Poor Murdered Woman

It was Hanky the Squire as I’ve heard them tell
He went out a-hunting all on one fine day
He went out a-hunting but nothing he found
But a poor murdered woman laid on the cold ground

About eight o’clock, boys, our dogs they throwed off
To Leatherhead Common and that was the spot
They tried all the bushes but nothing they found
But a poor murdered woman laid on the cold ground

They whipped their dogs off and they kept them away
For I do think it is proper that she should have fair play
They tried all the bushes but nothing they found
But a poor murdered woman laid on the cold ground

They mounted their horses and they rode off the ground
They rode to the village and alarmed it all around
It is late in the evening, I am sorry to say
She cannot be removed until the next day.

The next Sunday morning about eight o’clock
Some hundreds of people to the spot they did flock
For to see that poor creature it would make your hearts bleed
Some cold-hearted violence came into their heads

She was took off the common and down to some inn
And the man that has kept it his name is John Sims
The coroner was sent for and the jury they joined
And soon they concluded and they settled their mind

A coffin was brought and in it she was laid
And took to the churchyard in fair Leatherhead
No father, no mother, nor no friend at all
Came to see the poor creature put under the mould

The Times, Tuesday January 14, 1834:
SUPPOSED MURDER – While the Surrey Union Fox Hounds (which are under the direction of H. Combe, Esq.) were out hunting on Saturday last, on Leatherhead Common, a most extraordinary and horrid circumstance occurred which at present is involved in great mystery. About 12 o’clock in the day, as the huntsman (Kitt) was beating about for a fox, the hounds suddenly made a dead set at a clump of bushes on the common. As no fox made his appearance, the huntsman whipped the hounds off, but they still returned to the bushes and smelling all round, would not leave. Supposing there was a fox which would not break cover, the huntsman &c., beat the bushes and in so doing, to their astonishment and horror, they discovered the body of a woman in a state of decomposition, so much so, that on attempting to remove it it was found to be impracticable. A person was placed to watch the remains, and information was sent to Dr. Evans of Leatherhead, who promptly attended. On examining the head, a severe wound was found, and from the general appearance of the body it is supposed to have lain there several months. It was placed in a shell and removed to the Royal Oak, on the common, where a coroner’s inquest is summoned to assemble this day (Monday). Various rumours are afloat, some stating the unfortunate woman was the wife of a travelling tinker.

One set of words for this ballad can be found in Lucy Broadwood’s English Traditional Songs and Carols, first published in 1908, over seventy years after the event. In February of that year the Vicar of Leatherhead questioned a Mr Lisney, an eighty-seven-year-old parishioner who remembered the events of 1834. Mr Lisney said the ballad was composed by a local brickmaker, one Mr Fairs. It is, we can see, a remarkably faithful rendition of the events surrounding the murder.

Miss Broadwood published the words with what she describes as a ‘fine Dorian tune’. It is a nice tune. However, I first heard Poor Murdered Woman sung by Martin Carthy, who set it to a different tune, the Scots song The Blaeberry Courtship, and this is the tune I have used.

I find this an exquisitely sad song – an unknown, unremembered person murdered by an unremembered, unknown person. Talk about the bleakness of existence …

The Jones Boys play highly accomplished traditional music from Ireland, England, Scotland, Brittany, Sweden, Bulgaria …

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