Traditional singers often conclude a song by saying “and that’s a true story”. Well this one really is. The song tells of the murder in August 1856 of sisters Caroline and Maria Back (19 and 17 respectively), by Dedia Bedanies, a private in the British Swiss Legion based at Shorncliffe Barracks near Folkestone in Kent. Bedanies was tried for murder and hanged at Maidstone gaol, January 1857.
I learned this from George Spicer who, although he spent most of his life in Sussex, was actually born at Little Chart in Kent – just a few miles from my home town. He learned this song from his father-in-law, Sydney Appleton, of Lydden, Kent. George’s son Ron – another fine singer and an absolutely lovely man – also sang this song, and recorded it on The Keys of Canterbury, an album of Kentish material with which I was also involved – see Pete Castle’s website for details.
In fact the song seems to have been well-known in Kent – perhaps as a warning to young girls. Charlie Bridger from Stone-in-Oxney had a full version, with very similar tune and words to George Spicer’s; Francis Collinson collected a couple of versions in Kent in the 1940s, but also found the song in Buckinghamshire and Dorset. Truncated versions have been recorded from a number of Southern English Traveller singers, for example Charlie Scamp.
You can read more at http://folkopedia.efdss.org/Folkestone_Murder,_The although if you want the full story of the murder you probably need to get hold of George Frampton’s article in Bygone Kent Vol 13 No 1, January 1993.
I learned the song from George Spicer’s Topic LP Blackberry Fold which has not to date been released on CD or MP3. But you can hear George singing the song on the Musical Traditions CD Just Another Saturday Night: Sussex 1960.
Rod Stradling has described this song as “A horrible song, it seems to me, with few redeeming graces” but I’ve always had a soft spot for it. Not least because this was the song I sang when I won the first Sidmouth Singer competition, at the Sidmouth Festival back in 1984. This was a very proud moment for me – the competition was judged by Shirley and Dolly Collins, and the runners up Bill Prince and Barbara Berry were certainly no slouches as singers. Since Vic Smith has a history of re-posting this lovely picture of my knees, I’ll get in first: here’s me with Shirley, and the enormous slipware plate which was my prize.
The Folkestone Murder