Anonymous ballad, first published in 1720 by Thomas d’Urfey
For to see Mad Tom of Bedlam,
Ten thousand miles I’ve travelled.
Mad Maudlin goes on dirty toes,
For to save her shoes from gravel.
Still I sing bonny boys, bonny mad boys,
Bedlam boys are bonny,
For they all go bare, and they live by the air,
And they want no drink, nor money.
I nor repent that ever
Poor Tom was so disdain-ed
My wits are crossed since him I lost
Which makes me go thus chained.
I went down to Satan’s Kitchen
For to get me food one morning
And there I got souls piping hot
All on the spit a-turning.
There I took up a cauldron
Where boiled ten thousand harlots
Though full of flame I drank the same
To the health of all such varlets.
The spirits white as lightening
Will on my travels guide me
The stars would shake and the moon would quake
Whenever they espied me.
No gypsy, slut or doxy
Shall win my Mad Tom from me
I’ll weep all night, with stars I’ll fight
The fray shall well become me.
So drink to Tom of Bedlam
Go fill the seas in barrels
I’ll drink it all, well brewed with gall
And maudlin drunk I’ll quarrel.
If you would like to download the lyrics to your phone, tablet or computer, click the link belowBedlam-Boys-Lyrics.pdf (9 downloads)
The word ‘Bedlam’, meaning uproar and confusion, derives from the nickname given to St Mary’s of Bethlehem, founded in 1247, the first and oldest institution to specialise in mental illness. Bedlam Hospital has moved several times from its original location near Bishopsgate, to Moorgate in the C17th and St George’s Fields Southwark in the C19th. It has been located in West Wickham in Bromley since 1930.
Bonny: attractive, beautiful, handsome
Maudlin: ‘tearfully sentimental’, noun denoting Mary Magdalen, who was often pictured weeping.
Bedlam Ballads are popular folk songs about Bedlam. The songs date from least the 1600’s, and continued to be sung into the 20th century. Most of these ballads, like many popular songs, would have been written anonymously. Some ballads were sold cheaply in the streets to be sung by people at home, at work or in taverns etc. Song sheets just had the words, and the name of the tune. People knew by heart lots of tunes to which ballads were set.
Tom O’Bedlam was a name used in the 1600’s and 1700’s to describe beggars or homeless people who claimed, or were assumed, to have been inmates of Bedlam.
It was commonly thought that they were released from Bedlam with the authority to make their way through begging. Edgar in ‘King Lear’ disguises himself as mad ‘Tom O’Bedlam’.