The English Navvy
(A New Temperance Song)

boat

Home

Song Menu

Reference

notes

I am an English navvy, and I tell the tale with glee,
Tho' thousand curl their lips in scorn, and mock at chaps like me;
But round and round our kingly isle, on meadow, glen, and hill,
Ten thousand mighty monuments proclaim our strength and skill.

Chorus :
Yes, I am an English navvy; but, oh, not an English sot.
I have run my pick through alcohol, in bottle, glass, or pot;
And with the spade of abstinence, and all the power I can,
I am spreading out a better road for every working man.

We have set the light-house on the rock, the harbour on the strand,
And run the tunnels through the hill, that commerce might expand;
But while Britannia holds aloft her flag of old renown,
This cruel drink, with crushing might, keeps British workmen down.

Words from "Our Navvies: A Dozen Years Ago and Today" by Elizabeth Garnett, published by Hodder and Stoughton (1885). The author describes these temperance verses as 'very good' but unfortunately chose not to record any further verses. Though essentially a 'missionary guide to the navvy', this book contains some vivid insights into the life of the navvy in the latter part of the 19th Century. The canal building boom was over by this time but many of the descriptions of the navvying lifestyle would probably be applicable to the original 'navigators'.

The tune is stated to be "The days we went a-gipsying" which can be found on various recordings of British army regimental bands.