Popular Ballads of the Olden Time

The following is from Popular Ballads of the Olden Time: Third Series - Ballads of Scottish Tradition and Romance Selected and Edited by Frank Sidgwick:

John o' the Side

'He is weil kend, Johne of the Syde,
A greater theif did never ryde.'

Sir Richard Maitland.

The Text is from the Percy Folio, but is given in modernised spelling. It lacks the beginning, probably, and one line in st. 3, which can be easily guessed; but as a whole it is an infinitely fresher and better ballad than that inserted in the Minstrelsy of Sir Walter Scott.

The Story is akin to that of Kinmont Willie (p. 49). John of the Side (on the river Liddel, nearly opposite Mangerton) first appears about 1550 in a list of freebooters against whom complaints were laid before the Bishop of Carlisle. He was, it seems, another of the Armstrong family.

Hobby Noble has a ballad[1] to himself (as the hero of the present ballad deserves), in which mention is made of Peter of Whitfield. This is doubtless the person mentioned in the first line of John o' the Side as having been killed presumably by John himself.

[Footnote 1: Child, No. 189, from Caw's Poetical Museum, but not of sufficient merit to be included here.]

'Culertun,' 10.1, is Chollerton on the Tyne. Percy suggests Challerton, and in the ballads upon which Scott founded his version the name is 'Choler-ford.' 'Howbrame wood' and 'Lord Clough' are not identified; and Flanders files, effective as they appear to be, are not otherwise known.

'The ballad,' says Professor Child, 'is one of the best in the world, and enough to make a horse-trooper of any young borderer, had he lacked the impulse.'

Peter o' Whifield he hath slain,
  And John o' Side, he is ta'en,
And John is bound both hand and foot,
  And to the New-castle he is gone.

But tidings came to the Sybil o' the Side,
  By the water-side as she ran;
She took her kirtle by the hem,
  And fast she run to Mangerton.

  ... ... ...

  The lord was set down at his meat;
When these tidings she did him tell,
  Never a morsel might he eat.

But lords they wrung their fingers white,
  Ladies did pull themselves by the hair,
Crying 'Alas and welladay!
  For John o' the Side we shall never see more.

'But we'll go sell our droves of kine,
  And after them our oxen sell,
And after them our troops of sheep,
  But we will loose him out of the New Castell.'

But then bespake him Hobby Noble,
  And spoke these words wondrous high;
Says, 'Give me five men to myself,
  And I'll fetch John o' the Side to thee.'

'Yea, thou'st have five, Hobby Noble,
  Of the best that are in this country;
I'll give thee five thousand, Hobby Noble,
  That walk in Tyvidale truly.'

'Nay, I'll have but five,' says Hobby Noble,
  'That shall walk away with me;
We will ride like no men of war,
  But like poor badgers we will be.'                ['badgers,' corn-dealers or pedlars]

They stuffed up all their bags with straw,
  And their steeds barefoot must be;               ['barefoot,' unshod]
'Come on, my brethren,' says Hobby Noble,
  'Come on your ways, and go with me.'

And when they came to Culerton ford,
  The water was up, they could it not go;
And then they were ware of a good old man,
  How his boy and he were at the plough.

'But stand you still,' says Hobby Noble,
  'Stand you still here at this shore,
And I will ride to yonder old man,
  And see where the gate it lies o'er.               ['gate,' way]

'But Christ you save, father!' quoth he,
  'Christ both you save and see!                      ['see,' protect]
Where is the way over this ford?
  For Christ's sake tell it me.'

'But I have dwelled here three score year,
  So have I done three score and three;
I never saw man nor horse go o'er,
  Except it were a horse of tree*.'

[* 'tree,' wood. The Folio gives '3'; Percy suggested the emendation]

'But fare thou well, thou good old man!
  The devil in hell I leave with thee,
No better comfort here this night
  Thou gives my brethren here and me.'

But when he came to his brether again,
  And told this tidings full of woe,
And then they found a well good gate
  They might ride o'er by two and two.

And when they were come over the ford,
  All safe gotten at the last,
'Thanks be to God!' says Hobby Noble,
  'The worst of our peril is past.'

And then they came into Howbrame wood,
  And there then they found a tree,
And cut it down then by the root.
  The length was thirty foot and three.

And four of them did take the plank,
  As light as it had been a flea,
And carried it to the New Castle,
  Where as John o' Side did lie.

And some did climb up by the walls,
  And some did climb up by the tree,
Until they came up to the top of the castle,
  Where John made his moan truly.

He said, 'God be with thee, Sybil o' the Side!
  My own mother thou art,' quoth he;
'If thou knew this night I were here,
  A woe woman then wouldst thou be.

'And fare you well, Lord Mangerton!
  And ever I say God be with thee!
For if you knew this night I were here,
  You would sell your land for to loose me.

'And fare thou well, Much, Miller's son!
  Much, Miller's son, I say;
Thou has been better at mirk midnight
  Than ever thou was at noon o' the day.

'And fare thou well, my good lord Clough!
  Thou art thy father's son and heir;
Thou never saw him in all thy life       ['him' = man, which is suggested by Furnivall]
  But with him durst thou break a spear.

'We are brothers childer nine or ten,
  And sisters children ten or eleven;
We never came to the field to fight,
  But the worst of us was counted a man.'

But then bespake him Hobby Noble,
  And spake these words unto him;
Says 'Sleepest thou, wakest thou, John o' the Side,
  Or art thou this castle within?'

'But who is there,' quoth John o' the Side,
  'That knows my name so right and free?'
'I am a bastard-brother of thine;
  This night I am comen for to loose thee.'

'Now nay, now nay,' quoth John o' the Side,
  'It fears me sore that will not be,
For a peck of gold and silver,' John said,
  'In faith this night will not loose me.'

But then bespake him Hobby Noble,
  And till his brother thus said he;
Says 'Four shall take this matter in hand,
  And two shall tent our geldings free.'                      ['tent,' guard]

Four did break one door without,
  Then John brake five himsel';
But when they came to the iron door,
  It smote twelve upon the bell.

'It fears me sore,' said Much, the Miller,
  'That here taken we all shall be;'
'But go away, brethren,' said John o' the Side,
  'For ever alas! this will not be.'

'But fie upon thee!' said Hobby Noble;
  'Much, the Miller, fie upon thee!
It sore fears me,' said Hobby Noble,
  'Man that thou wilt never be.'

But then he had Flanders files two or thee,
  And he filed down that iron door,
And took John out of the New Castle,
  And said 'Look thou never come here more!'

When he had him forth of the New Castle,
  'Away with me, John, thou shalt ride.'
But ever alas! it could not be,
  For John could neither sit nor stride.

But then he had sheets two or three,
  And bound John's bolts fast to his feet,
And set him on a well good steed,
  Himself on another by him set.

Then Hobby Noble smiled and lough,                        ['lough,' laughed]
  And spoke these words in mickle pride;
'Thou sits so finely on thy gelding
  That, John, thou rides like a bride.'

And when they came thorough Howbrame town,
  John's horse there stumbled at a stone;
'Out and alas!' cried Much, the Miller,
  'John, thou'll make us all be ta'en.'

'But fie upon thee!' says Hobby Noble,
  'Much, the Miller, fie on thee!
I know full well,' says Hobby Noble,
  'Man that thou wilt never be.'

And when they came into Howbrame wood,
  He had Flanders files two or three
To file John's bolts beside his feet,
  That he might ride more easily.

Says 'John, now leap over a steed!'
  And John then he lope over five.                  ['lope,' leapt]
'I know well,' says Hobby Noble,
  'John, thy fellow is not alive.'

Then he brought him home to Mangerton;
  The lord then he was at his meat;
But when John o' the Side he there did see,
  For fain he could no more eat.

He says 'Blest be thou, Hobby Noble,
  That ever thou wast man born!
Thou hast fetched us home good John o' the Side,
  That was now clean from us gone.'

Jamie Douglas

Copyright Scotland from the Roadside 2016