The Navvy Boy 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'. Collected by Sam Henry from Robert Lyons of Greenhill, Blackhill, Coleraine, Co Londonderry, on 18 June 1938. John Kirkpatrick and Sue Harris sang The Navvy Boy in 1975 on the Traditional Sound album on the story of England's canals in song, The Bold Navigators. The album was compiled and collated from notes and information by Jon Raven. This song was printed in Raven's books Canal Songs and Victoria's Inferno. Nick Dow sang ‘The Navvy Boy’ on his 2020 album of ‘love songs from the British Tradition’, In a Garden Grove, (Old House Music OHM812) as well as on his radio programme Reflections on the Canal. He noted: A broadside put to music by Jon Raven. I learned the song as the direct result of being asked to do a series of magazine articles on navvies and navvy songs for a well known periodical. The song stayed with me. Nic Dow’s lyrics are given below. When I was young and tender I left my native home, Often through old England's lanes I was inclined to roam. And as I walked down through Manchester seeking for employ, The ganger there he knew by me that I was a Navvy Boy. As soon as I did get employ for lodgings I did seek; It happened to be that very night at the ganger's I did sleep. And he had one only daughter, I became her joy. She longed to go and tramp it with her own dear Navvy Boy. And it was a few months after the father died I'm told, Left unto his daughter dear five thousand pounds in gold And when she got the money I became her joy, She longed to go and tramp it with her own dear Navvy Boy. When I was young and tender I left my native home, Often through old England's lanes I was inclined to roam. 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. Recorded on :
‘The Navvy Boy’ performed by Eamon O'Leary and Jefferson Hamer from the 2012 album entitled The Murphy Beds. The USA based duo, who have now taken their name from the album, have produced a delightful rendition of the song. The full track and album can be obtained from their website.
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