A Derbyshire Poem – The Drunken Butcher of Tideswell

This ballad was written more than 150 years ago by Mr William Bennett, the author of the ‘King of the Peak’ and ‘The Cavalier’.

‘The legend is still so strong in the Peak ’ wrote the author, ‘that numbers of the inhabitants do not concur in the sensible interpretation put upon the phantom by the butcher’s wife, but pertinaciously believe that the drunken man was beset by an evil spirit, which either ran by his horse’s side or rolled on the ground before him faster than his horse could gallop, from Peak Forest to the sacred enclosure of Tideswell Churchyard, where it disappeared; and many a bold fellow, on a moonlight night, looks anxiously around as he crosses Tideswell Moor, and gives his nag an additional touch of the spur as he hears the bell of Tideswell Church swinging midnight to the winds, and remembers the tale of “The Drunken Butcher of Tideswell.”’

‘Oh list to me, ye yeoman all
Who live in dale or down
My song is of a butcher tall
Who lived in Tideswall town.
In bluff King Harry’s merry days
He slew both sheep and kine
And drank his fill of nut-brown ale
In lack of good red wine

Beside the church this butcher lived
Close to its grey old walls
And envied not when trade was good
The baron in his halls
No carking cares disturbed his rest
When oft to bed he slunk
And oft he snored for ten good hours
Because he got so drunk

One only sorrow quelled his heart
As well it might quell mine
The fear of sprites and grisly ghosts
Which dance in the moonshine
Or wander in the cold churchyard
Among the dismal tombs
Where hemlock blossoms in the day
By night the nightshade blooms

It chanced upon a summer’s day
When heather-bells were blowing
Bold Robin crossed o’er Tideswall moor
And heard the heath-cock crowing
Well mounted on a forest nag
He freely rode and fast
Nor drew a rein till Sparrow Pit
And Paislow Moss was past

Then slowly down the hill he came
To the Chapelle-en-le-Frith
Where at the Rose of Lancaster
He found his friend the smith
The parson and the pardoner, too
They took their morning draught
And when they spied a brother near
They all came out and laughed

Now draw thy rein, thou jolly butcher
How far has thou to ride
To Waylee Bridge, to Simon the tanner
To sell this good cow-hide
Thou shalt not go one foot ayont
Till thou light and sup with me
And when thou’st emptied my measure of liquor
I’ll have a measure wi’ thee

Oh no, oh no, thou drouthy smith
I cannot tarry to-day
The wife she gave me a charge to keep
And I durst not say her nay
What likes o’ that, said parson then
If thou’st sworn, thou’st ne’er to rue
Thou may’st keep thy pledge, and drink thy stoup
As an honest man e’en may do

Oh no, oh no, thou jolly parson
I cannot tarry, I say
I was drunk last night, and if I tarry
I’se be drunk again to-day
What likes, what likes! Cried the pardoner then
Why tellest thou that to me?
Thou may’st e’en get thee drunk this blessed night
And well shrived for both thou shalt be

Then down got the butcher from his horse
I wot full fain was he
And he drank till the summer sun was set
In that jolly company
He drank till the summer sun went down
And the stars began to shine
And his greasy noddle was dazed and addle
With the nut-brown ale and wine

They up arose those four mad fellows
And joining hand in hand
They danced around the hostel floor
And swung tho’ they scarce could stand
We’ve aye been drunk on yester night
And drunk the night before
And we were drunk again to night
If we never get drunk any more

Bold Robin the butcher was horsed and away
And a drunken wight was he
For sometimes his blood-red eyes saw double
And then he could scantly see
The forest trees seemed to featly dance
As he rode so swift along
And the forest trees to his wildered sense
Re-sang the jovial song

Then up he sped over Paislow Moss
And down by the Chamber Knowle
And there he was scared into mortal fear
By the hooting of a barn owl
And on he rode by the forest wall
Where the deer browsed silently
And up the slack till on Tideswall Moor
His horse stood fair and free

Just then the moon from behind the rack
Burst out into open view
And on the sward and purple heath
Broad light and shadow threw
And there the butcher whose heart beat quick
With fear of gramarye
Fast by his side, as he did ride
A foul phantom did espy

Up rose the fell of his head, up rose
The hood which his head did shroud
And all his teeth did chatter and grin
And he cried both long and loud
And his horse’s flanks with his spur he struck
As he never had struck before
And away he galloped with might and main
Across the barren moor

But ever as fast as the butcher rode
The ghost did grimly glide
Now down on the earth before his horse
Then fast his rein beside
O’er stock and rock and stone and pit
O’er hill and dale and down
Till Robin the butcher gained his door-stone
In Tideswall’s good old town

Oh, what thee ails, thou drunken butcher?
Said his wife as he sank down
And what thee ails, thou drunken butcher?
Cried one half of the town
I have seen a ghost; it hath raced my horse
For three good miles and more
And it vanished within the churchyard wall
As I sank down at the door

Beshrew thy heart for a drunken beast
Cried his wife, as she held him there
Beshrew thy heart for a drunken beast
And a coward with heart of hare
No ghost hath raced they horse to-night
Nor evened his wit with thine
The ghost was thy shadow, thou drunken wretch
I would the ghost were mine!