Bowes Tragedy

The Bowes Tragedy


Bowes Tragedy/ Edwin and Emma (digression)


The ballad `The Pattern of True Love’ or `Bowes’ Tragedy’, and the poem of `Edwin and Emma’ admittedly have little direct relevance to Bowes Show, but in our research of the late19th century there were constant newspaper references to Bowes being the background for the `famous ballad’ tragedy. As with most local stories there are always some apparent inconsistencies. However, our research has produced the following results:

parchment2During the early 18th century the Wrightson family were Bowes land owners and lived at the Kings Head Inn (near the archway – this may be the building that is now occupied by the Bowes Working Mens Club). The younger brother of the family, Roger, fell in love with Martha Ritson, the daughter of another innkeeper (the George, which is now the Ancient Unicorn Inn), Unfortunately Martha’s family was of lower social status, and the Wrightson’s obviously disapproved of the match, holding to the maxim that blood is nothing without groats. After a year of clandestine courtship Roger fell ill with a fever and asked to see Martha. Mrs Wrightson reluctantly allowed the visit but Hannah Wrightson (Roger’s sister) remained in the room with Roger, resulting in Martha being unable to declare her undying love to Roger. Three days later Roger died and 12 hours after that, Martha died of a broken heart. The lovers were buried together in the same grave at the west end of Bowes graveyard, but with Hannah still unable to contain her anger or bile.

They died both aged 20 years, in March 1714, and by 1717 the local grammar school master had penned a ballad `Bowes’ Tragedy’ from which, we are informed Martha’s younger sister, Tamar, made a reasonable living well into her old age, singing to travellers passing through Bowes. The folk tune used for the: ballad was thought to be from the Wandering Prince of Troy or Queen Dido, written by Dr Wilson around 1643, but may have been an adaptation by him, of an earlier tune. An interesting footnote concerning John Ritson, landlord of the George, (Martha’s brother) who’s main source of income was travellers arriving weary from crossing Stanemore, was that he invested money in improving part of the road surface. Sadly he found that instead of increasing trade, the weary travellers having crossed the moor now preferred to press on to Greta Bridge on the much improved road surface.

In 1760 the `writer of lesser verse’, David Mallett (who was a McGregor from Crieff but changed his surname to avoid the problems associated with the clan name), was looking for another `hit’ after his successful verse `William and Margaret’ It would appear that tales of tragic lovers were a very popular amusement of the times. Hearing the story of Roger and Martha he penned his poem `Edwin and Emma’, but acknowledged the source material. The poem although not achieving critical acclaim became sufficiently popular to be remembered as the definitive version of events, particularly in the Bowes area.

The original publication of the poem ‘Edwin & Emma’ published in 1810 by Baskerville has been digitised by Google and can be opened as a PDF file by (left) clicking on this link, or you may right-click and save the file to your computer.

The music for the ballad has been recovered, re orchestrated by Mel Stallwood and can now be heard with the ballad (all 23 verses) below on this website. A copy of Mallets poem `Edwin and Emma’ is also available on request.

The sound file below is for 2 verses only (unfortunately our original pop-up text scroller which synchronised to the music is no longer supported by the latest browsers – that’s progress for you!

‘Edwin & Emma’ (David Mallet) published in 1810

1. Let Carthage Queen be now no more
The subject of our mournful song;
Nor such old tales which, heretofore,
Did so amuse the teeming throng;
Since the sad story which I’ll tell,
All other tragedies excel.
13. Then after three short minutes space,
As she in sorrow groaning lay,
A gentleman did her embrace,
And mildly unto her did say,
‘Dear melting soul be not so sad,
But let your passion be allayed.’
2. Remote in Yorkshire, near to Bowes,
Of late did Roger Wrightson dwell;
He courted Martha Railton, whose
Repute for virtue did excel;
Yet Roger’s friends would not agree,
That he to her should married be.
14. Her answer was, ‘My heart is burst,
My span of life is near an end;
My love from me by death is forced,
My grief no soul can comprehend.’
Then her poor heart it waxed faint,
When she had ended her complaint.
3. Their love continued one whole year,
Full sore against their parents’ will;
And when he found them so severe,
His loyal heart began to chill:
And last Shrove Tuesday, took his bed,
With grief and woe encompassed.
15. For three hours’ space, as in a trance,
This broken-hearted creature lay,
Her mother wailing her mischance,
To pacify her did essay:
But all in vain, for strength being past,
She seemingly did breathe her last.
4. Thus he continued twelve days’ space,
In anguish and in grief of mind;
And no sweet peace in any case,
This ardent lover’s heart could find;
But languished in a train of grief,
Which pierced his heart beyond relief.
16. Her mother, thinking she was dead,
Began to shriek and cry amain;
And heavy lamentations made,
Which called her spirit back again;
To be an object of hard fate,
And give to grief a longer date.
5. Now anxious Martha sore distressed,
A private message did him send,
Lamenting that she could not rest,
Till she had seen her loving friend:
His answer was, ‘Nay, nay, my dear,
Our folks will angry be I fear.’
17. Distorted with convulsions, she,
In dreadful manner gasping lay,
Of twelve long hours no moment free,
Her bitter groans did her dismay:
Then her poor heart being sadly broke,
Submitted to the fatal stroke.
6. Full fraught with grief, she took no rest,
But spent her time in pain and fear,
Till a few days before his death
She sent an orange to her dear;
But’s cruel mother in disdain,
Did send the orange back again.
18. When things were to this issue brought,
Both in one grave were to he laid:
But flinty-hearted Hannah thought,
By stubborn means for to persuade,
Their friends and neighbours from the same,
For which she surely was to blame.
7. Three days before her lover died,
Poor Martha with a bleeding heart,
To see her dying lover hied,
In hopes to ease him of his smart;
Where she’s conducted to the bed,
In which this faithful young man laid.
19. And being asked the reason why,
Such base objections she did make,
She answered thus scornfully,
In words not fit for Billingsgate:
‘She might have taken fairer on –
Or else be hanged:’ Oh heart of stone!
8. Where she with doleful cries beheld,
Her fainting lover in despair;
At which her heart with sorrow filled,
Small was the comfort she had there;
Though’s mother showed her great respect,
His sister did her much reject.
20. What hell-born fury had possessed,
Thy vile inhuman spirit thus?
What swelling rage was in thy breast,
That could occasion this disgust,
And make thee show such spleen and rage,
Which life can’t cure nor death assuage?
9. She stayed two hours with her dear,
In hopes for to declare her mind;
But Hannah Wrightson stood so near,
No time to do it she could find:
So that being almost dead with grief,
Away she went without relief.
21. Sure some of Satan’s minor imps,
Ordained were to be thy guide;
To act the part of sordid pimps,
And fill thy heart with haughty pride;
But take this caveat once for all,
Such devilish pride must have a fall.
10. Tears from her eyes did flow amain,
And she full oft would sighing say,
‘My constant love, alas! is slain,
And to pale death, become a prey:
Oh, Hannah, Hannah thou art base;
Thy pride will turn to foul disgrace!’
22. But when to church the corpse was brought,
And both of them met at the gate;
What mournful tears by friends were shed,
When that alas it was too late, –
When they in silent grave were laid,
Instead of pleasing marriage-bed.
11. She spent her time in godly prayers,
And quiet rest did from her fly;
She to her friends full oft declares,
She could not live if he did die:
Thus she continued till the bell,
Began to sound his fatal knell.
23. You parents all both far and near,
By this sad story warning take;
Nor to your children be severe,
When they their choice in love do make;
Let not the love of cursed gold,
True lovers from their love withhold.
12. And when she heard the dismal sound,
Her godly book she cast away,
With bitter cries would pierce the ground.
Her fainting heart ‘gan to decay:
She to her pensive mother said,
‘I cannot live now he is dead.’

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