This ballad begins: ''Twas one cold winter's night; when the wind / Blew bitterly 'cross the wild moor, / When poor Mary came with her child / Wandering home to her own father's door'. No publication details are on the sheet. A woodcut of a woman and child feeding birds decorates the top of the sheet.
This song tells the tragic tale of homeless Mary and her child, who seek refuge at her father's house. Because of the noise of the wind howling outside he does not hear her shouts and Mary and her child freeze on the doorstep. Mary dies overnight, although the child survived for a short time, but 'to its mother went soon'. Tales of tragedy, more usually based around love and romance, are a common theme for broadside ballads.
Early ballads were dramatic or humorous narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term 'ballad' eventually applied more broadly to any kind of topical or popular verse.
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