A Victorian Ballad



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Though his name was Will Warley, they called him Will Wag
For his tongue hung so lesson and ready to brag.
He couldn't help talking, he'd jaw at the boss
And wi' nobody else by, why he'd talk to his 'oss.

He was steerer for Pickfords, which meant he was mate
Of their boat number nine thousand four twenty eight.
He collected round Smethwick and took to the station
All the axles and iron, the bolts, nuts and screws, the rivets, the castings, glass, sizes and glues
In fact any Smethwick things med as folk use
It wor none of Wag's duty to pick nor to choose.

It chanced in the winter, one dark, foggy day
Wag had got a big load and was hurryin away
From one o' them plaerces, though which I cor say
But I fancy it was somewhere up West Bromwich way

I know 'twas a plaerce where th boat loading wharf
Runs up twixt the forges and cuts 'em in half
So a line wor no good, there wor no room to tow
And the boats with an hooked shaft was worked to and fro.

Well, he shoved at the starn and he heaved at the bow
Till the work, 'spite of cold, made him sweat puff and blow
And the fog med him foul every boat in the row
And he ' fun he was movin out uncommon slow

So as summat was wrong, what it was he day know
He jawed at his helper, for loading so slow
Wag's underhand naturally answered him backl
In a style as med Will holler. " None of thee clack!"

He borrowed a lantern and searched round the side
To see if by chance 'er'd got chain logged or tied
Now nothin' he fun till the mid beam he rayched
When like a daft chap, of a sudden he scrayched...

"Yo' con shove till yo'm bostin the shaft in ter two
Or crush in' yer coller bone, then it wo' dew
For wi' all yer hard swearing, rostling and rush in'
It's agin yer own beam yo' bin all the time pushin'"

Dave Moore contributed this song to the Canal World Discussion website with the following description : In the late 60s Peter and Paula White lived aboard 'Calstock' in Gas Street. I became friends and did a bit of boating with them. In those days I was learning to play guitar and interested in folk music. One day Peter came back from work with a copy of a ballad he'd found in Birmingham Library. The entire thing was a long moralistic piece intended to keep readers on a proper course in life, what excited both of us was that the first part had a boating theme. I sort of set it to the tune 'Villikins and his Dinah' a popular folk melody. Here are the lyrics as I remember them from nearly half a century ago. I hope some Black Country vocabulary is intelligible to non native readers!