‘The Maryport Mystery’, or ‘Shotley Bridge Fair’


The painting, by William Mitchell is entitled A Barquentine making Maryport harbour in a gale , 1882

The Maryport Mystery C 5 Dec 1846
-B- C# D# E D# C#
He‘d a lump in his throat and his coat on his arm Setting out for the Cumberland pits.
Both his parents were gone, and John had the farm He would try out his strength and his wits
With his neighbours ‘Farewell’ he made for Newry Town
Hoped his might fortune rise as all around went down,
As they sailed from the land a bob in his hand, he vowed that he’d come back one day.

and manys the friendship was made or renewed on a Monday at Shotley Bridge fair (refrain)

Well the crossing was rough on the Collier ’Brough’, With the dirt and the stink and the cold
As he crouched on the deck with the spray on his neck He heard cries from those down in the hold.
There were sighs, prayers and sobs but they at last made land.
As they staggered ashore only the crew could stand
once his balance came back, with his things in a sack
he walked into Maryport Town


Well November passed bleakly, just jobs here and there and he slept out in shippen or barn
and his thoughts turned to Camlough and friends on the land and he thought he’d go back to the farm
but his spirits soon rose on seeing a friendly face
twas the niece of a neighbour from his native place
And her bond to the farmer was ending that May They would strike out and find better days.


Well the crack started around there was work to be found at the new iron works at Crookhall.
They were barrowing ore, there were Paddies galore, And good money to make in that town.
She was bound to the farmer until Whitsun time,
He was off to Crookhall and watch his fortunes climb
As they parted that day they were both heard to say ‘till May at Shotley Bridge Fair’.


Well in Shotley Bridge town on that Monday in May the pubs and the streets were all thronged,
there were singers and pedlars of pastries and pies there were conmen and those they had wronged
there were Black Country lasses and girls from South Wales
there were hinds from the countryside and fops in tails.
There were Irish colleens and a pickpocket team But no one had word of her love.


Well he‘d never left Maryport, that winter day, He’d been hit on the head with a stick.
He’d been thrown in the harbour, he was dead or he drowned No one saw it, it happened that quick.
When they searched him they found a pipe and 1s and 2d
An address ‘, Patrick Bloomer, Crookhall -no one knew.
As the verdict came in they had no name for him, both villain and victim unknown.

and manys the friendship was made or renewed on a Monday at Shotley Bridge fair
but sadly their friendship could not be renewed on that Monday at Shotley Bridge fair

This song came to me in February 2011 but I’ve recently added a refrain. Based on an old newspaper cutting it fleshes out the story of an anonymous workingman. In 19th century Durham, farm hands of both sexes (the males known as ‘hinds’), puddlers (or refiners of iron who converted pig iron into wrought iron) and colliers – miners, were bonded labourers, tied to their employer for the duration of their bond and subject to imprisonment if the were absent from work or tried to leave. A hiring fair was held on the first Monday in May at Shotley Bridge. Words & music copyright Michael Burns 2016

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