‘Peppermint Billy’


Dr. Kevin Wood

Kevin, who sadly died early last year, was a friend of mine, an ex-colleague, whose interests were predominantly in education, history, heraldry, genealogical research, and politics.  Before retirement, he had been a headteacher and an HMI.  After retirement he devoted much of his time to historical research and to assisting people in researching their family histories.

peppermint billy

He submitted this poem to an earlier website of mine.  He had spent a long time researching the story of ‘Peppermint Billy’, as it had great resonance with the town of Melton Mowbray where Kevin had grown up and to Kevin himself. He subsequently composed the Ballad printed below . . . 

 


The Ballad of Peppermint Billy

A ballad inspired by the fascinating case involving one of Leicestershire’s most brutal murderers.   William Brown, known as ‘Peppermint Billy’, was a returned convict from Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania).   He was captured, tried, and eventually convicted for the murder of the Tollgate Keeper and his grandson at Thorpe Arnold near Melton Mowbray.  His was the last public hanging at Leicester.   It took place in front of a crowd of 25 people, on the 25th July, 1856.

The Toll House, where the murder took place, was pulled down in 1875 at the expiration of the Turnpike Trust, but just two years earlier, Kevin’s grandfather was born in that very house, so the story has been in his family for many, many years.


moon

I.

The wind races in the midland hamlets,
The argent moon looks down and frowns
Fox the copse and hill he crowns,
As curtained clouds hang down in ringlets.

The wind dances through the midland house,
Billy leaves the yard with silver ladles
But dozen spoons the flagstone cradles.
As ‘larm is raised and dogs give chase.

The wind cuts through midland thickets,
Billy’s cornered as constable arrives
Urgently for home he strives,
As for other worlds he’s picked his tickets.

The wind murmurs in midland Assizes,
Billy to the jury swears
But stolen silverware itself declares,
As ‘transportation’ the boy despises.

The wind races in the midland hamlets,
The argent moon looks down and frowns
Fox the copse and hill he crowns,
As curtained clouds hang down in ringlets.

jail

II.

The wind sings in the southern recesses,
Eucalypts swing, a kookaburra sings
The mountain bends her head and clings,
As ruddled sky paints all in scarlet dresses.

The wind rustles through the southern skies,
Peppermint Billy sojourns there
Transported, stolen silverware,
As felon loses friends and family ties.

The wind chirrups in the southern lands,
Van Dieman’s inhospitable but teaches
Worked his ticket Bible preaches,
As through his fingers run the golden sands

The wind whistles in the southern ports,
Under licence Billy sails
North to England’s midland vales,
As to a sweetheart fly his thoughts.

The wind sings in the southern recesses,
Tall trees swing, a kookaburra sings
The mountain bends her head and clings,
As ruddled sky paints all in scarlet dresses.

kookaburra

III.

The wind rustles in the midland fields,
The gibbous moon hides her face and thinks
Fox licks cubs as light sinks,
As love unexpected its pleasure yields.

The wind whistles through the midland cities,
Billy meets his brother’s wife
Blind romance a heady cup of strife,
As Ann and Billy’s love time pities.

The wind howls through the midland towns,
The pair star-crossed enjoy their freedom
Hotel room their sussurate fiefdom,
As brother’s grief his rejection crowns.

The wind scurries through the midland villages,
Ann from Billy turns
Bitter the news he learns,
As love his broken heart it pillages.

The wind rustles in the midland fields,
The gibbous moon hides her face and thinks
Fox licks cubs as light sinks,
As love thwarted its pleasure yields.

corn

IV.

The wind sings in the eastern shires,
The moon cocks her head and listens
Fox from hounds his trail hastens,
As bells ring out from countless spires.

The wind whistles through the eastern counties,
The sunken church the Water rides
Billy in the Toll House bides,
As Death rides in to claim his bounties.

The wind through eastern hamlets tears,
Edward and his grandson dead
From the Toll House Billy flees,
As hue and cry give way to prayers.

The wind scurries through the eastern parishes,
Billy through the Vale of Belvoir
Rushes headlong to a train,
As news of the evil killing flourishes.

The wind sings in the eastern shires,
The moon cocks her head and listens
Fox from hounds his trail hastens,
As bells ring out from countless spires.

murder

V.

The wind echoes in the northern skies,
Dale side the moon creaks
As fugitive the covert seeks,
As hounds give tongue and rumour flies.

The wind chirrups through northern recesses,
Billy gone to ground he tires
Perhaps not meets his heart’s desires,
As freckled boy’s report the inn addresses

The wind whiffles through the northern ridings,
Scent gone cold but Billy thirsts
For friendly pint; the pub bursts,
As Bobby and the publican hear the tidings.

The wind shuffles in the northern shires,
Billy panics taken unawares
To the open door he tears,
As thronging mob his capture aspires.

The wind echoes in the northern skies,
Dale side the moon creaks
As fugitive the covert seeks,
As hounds give tongue and rumour flies.

chase

VI.

The wind sings in the eastern borders,
The moon looks down and ponders
Fox his lonely trail he wanders,
As bells ring out the peace disorders.

The wind screams through the eastern parishes,
Billy now arrested, he entrains
Back to Melton prison he remains,
As judge and jury this murder punishes.

The wind caresses the eastern shires,
Billy on the gallows swings
To his Maker Billy wings,
As debts are paid as law requires.

The wind whistles in the eastern counties,
Billy’s dead his story lives
Melton’s past a flavour gives,
As peppermint does for children’s parties.

The wind sings in the eastern borders,
The moon looks down and ponders
Fox his lonely trail he wanders,
As bells ring out the peace disorders.

gallows

 

Kevin Wood … Feb.-March 2003


 

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