From the album The Best English Singalong Folksongs Volume 1
"Tom O' Bedlam" is the name of a critically acclaimed anonymous English poem written circa 1600. The term "Tom O' Bedlam" was used to describe beggars and vagrants who had or feigned mental illness. They were thought to have been former inmates at the Bethlehem Royal Hospital (Bedlam) and that they were released with authority to make their way by begging, though this is probably untrue. Eventually begging became popular and a large numbers of rogues turned to begging who had never been near Bedlam. Tom o’ Bedlam became so popular that another poem
was written in reply called "Mad Maudlin's Search for
Her Tom of Bedlam". This was first published in 1720
by Thomas D'Urfey in his book Wit and Mirth, or Pills
to Purge Melancholy. "Maudlin" was an abbreviation of
Mary Magdalene; Bedlam was all-male, and the
corresponding institute for females was the Hospital of
St. Mary of Bethlehem. A popular pastime for the rich
and powerful was to pay to visit both institutions and
they would often have picnic excursions and watch the
poor inmates on display.
1. For to see Mad Tom of Bedlam, ten thousand miles I’d travel
Mad Maudlin goes on dirty toes, for to save her shoes from gravel.
Still I sing bonnie boys, bonnie mad boys, Bedlam boys are bonnie
For they all go bare and they live by the air, and they want no drink or money.
2. I went down to Satan's kitchen, for to get me food one morning
And there I got souls piping hot, all on the spit a-turning
3. There I took up a caldron, where boiled ten thousand harlots
Though full of flame I drank the same, to the health of all such varlets
4. My staff has murdered giants, my bag a long knife carries
For to cut mince pies from children's thighs, and feed them to the fairies
5. The spirits white as lightening, would on me travels guide me
The stars would shake and the moon would quake, whenever they espied me
6. And when that I'll be murdering, the Man in the Moon to the powder
His staff I'll break, his dog I'll shake, and there'll howl no demon louder
7. So drink to Tom of Bedlam, go fill the seas in barrels
I'll drink it all, well brewed with gall, and maudlin drunk I'll quarrel
8. For to see Mad Tom of Bedlam, ten thousand years I’d travel
Mad Maudlin goes on dirty toes,
for to save her shoes from gravel.