The Navvy Boy

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When I was young and tender
I left my native home
And often to old Scotland
I started out to roam.
As I walked down through Bishoptown
A-seeking for employ,
The ganger he knew by me
I was a Navvy Boy.

As soon as I did get employ,
For lodgings I did seek;
It happened to be that very night
With the ganger I did sleep;
He had one only daughter
And I became her joy,
For she longed to go and tramp
With her own dear Navvy boy

Says the mother to her daughter
"I think it very strange,
That you would wed a Navvy Boy
This wide world for to range;
For navvies they are rambling boys
And have but little pay;
How could a man maintain a wife
With fourteen pence a day?"
Says the daughter to the mother
"You need not run them down;
My father was a Navvy Boy
When he came to this town;
He roamed about from town to town
Just seeking for employ;
Go where he will, he's my love still
He's my own dear Navvy Boy."

Now just a short time after this
Her father died I'm told,
And left unto his daughter
Five hundred pounds in gold;
And when she got the money,
Soon I became her joy,
For she longed to go and tramp it
With her own dear Navvy Boy.

From Sam Henry's 'Songs of the People'.

This song makes no reference to canals but, as it is about navvies who both dug canals and laid the railway network, it has appeared on several waterway recordings. Bishopton (or 'Bishoptoun'), is a village just south of the River Clyde and in 1839 to 1841 work was taking place in the vicinity of Bishopton on the Glasgow, Paisley, and Kilmarnock Railway as well as the Greenock Railway. The start of the Forth and Clyde Canal which was built in 1790 is just a few miles away over the river and it is not inconceivable that some navvies who helped to dig that also helped construct the railways in the vicinity of Bishopton. Ireland is most probably the native home referred to in the song as migration from Ireland to Scotland has a well-established history and was prevalent in the 19th Century, particularly after the Great Famine.

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