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Border Ballad: The Death of Parcy Reed

Take a deep dive into one of Redesdale’s most famous and bloody Border Ballads with Northumbria University’s Head of History, Dr. Neil Murphy. This piece was written by Dr. Murphy as part of his Community Heritage Funded project, Border Bloodshed.

The Protagonist: Percival Reed

Percival Reed, lord of Troughend, was keeper of Redesdale in the latter half of the sixteenth century. His house at Troughend (near Otterburn) was in the heights of Redesdale and gave him a good view over the region and allowed him to guard for invasions from Scotland, though as we shall see this also put his house at considerable risk too. As part of his duties, Reed was responsible for apprehending Scottish reivers who went raiding in Redesdale. One of the most notorious of these families – and who caused much bloodshed, theft and havoc in Redesdale – were the Crosiers, who came from Liddesdale (which lay just over the frontier in Scotland). Reed arrested one of the younger men of the Crosiers, which then led to a wider feud between him and the family – and one which would have deadly consequences for Reed.

The Antagonists: The Crosiers of Liddesdale and Halls of Girsonfield

The head of the Crosiers (‘Auld Crosier’) to get revenge on Percy Reed worked with the Halls of Girsonfield in Redesdale, who despite being English were their allies. The Halls invited an unsuspecting Reed to go hunting with them around Bateinghope Burn and Rooken Edge Hill. Towards the end of a tiring hunt, Reed slept a while and when he woke he found five members of the Crosiers there seeking revenge for him. Reaching for his gun, Reed found that the Halls had filled it with water. They had also jammed his sword into its scabbard and taken its harness, which left him both defenceless and unable to flee. His pleas to the Halls were unheard and they left him to the vengeance of the Crosiers, who killed him in thirty-three blows in a vicious attack. They then cut his hands and feet off his body and left his mutilated corpse in the burn, from where the parts of it were later retrieved and brought back to his family at Troughend in pillow cases. The Halls also paid for their treachery by being driven from their farm at Girsonfield and were never to return to Redesdale. Local legends speak of Reed’s ghost haunting Todlaw Mill on the River Rede and the place where he was butchered at Bateinghope Burn.

Tracing the Ballad through Historical Accounts

The main source for this is the border ballad The Death of Parcy Reed (see below for full text), which was passed down by word of mouth for generations in the region before being recorded by folklorists in the nineteenth century. While there are no historical records recording the actual murder, we can find mentions of Percy Reed in contemporary manuscript documents and the presence of the Reed and Hall families in Redesdale are recorded for this period (Document 1).

Document 1

For instance, in 1584 one “Percevall Reade, the young larde of Trochen”, complained about Scottish raiders (over 200 of them), including one “Clemey Crosier”, attacking his lands and stealing 200 cattle, 80 horses and taking 80 prisoners (Document 2).

Document 2

There was a further two attack on “Percevell Read of Trowhen” in 1589 by Scottish raiders – including more members of the Crosier family – which led to the loss of cattle and linen and the death or capture of several of his men (Documents 3 and 4).

Document 3
Document 4

The Death of Parcy Reed

God send the land deliverance
Frae every reaving, riding Scot;
We’ll sune hae neither cow nor ewe,
We’ll sune hae neither staig nor stot.
The outlaws come fare Liddesdale,
They herry Redesdale far and near;
The rich man’s gelding it maun gang,
They canna pass the puir man’s mear.
Sure it were weel, had ilka thief
Around his neck a halter strang;
And curses heavy may they light
On traitors vile oursels amang.
Now Parcy Reed has Crosier taen,
He has delivered him to the law;
But Crosier says he’ll do waur than that,
He’ll make the tower o Troughend fa.
And Crosier says he will do waur,
He will do waur if waur can be;
He’ll make the bairns a’ fatherless,
And then, the land it may lie lee.
‘To the hunting, ho!’ cried Parcy Reed,
‘The morning sun is on the dew;
The cauler breeze frae off the fells
Will lead the dogs to the quarry true.
‘To the hunting, ho!’ cried Parcy Reed,
And to the hunting he has gane;
And the three fause Ha’s o Girsonsfield
Alang wi him he has them taen.
They hunted high, they hunted low,
By heathery hill and birken shaw;
They raised a buck on Rooken Edge,
And blew the mort at fair Ealylawe.
They hunted high, they hunted low,
They made the echoes ring amain;
With music sweet o horn and hound,
They merry made fair Redesdale glen.
They hunted high, they hunted low,
They hunted up, they hunted down,
Until the day was past the prime,
And it grew late in the afternoon.
They hunted high in Batinghope,
When as the sun was sinking low;
Says Parcy then, Ca off the dogs,
We’ll bait our steeds and homeward go.
They lighted high in Batinghope,
Atween the brown and benty ground;
They had but rested a little while
Till Parcy Reed was sleeping sound.
There’s nane may lean on a rotten staff,
But him that risks to get a fa;
There’s nane may in a traitor trust,
And traitors black were every Ha.
They’ve stown the bridle off his steed,
And they’ve put water in his lang gun;
Theya’ve fixed his sword within the sheath
That out again it winna come.
‘Awaken ye, waken ye, Parcy Reed,
Or by your enemies be taen;
For yonder are the five Crosiers
A-coming owre the Hingin-stane.’
‘If they be five, and we be four,
Sae that ye stand alang wi me,
Then every man ye will take one,
And only leave but two to me:
We will them meet as brave men ought,
And make them either fight or flee.’
‘We mayna stand, we canna stand,
We daurna stand alang wi thee;
The Crosiers haud thee at a feud,
And they wad kill baith thee and we.’
‘O turn thee, turn thee, Johnie Ha,
O turn thee, man, and fight wi me;
When ye come to Troughend again,
My gude black naig I will gie thee;
He cost full twenty pound o gowd,
Atween my brother John and me.’
‘I mayna turn, I canna turn,
I daurna turn and fight wi thee;
The Crosiers haud thee at a feud,
And they wad kill baith thee and me.’
‘O turn thee, turn thee, Willie Ha,
O turn thee, man, and fight wi me;
When ye come to Troughend again,
A yoke o owsen I’ll gie thee.’
‘I mayna turn, I canna turn,
I daurna turn and fight wi thee;
The Crosiers haud thee at a feud,
And they wad kill baith thee and me.’
‘O turn thee, turn thee, Tommy Ha,
O turn now, man, and fight wi me;
If ever we come to Troughend again,
My daughter Jean I’ll gie to thee.’
‘I mayna turn, I canna turn,
I daurna turn and fight wi thee;
The Crosiers haud thee at a feud,
And they wad kill baith thee and me.’
‘O shame upon ye, traitors a’!
I wish your hames ye may never see;
Ye’ve stown the bridle off my naig,
And I can neither fight nor flee.
‘Ye’ve stown the bridle off my naig,
And ye’ve put water i my lnag gun;
Ye’ve fixed my sword within the sheath
That out again it winna come.’
He had but time to cross himsel,
A prayer he hadna time to say,
Till round him came the Crosiers keen,
All riding graithed and in array.
‘Weel met, weel met, now, Parcy Reed,
Thou art the very man we sought;
Owre lang hae we been in your debt,
Now will we pay you as we ought.
‘We’ll pay thee at the nearest tree,
Where we shall hang thee like a hound;’
Brave Parcy raisd his fankit sword,
And felld the foremost to the ground.
Alake, and wae for Parcy Reed,
Alake, he was an unarmed man;
Four weapons pierced him all at once,
As they assailed him there and than.
They fell upon him all at once,
They mangled him most cruellie;
The slightest wound might caused his deid,
And they hae gien him thirty-three;
They hacket off his hands and feet,
And left him lying on the lee.
‘Now, Parcy Reed, we’ve paid our debt,
Ye canna weel dispute the tale,’
The Crosiers said, and off they rade;
They rade the airt o Liddesdale.
It was the hour o gloaming gray,
When herds come in frae fauld and pen;
A herd he saw a huntsman lie,
Says he, Can this be Laird Troughen?
‘There’s some will ca me Parcy Reed,
And some will ca me Laird Troughen;
It’s little matter what they ca me,
My faes hae made me ill to ken.
‘There’s some will ca me Parcy Reed,
And speak my praise in tower and town;
It’s little matter what they do now,
My life-blood rudds the heather brown.
‘There’s some will ca me Parcy Reed,
And a’ my virtues say and sing;
I would much rather have just now
A draught o water frae the spring.’
The herd flung aff his clouted shoon
And to the nearest fountain ran;
He made his bonnet serve a cup,
And wan the blessing o the dying man.
‘Now, honest herd, ye maun do mair,
Ye maun do mair, as I you tell;
Ye maun bear tidings to Troughend,
And bear likewise my last farewell.
‘A farewell to my wedded wife,
A farewell to my brother John,
Wha sits into the Troughend tower
Wi heart as black as any stone.
‘A farewell to my daughter Jean,
A farewell to my young sons five;
Had they been at their father’s hand,
I had this night been man alive.
‘A farewell to my followers a’,
And a’ my neighbours gude at need;
Bid them think how the treacherous Ha’s
Betrayed the life o Parcy Reed.
‘The laird o Clennel bears my bow,
The laird o Brandon bears my brand;
Wheneer they ride i the Border-side,
They’ll mind the fate o the laird Troughend.

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