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John of Ditchford

[words Tim Harries adapted from “A Lynching” (1322) by Eric Jenkins, from his book Northamptonshire Murder Tales 1998; music Tim Harries]

Gay Woods and Tim Harries sang Harries’ song John of Ditchford in 2000 on Steeleye Span’s CD Bedlam Born.


Steeleye Span sing John of Ditchford

In the spring of Thirteen Twenty-Two
Henry Felip and his son
Were riding home from Northampton
When they met with six bold robbers.

Henry shouted to his son,
Take the money boy and run
So he’s turned his horse to Courteenhall
For to raise the hue and cry.

His father faced this ugly crew
But six to one what could he do?
And when the son returned with help
He was too late to save him.

He left his father where he lay
Through his tears to ride that day
And pursue the killers in their way
As they made off in the distance.

Five of six they swiftly caught
But one alone did slip their grasp
An to Wooton Church he’s turned away
And through her doors she’s took him.

Sanctuary was his claim,
Grief and sword outside remain
Till the Coroner he quickly came
For to hear the thief’s confession.

I’m John of Ditchford said the man,
I was there of six our band
And yes we killed the Nobleman
On the road to Stoke Bruerne.

Do you now abjure the realm?
What’s your meaning? says young John,
You will leave this land and ne’er return
Or your blood we will spill on her.

Do you now abjure the realm?
I abjure it says young John
So to Dover you will straightway go
And the first ship you will take her.

He must reach that distant port
Without coin nor shoes nor friend
And stand in the ocean to his knees
And wait what ship would have him.

They took from him all he had
Gave him sackcloth for to wear
And a wooden cross for him to hold
On the lonely road to Dover.

He sets out upon the road
Cross in hand and heavy heart
They found him headless in a field
One mile away from Wooton.