The Manchester Ship Canal Navvy

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I’m a Navvy, I work on the Ship Canal;
I’m a tipper, and live in a hut with my Sal;
If ever you comes to Eastham, call at Sea Rough Wood,
There’s a hearty cheer, without the beer,
And ‘tommy’ that’s always good.

We have lodgers, a splendid lot of young men,
In the evening around the tables are ten.
Some of the lads are strangers, never been out before,
But some can tell of a long, long spell,
Tramping the country o’er.

Tales of daring the older ones would tell
And tales of want, when with nowhere to dwell.
They’d nestle in a hayrick, or shelter in a barn,
And tales like these us navvies please,
When not o’erdone the yarn.

Our wives are rough, but yet no one can say
They’re hard-hearted: none are sent empty away;
If they only look like navvies, they’re welcome to a share,
And told to lay by the fire till day
If there’s no bed to spare

Our work is hard, and dangers are always near
And lucky are we if safely through life we steer;
But still the life of a navvy, with its many change of scene,
With a dear old wife, is just the life,
That suits old Nobby Green.

Words from the History of the Manchester Ship Canal Vol 2 by Sir Bosdin Leach (1907).
Recorded originally on the 1984 LP ‘Hooks & Nets’ by Ian Woods & Charley Yarwood (Traditional Sound Recordings).
The sleeve notes by Ian Woods state:
Arguably, the last great feat in the navvying tradition was the building of the Manchester Ship Canal, colloquially known in the North West as ‘The Big Ditch’. Begun in 1889 and formally opened on January 1st, 1894 by Queen Victoria, the job employed sixteen thousand navvies along its 35½ mile length. Bosdin Leech, in his definitice two volume ‘History of the Manchester Ship Canal’, tells us more of the navvy and his way of life than most contemporary writers – who tended to dismiss them under the label ‘Banditti’. This poem, by a workman known only as ‘The Ship Canal Navvy Poet’, gives an insight into their lives as any, despite a touch or two of romanticism.

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