The Rosemary

by Peter Dodds



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Twas way up in Brummagem so I do hear say,
A boat by the name of the Rosemary lay.
She was clothed up and painted in traditional style,
But she hadn't carried for a very long while.

Fol-de-rol, fol-de-ri-do, sing fol-de-rol-day,
It's the song they're all singing down Brummagem way.

Along came a boatman, the old boat to see,
Says he 'Here's a craft that is useful to me.
I'll load her with coal and for London I'll steer',
Said the boatman to the owner, 'If I take her from here'.

The owner said 'Yes' and the boatman 'Okay'
And into the cabin he went straightaway.
He lit up the stove, cleared cobwebs and mould,
And polished the brass 'til it shone like fine gold.

He sang as he laboured far into the night,
Got up in the morning before it was light.
(He) put the rusty blowlamp on the cylinder head,
'Tis a fine day for boating', the old boatman said.

He primed up the engine, a prayer in his heart,
(And) kicked on the flywheel to see if she'd start;
With a bang like the sound of a ten-pounder gun
The aged old Bolinder started to run.

He cast off the fore-end (and) at the counter he stood,
As the Rosemary shook herself free of the mud.
With tears in his eyes says the boatman 'We may
Get right down to Coventry for the end of the day.'

He was seen up at Curdworth by the old tunnel's mouth
He motored to Fazeley and then he turned south
He spoke to the keeper at Atherstone Top
But he never made it to Hawkesbury Stop

Some talk of deep holes in the Coventry's bed
And some say he went up the Ashby instead
There are stories and theories but for all that they say
Neither boat nor the boatmen has been seen to this day

On dark stormy nights round the fall of the year,
If the beat of a Bolinder distant you hear,
It's not Clayton's Stour, the Youmea or Tay;
It's the ghost of the boatman and the old Rosemary.

Verses 7 and 8 were added by Dave Bryant. Peter Dodds has contacted me to point out that the word 'beam' which found its way into the last line of verse three as a result of Jon Raven's recording was originally 'brass'. I'm happy to change this word to restore the author's original meaning. I'd never been quite sure what 'beam' refered to and assumed that this was due to ignorance on my part. Peter also asked for his thanks be passed on to Dave Bryant "for the excellent two verses he added to the Rosemary. He turns a slightly sad song into a creepy one, so either version can be sung depending on the mood".

The recording you hear when selecting Play is taken from a rather scratchy copy of the rare vinyl lp "Songs of a Changing World" (Trailer LER 2083 - 1973) by Jon Raven, Nic Jones and Tony Rose. Though I have endeavoured to restore the sound, I'd be very grateful to be contacted by anyone with a better quality recording. I think this was the first recording of this song to be released commercially. It subsequently featured on a number of other releases (see below).

In the 1930's the Grand Union Canal Company (formed by the merger of the Grand Junction, Regent's and Warwick Canal companies), worked hard to modernise both the canal and the boats operating on it. Locks were extensively rebuilt to take wide beamed barges, particularly on the Warwick Canal which had previously been for narrowboats only. There was financial support from the government for this work, which helped to relieve unemployment in the great depression of the 1930's. The company had a wide beamed motor barge built, the Progress, as an experiment with the intention of achieving greater efficiency to compete with railways and the growing alternative of road transport. They also tried out new designs of motor narrowboats which could pull an unpowered "butty". The Progress was not a success but the new designs of narrowboat were, and a large fleet was built for the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company, a subsidiary of the Grand Union Canal Company.

Nationalised along with other canals in 1948, the Grand Junction route was one of the last in Britain to keep commercial traffic alive, albeit in steep decline through the 1950's when road transport developed considerably.

'Rosemary' was built as a small Rickmansworth star class motor originally called 'Maia'. 'Maia' was No. 59 in the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company’s list of boats, being registered at Rickmansworth (21 Apr 1936). It was sold to Stanton Ironworks in 1941 becoming No. 55 in their fleet. In 1947 it was sold to J. Raynor of Liverpool and was renamed ‘Rosemary’. It was then sold to 'Birmingham & Midland' in 1965, who in turn sold it on almost straight away to A.J. Clark, Tardebigge. After several further changes of owner 'Rosemary' ended up being vandalised near Islington Tunnel, London and was subsequently broken up by British Waterways Board in 1983.

Peter Dodds was a member of a little group of canal enthusiasts who styled themselves ‘Nerg’, short for Narrowboat Recovery Group.

The above information has been derived from the Canal World Discussion Forum and Working Boats of the UK Waterways websites, both of which are to be recommended.

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