Mad Martins

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On my Childhood and Youth



I was born in the year 1782 in the parish of Hexham, in Northumberland, of poor but honest parents. I was tongue-tied till my sixth year, at which time the thread of my tongue was cut. I associated with none, chiefly rambling in the woods over which my father was forester. I soon acquired a habit of rising at 2 o’clock in the morning, in summer, to walk.

We left the woods and went to Hexham, to live. One night, awakening about 12 o’clock, I heard a heavy foot come to my chamber door, and three heavy groans, which terrified me; they forced the door open, and at that moment a flash of lightning illuminated the whole room, and they vanished. In the morning I told my mother what I had seen and heard, and felt something was going to happen in our family, but little did I think it foretold the death of my dear sister, who was most cruelly murdered that same week, by a neighbour, a woman.

My dear mother had instructed us in time, that there was a God to serve, and a hell to shun, and that all liars and swearers, are burnt in hell with the devil and his angels. I prayed for my sister fearing that she might have sinned. Before I could pronounce my name distinctly the Lord convinced me of sin.

The death of my sister made this country irksome to me, and God gave me my desire, by removing me to the farm of my uncle, where I was made his shepherd. The place was near the old roman wall, and suited my mind very well, as I could retreat into these solitudes, and meditate on the goodness of God. I continued here until apprenticed to a tanner, and though in a large town, I still continued my habit of retiring to the woods, to give praise to God for all his mercies.

(Words: Jonathan Martin / Tune: ‘Sir John Fenwick’s Flower Among Them All’ - Trad. arr. Richard Doran & Mick Tyas)

© 2017 Whippet Records

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Recording Credits

Keith Armstrong - Recitation
Mick Tyas - Mandolin
Richard Doran - Bouzouki

Bardon Mill [engraving], John Wilson Carmichael, 1830.


Additional Text

Jonathan Martin (1782-1838) from High Side, near Hexham, has gone down in history as ‘the notorious incendiary’ of York Minster. Six years in the Navy (both the Royal and the Merchant) when he was present at the Battle of Copenhagen, gave him a love of roving “which prevented him from settling down to regular employment”. A passionate religious fervour led him to indulge in frequent fits of rage against the clergy, coming to a head with his plot to assassinate the Bishop of Oxford and resulting in his committal as a lunatic at West Auckland and Gateshead Asylums, during which time his first wife died. Eventually released, after two escapes, he travelled to York where he issued dark warnings to the 'Clargy', accusing them of going to plays and balls, playing at cards, and drinking wine.

In Martin's own words: "Hear the word of the Lord Oh you blind Hipacrits, you Saarpents and Vipears of Hell, you wine Bibears and Beffe Yeaters, whose eyes stand out with Fatness… Oh repent for the Sourd of Justic's is at hand. J.M. our sincerest Friend.”

In the early morning of February 2nd 1829, he set fire to York Minster and was later confined in the Royal Bethlem Hospital (Bedlam) where he died in the same year that his son Richard committed suicide.