Come all you Rogues and Ramblers
Something completely different for you today.*
Come all you rogues and ramblers,
Attention give I pray,
Come likewise all you maidens
And list unto my lay,
It’s of a bold young highwayman,
James Adie was his name,
Who rode abroad through Shropshire,
That county of great fame, brave boys,
That county of great fame.
He robbed the coach from Manchester
A pistol in each hand,
He robbed the coach from Liverpool,
And boldly made it stand,
Armed with both sword and pistol
No man would dare defy,
“Now stand ye and deliver!”
That was his dreadful cry, brave boys,
That was his dreadful cry.
One morning by a flowing stream
James Adie took his ease,
While all the feathered songsters
Set music on the breeze,
A young maid stepped up to him
To view his coal-black steed.
“Who are you, gentle maiden?”
Said she, “I’m Molly Reid,” brave boys,
Said she, “I’m Molly Reid.”
Said he, “This is Black Lightning,
A mare of noble fame,
And now she’ll bear a maiden
With hair as red as flame!”
He pulled her up behind him,
All by that riverside,
And through the Shropshire greenwood
To Clee Hill they did ride, brave boys,
To Clee Hill they did ride.
And there upon the hill top
He gently took her hand,
And put on it a silver ring,
Likewise a golden band.
Said he, “I love you, Molly,
I’ll wed you if I can,
But know my life is hazarded,
For I’m a highwayman,” brave boys,
“For I’m a highwayman.”
One morning on the Watling Street
He thought to take a prize,
King George’s men in red and blue
James Adie did surprise.
To Molly said their sergeant,
“Come down where he does lie,
By pistol and by musket ball
James Adie he will die,” brave boys,
“James Adie he will die.”
She’s come down to his bedside
And there shed many a tear.
He’s smiled and said, “Sweet Molly
I beg you have no fear,
No more upon the turnpike
I’ll wander and I’ll roam,
Dick Turpin and John Nevison
Have come to take me home, brave boys!
Have come to take me home.”
She’s bent down to James Adie
And kissed him cheek to chin,
Said he, “To leave Black Lightning
Would be a greater sin!”
He’s giv’n to her the bridle
And put it in her hand,
And now upon Black Lightning
She rides throughout the land, brave boys,
She rides throughout the land.
*So, how did this poem come about? Well, you will have noticed that it is unlike anything I normally post here, in both form and length. However it is similar in one important respect, inasmuch as it was written quickly and on a sudden inspiration. A friend of mine had just been to a concert given by British folk-rock musician Richard Thompson, and had written a review for a Scottish arts review site. In his review he commented on Richard’s song 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, to the effect that somewhere there was a lost Child Ballad about a highwayman who wills his faithful steed to an innkeeper’s daughter. “Well,” I thought, “maybe not a Child Ballad, more probably a ‘Broadside’ or ‘Broadsheet Ballad’. So I wrote this for him. I set it in Shropshire because my friend used to live there.
It contains all the tropes of an English folk-song, the facility of rhymes, the common images, the ‘Come all you…’ invocation, the occasional jump in narrative where part of the song might have been lost in transmission. And of course love and violent death! The song mentions Dick Turpin and John Nevison, two notorious highwaymen, one from the 18c and the other from the 17c; James Adie sees their shades coming to take him (hopefully) to heaven. I had great fun writing this, and I hope you enjoy reading it, as a departure from my normal postings.