This is a tragic ballad about the love of Betty Howson for John Atkinson of Barnard Castle.
Unfortunately Atkinson procures himself another mistress and marries her whilst drunk. Howson eventually dies in her brother's arms. - Stirring stuff and a good story!
This song is taken from 'The Bishopric Garland', one of 4 volumes of songs collected by Joseph Ritson in the late eighteenth-early nineteenth century and published under the collective title of 'The Northern Garlands'. The volumes are entitled respectively, - 'The Bishopric Garland; or Durham Minstrel', 'The Yorkshire Garland', 'The Northumberland Garland', and 'The North Country Chorister'. The Bishopric Garland, as with its companions, was published separately in 1784, 1792 and 1809. The Northern Garland was published in London by R. Triphook in 1810 and is held by the Robinson Library of Newcastle University.
The collector, Joseph Ritson, was born on the 2nd October, 1752 at Stockton-upon-Tees. After studying law under a Ralph Bradley Esq., Ritson settled in London where he commenced practice as a surveyor. He did however 'keep an affection for the north which prompted him to compile, between 1783 and 1802 several collections of verse relating to Durham, Yorkshire and Northumberland. Here were printed, sometimes for the first time, but in most cases from broadsides and other printed sources, 'Elsie Marley', 'Rookhope Ryde', 'The Battle of Otterburn' ... [etc.] (Frank Rutherford; The collecting and publishing of Northumbrian folk-song; Archaeologia Aeliana 4 XLII). This is not only an important collection in its own right, but was also one of the main sources used in the compilation of the Northumbrian Minstrelsy, the first large-scale regional survey of song to be made in Britain.