This item is a single-sheet broadside ballad (subsequently cut in two) called ‘New Mad Tom of Bedlam or, The Man in the Moon drinks Claret, with Powder-Beef Turnip and Carret’. The ballad is set to the tune of Grays-Inn Mask and was printed around 1695. The first half, shown here, has verses about a ‘Tom O Bedlam’ character, a type of beggar who adopted the guise of a madman (Bedlam referred to the Bethlem Hospital, a well-known ‘lunatic asylum’ in London). Edgar in King Lear disguises himself as Tom O’Bedlam to escape the wrath of his father and the treachery of his brother. In the ballad, the Tom O’Bedlam story of being mad and a former resident of Bethlem Hospital is taken at face value.
What is a broadside ballad?
Broadside ballads are lively narrative verses or songs, printed cheaply on single sheets and often illustrated with woodcuts. They were recited and sung to familiar melodies in alehouses and public places, and were circulated widely in early modern Britain.
The Bagford Ballads
This item is from the Bagford Ballads collection. John Bagford (1651–1716) was a shoemaker turned book-collector who was commissioned to collect ballads by Robert Harley, first Earl of Oxford. Robert Harley was a great collector and patron of the arts and his collection is one of the foundation collections of the British Library.