy Harris sang The Three Butchers on his 1972 Topic album, The Bitter and the Sweet.

Nimrod Workman of Chattaroy, West Virginia, sang Dixon Said to Johnson to Mark Wilson and Ken Irwin on 1 March 1976. This recording was included in 2007 on the Musical Traditions anthology Meeting's a Pleasure Volume 2.

Nelson Penfold from Westlake, Demon, sang The Two Butchers in a recording made by Sam Richards and Tish Stubbs in between 1974 and 1980. In was included in 1981 on the Folkways album An English Folk Music Anthology. They noted:

This ballad ranks as one of those that Child omitted for reasons best known t o himself. As MacColl and Seeger remark: “It not only fulfils his definition of a ballad but has been popular with country singers at least since 1678, when it appeared as a black-letter broadside under the title of The Three Worthy Butchers of the North.”.

The singer, Nelson Penfold, is a traveller (gypsy), and indeed the song has had some popularity among his people. He sings it with a direct, straightforward style, wall paced, and suited to this kind of fast-moving adventure story.

Walter Pardon sang Two Jolly Butchers in a recording made by Mike Yates in June 1978 on his 1983 album Bright Golden Store. An earlier recording from 1975 can be found on his 2000 Topic anthology A World Without Horses.

Morris Norton of Sodom Laurel, Madison County, North Carolina sang Dicky Said to Johnny to Mike Yates on 31 August 1980. This recording was included in 2013 on the Musical Traditions anthology of songs, tunes and stories from Yates' Appalachian collections, Far in the Mountains Volume 5. Mike Yates noted:

Dicky said to Johnny is an opening fragment of the old English ballad The Three Worthy Butchers of the North, which was first published on a blackletter broadside sometime between 1672 and 1679. According to the broadside the song was written by one Paul Burges. In the full text three butchers are lured into a trap by a naked woman (with her hair pinned to the ground) so that a team of robbers can attack them and rob them of their money. The song was later published on a number of 19th century broadsides and was highly popular with traditional singers.

Steeleye Span recorded Two Butchers for their 1989 album Tempted and Tried, this time with a chorus. This track was also released as B-side of the single Following Me. A live version of this song recorded in 1994 was released on the CD Steeleye Span in Concert.

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sang The Three Butchers on their 1992 album A Present from the Gentlemen. They noted:

The Three Butchers is from the singing of Henry Burstow. Lucy Broadwood noted it down from him in 1894, and included it in her English Traditional Songs and Carols.

Damien Barber sang Three Jolly Butchers in 2000 on his CD The Furrowed Field. He noted:

When I moved back to England I spent six months living with Denny Bartley and I hold him fully responsible for my obsession with playing the guitar. The song comes from a combination of a version by Roy Bailey on the original Folk Heritage album and my dad singing it. I made some of it up as I lost the tape of Roy and my dad can't remember singing it, let alone remember the words.

Mark Dunlop sang The Three Huntsmen in 2008 on his Greentrax album Islands on the Moon.

Andy Irvine sang Three Huntsmen on his 2010 album Abocurragh. He noted:

I learned this graphic song, to a different tune, back in the early sixties from Johnny Moynihan who got it from Dave Smyth who got it from Paddy Lawless in Dublin. We always loved the line—“out sprang three bold and swaggering men with swords keen in hand”. It has been collected as far afield as Ireland, England, Appalachia and Canada. Sam Henry prints a version from Coleraine with a unique ending, the three huntsmen staying together and killing all eleven of the highwaymen and the girl, their captain.

Nick Hart sang Two Butchers in 2014 on Oss's EP.

Pilgrims' Way sang Ibson, Gibson, Johnson on their 2017 album Stand & Deliver.

Lyrics

Bob Scarce sings Three Jolly Sportsmen

It's of three jolly sportsmen
As I have heard people say,
They took five hundred guineas
All on one market day.

Now as they were riding along the road
As fast as they could ride,
Saying, “Stop your horse.” cried Johnson,
“For I hear a woman cry.”

“But I shall not stop,” said Lipston,
“I shall not stop,” said he.
“I shall not stop,” said Lipston,
“A robbed we shall be.”

Now Johnson he got off his horse
To search the groves all round.
He found a woman stark naked
With her hair pinned to the ground.

“A woman, a woman,
How came you here fast bound?
How came you here stark naked
With your hair pinned to the ground?”

“They stripped me they robbed me,
Both hands and feet they bound.
They left me here stark naked
With my hair pinned to the ground.”

Now Johnson being a valiant man,
A courage man so bold.
He took his coat from off his back
For to keep her from the cold.

Then Johnson he got on his horse
And the woman on behind,
She clasped her fingers to her ears
And she give three warning cries.

Now up stepped three young swaggering young men
With swords all in their hands,
They bid him for to stop and stand,
And they bid him for to stand.

“I will stop. I will stand,” cried Johnson,
“I will stop. I will stand,” cried he.
“But I never was in all my life
Afraid of any three.”

Now Johnson drew his glittering sword
And two of them he's slain.
Whilst he was killing the other one
The woman stabbed him behind.

“I must fall, I must fall,” cried Johnson,
“I must fall upon the ground.
It's because of this wicked woman
She has caused my deathly wound.”

Oh she shall be hung in chains of gold
For the murder she has done,
She has killed the finest butcher boy
That ever the sun shined on.

She shall be hung in chains of gold
For the murder she has done.
She has killed the finest butcher boy
That ever the sun shined on.

Caroline Hughes sings The Three Butchers

“Oh hark, oh hark!” cried Johnson,
“Well, I heard a poor woman cry.
They got her yer (here) stark naked
With her hair pinned to the ground.”

Oh, they flogged this poor woman,
They dragged her with hair of the head,
They dragged her through forest copses
And pinned her to the ground.

“Well now ride on, ride on!” said Johnson,
“Let’s hear that voice again!”
“Oh no, Oh no,” said the other butcher boys,
Said, “Do let’s go away.”

Well, Johnson was a clever boy,
Well, he fought with courage bold,
“Oh hark, said hark!” said Johnson,
“For I hear that woman again.”

Oh, Johnson he was boley (?)
He found a woman there;
He found the woman stark naked
With her hair pinned to the ground.

They dug the skewer through Johnson’s back,
All five he felled at once;
He was one of the cleverest butcher boys
That ever the sun shone on.

Martin Carthy sings Two Butchers

It's of two noble butchers as I have heard men say,
They started out from London all on the market day;
And as they were riding along as fast as they could ride,
“Oh stop your horse,” says Johnson, “for I hear some woman cry.”

“I will not stop,” says Wilson, “I will not stop,” says he.
“I will not stop,” says Wilson, “for robbed we shall be.”
So Johnson he got off his horse and he searched the woods all around
And there he found this woman with her hair pinned to the ground.

“How came you here dear woman? How came you here fast bound?
How came you here stark naked with your hair pinned to the ground?”
“Oh they robbed me, they stripped me, they left me here fast bound.
They left me here this morning with my hair pinned to the ground.”

So Johnson he being a valiant man and a man of valiant mind,
He wrapped his coat around her and he took her up behind.
And as they were riding along as fast as they could ride
She put her fingers to her mouth and she gave three shivering cries.

Out jumped three bold and struggling men with swords keen in hand
Who then commanded Johnson commanded him to stand.
“I'll stop, I'll stand, said Johnson, “I'll stop I'll stand,” says he,
“For never was I in all my life afraid of any three.”

Oh two of them he quickly slew and the third he did not mind,
Till the false young woman took her knife and she stabbed him from behind.
Poor Johnson he spun round about and fell down to the ground
And he cursed that wretched woman who gave him his dead wound.

Oh the day it being the market day there were people passing by
Who saw the awful murder, who saw poor Johnson die.

Tony Rose sings The Three Butchers

A story I will tell to you, it is of butchers three,
Gibson, Wilson and Johnson, mark well what I do say;
Now as they had five hundred pound all on a market day,
Now as they had five hundred pound to pay upon their way.

And as they rode along the road as fast as they could ride,
“Spur on your horse,” bold Johnson called, “for I hear a woman cry.”
And as they came into the woods, the scene they spied around,
They saw a naked woman lie a-swooning on the ground.

“O woman, o woman,” Johnson cried, “Oh pray come tell to me.”
“O woman, o woman,” Johnson cried, “Have you got any company?”
“Oh, no no no,” that woman said, “However can that be
When here have been by ten swaggering blades who've robbed and beaten me.”

Now Johnson being a valiant man and he bore a valiant mind,
He wrapped her up in his great coat and he set her up behind.
And as they rode along the road as fast as they could ride,
She put her fingers to her ears and she gave a screetful cry.

With that came out ten swaggering blades with the rapiers in their hands,
And they rode up to bold Johnson, and they boldly bid him stand.
“Oh, I will not fight,” young Gibson says, “for I fear that I will die.”
“No more will I,” cries Wilson, “for I would sooner fly!”

“Come on! Come on!” said the bold Johnson, “I'll fight you all so free.
And woman, stand you here behind, we'll gain the victory.”
Now the very first pistol Johnson fired was loaded with powder and ball
And out of them ten swaggering blades, well five of them did fall.

“Come on! Come on!” said the bold Johnson, “There are but five to me.
And woman, stand you here behind, we'll gain the victory.”
And the very next pistol Johnson fired was loaded with powder and ball
And out of them five swaggering blades, well three of them did fall.

“Come on! Come on!” said the bold Johnson, “I'll fight you both so free.
And woman, stand you here behind, we'll gain the victory.”
Now Johnson fought those rogues in front, the woman he did not mind,
She took his knife all from his side and she ripped him down behind.

“Well I must fall,” said the bold Johnson, “I must fall to the ground,
For helping a wicked woman, she gave me my death wound.”
O woman, o woman, o woman, do you see what you have done?
You killed the bravest butcher that ever the sun shone on.

And just has she had done the deed some men came riding by,
And when they saw what she had done they raised an awful cry.
Now she was condemned to die in chains, in iron links so strong
For murdering of bold Johnson, that brave and valiant man.

Nimrod Workman sings Dixon Said to Johnson

Dixon said to Johnson upon one holiday,
“Let's ride around the mountain to pass the time away.”
Old Johnson being willing as they sat down to rest
They spied a naked woman a-sitting by herself.

“Oh, woman, foolish woman, what are you doing there?”
“The robbers they have robbed me; they've left me here to die.”
Old Johnson being willing, a willing man in mind,
He threw his greatcoat around her and took her on behind.

They rode on a few miles further as they sat down to rest,
She drew a bloody dagger; she plunged it through his chest.
“Woman, foolish woman, see what that you've done done,
You've killed the bravest soldier that ever fired a gun.”

“I know I've killed many a man; I've killed them all my life.
I know I've killed a many a one; I am that robber's wife.”

Steeleye Span's version of Two Butchers

It's of two noble butchers as I have heard men say,
Started out from London all on a market day.
And as they were a-riding as fast as they could ride,
“Oh, stop your horse,” says Johnson, “for I hear some woman cry.”

“I will not stop,” says Wilson, “I will not stop,” says he.
“I will not stop,” says Wilson, “for robbed we shall be.”
Johnson, he got off his horse, searched the woods all round,
And there he spied a woman with her hair pinned to the ground.

“How came you here, dear woman? How came you here fast bound?
“How came you here this morning with your hair pinned to the ground?”
“They robbed me, they stripped me, they left me here fast bound,
They left me here this morning with my hair pinned to the ground.”

Chorus:
May God keep all good people, may God keep all good people,
May God keep all good people from such bad company.

Then Johnson, he being a valiant man and a man of courage bold,
He took his coat from off his back to keep her from the cold.
And as they were a-riding as fast as they could ride,
She put a whistle to her mouth and she gave three shivering cries.

Up jumped three bold and swaggering men with swords all in their hands,
Who then commanded Johnson, commanded him to stand.
“I'll stop, I'll stand,” says Johnson, “as long as I can stand,
For never was I, in all my life, afraid of any man.”

Chorus

Oh, two of them he quickly slew and the third he did not mind
Till the false young woman took a knife and stabbed him from behind.
Poor Johnson he spun round about and he fell down to the ground.
And he cursed that wretched woman who gave him his death wound.

Now the day it being a market day, there were people travelling by
Who saw the awful murder, who saw poor Johnson die.
Now Johnson he was a valiant man, and a valiant man was he,
May God keep all good people from such bad company.

Chorus

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sing The Three Butchers

A story I will tell to you concerning butchers three,
Gibson, Wilson and Johnson, mark well what I do say;
Now as they had five hundred pound, upon a market day,
As they had five hundred pound to spend upon their way.

Chorus (after each verse):
With a hey, ding, ding, and a ho, ding, ding,
A high, ding, ding, high day,
May Heaven keep good people from such bad company.

And as they rode along the road as fast as they could ride,
Spur on your horse, cries Johnson, for I hear a woman cry;
And as they rode into the wood, the scene they spied around,
There they found this woman, stark naked on the ground.

“O woman, woman,” Johnson cries, “And woman, tell to me.
And woman, woman,” Johnson cries, “Have you got any company?”
“Oh, no, oh no,” this woman cried, “However can it be
When there's been by ten swaggering blades who've robbed and beaten me.”

Now Johnson being a valiant man, a man of valiant mind,
He's wrapped her up in his great coat, and he's pulled her on behind,
And as they rode into the wood, the woman he did not mind,
She put her fingers to her lips and gave a shivering cry.

Then out and stepped ten swaggering blades with rapiers keen in hand,
They stepped up to Johnson, and boldly bid him stand.
“Oh, I'll not stand,” says Wilson, “I'm sure that I would die.”
“No more will I,” says Gibson, “For I will surely fly!”

“Come on! come on!” cries bold Johnson, “You are but ten to me,
And woman, stand you there behind, we'll gain the victory.”
The very first pistol Johnson fires is loaded with powder and ball,
And out of these ten swaggering blades full five of them did fall.

“Come on! come on!” cries bold Johnson, “You are but five to me,
And woman, stand you there behind, we'll gain the victory.”
And the very next pistol Johnson fires is loaded with powder and ball,
And out of these five swaggering blades another three did fall.

“Come on! come on!” cries bold Johnson, “You are but two to me,
And woman, stand you there behind, we'll gain the victory.”
But as he fought these rogues in front, the woman he did not mind,
She drew his knife all from his belt and stabbed him from behind.

Now, the day it being a market day, there's people passing by,
They saw the awful murder, and raised a hue and cry.
So now she is condemned to die in iron chains so strong,
For killing the finest young butcher that ever the sun shone on.

Andy Irvine sings Three Huntsmen

It's of three huntsmen brave and bold as I have heard them say
They took five hundred guineas all on one market day
And as they rode home together o'er the Wicklow mountains high
O it's, “Hold your horse,” cries Johnson, “ for I hear a woman cry.”

“I will not stop,” says Wilson, “I will not stop,” says he,
“And nor will I stop,” says Gilmore, “for robbed I'm afraid we'll be.”
But Johnson getting off his horse and searching the woods all round
Till he found a naked woman with her hair pinned to the ground.

“O woman dear, O woman dear, how came you here for to span?
Who that brought you here on this May morning with your hair pinned to the ground?”
“It was three bold and struggling men with swords keen in hand
Who that brought me here this May morning with my hair pinned to the ground.

“But my father he's a wealthy man and your kindness he'll repay,
My life I place all in your hands, protect me sir, I pray.”
Well Johnson being a man of his own, being valiant, brave and bold,
He took off his coat from off his back for to keep her from the cold.

And Johnson getting on his horse, the woman got on behind,
They rode down that lonesome valley their fortunes for to find.
And as they rode on along the way as fast as they could ride
She threw her fingers to her lips and she gave three shivering cries.

Out sprang three bold and struggling men with swords keen in hand
Who commanded him to tarry, commanded him to stand.
“Well I will stand,” says Johnson, “I'll stand then,” says he.
“For I never was in all my life afraid of any three.”

And Johnson killing two of them not minding the woman behind
As he was at the other one she stabbed him from behind.
The day was free and a market day, the people all passing by
Could have seen this awful murder, could have seen poor Johnson die.

Acknowledgements

Transcribed by Garry Gillard from the singing of Martin Carthy. Thanks to Patrick Montague for correcting the lyrics.