Tom Beech's Last Trip

by David Blagrove


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Beechy lay a loading at Exhall Basin Hole
Loading of a pair of boats with fifty tons of coal
'Twas in the dreadful winter of eighteen-ninety-three
That Beechy loaded up his boats to go to Banbury

At Sutton Stop the Toll Clerk came to gauge Tom Beech's boats
And Beechy gave him siver coins and showed his loading notes
"No credit tolls for number ones," the Toll Clerk said to him
Said Beechy "That leaves me two bob to go to Banbury"

That night he went to Marston Doles the wind was blowing shrill
Snow and sleet came howling down from over Knapton Hill
He took his horses to the farm to bed them comfortably
The farmer said "You'll never get to the town of Banbury"

The next day round the Summit Pound he faced the icy blast
And in the Fifteen Bridges length he found the boats were fast
All day he tried to break the ice but not a foot moved he
Froze up in the summit fifteen miles from Banbury

The snow did fall 'til seven days and seven nights were past
The drift ran from the towpath head clear up to Beech's mast
Two little children and his wife died cold and hungrily
Froze up in the summit fifteen miles from Banbury

When at last the thaw did come the sun came shinng through
We brought the ice-boat smacking round with twenty in her crew
But when we came to Beech's boats a frozen corpse was he
Froze up in the summit fifteen miles from Banbury

Round to the farmhouse we did go to find the reason why
In the mid'st of plenty, poor Tom Beech he had to die
"I had no food to spare for him" the farmer said to we
So we killed his chicks and fired his ricks in Beech's memory

The YouTube recording above shows the song being sung by Tony Haynes. Thanks to him for permission to use it.

The sleeve notes to 'Straight from the Tunnel's Mouth' were written by David Blagrove. In them he says: 'This is a song reconstructed from fragments, and from a legend current among old Oxford canal men in the late fifties. Tom's actual surname is not certain. There were Beechey's, Beech's, Beecham's and Beauchamp's on the canal. The date is also not a certainty, although there most certainly was a hard frost followed by heavy flooding in the early months of 1894. The tune is as near as I can recall to one sung by an elderly man at The Greyhound, Hawkesbury Junction, in 1962. I have added a few words to fill the gaps, but the main story is all there.'
On the record label the song is refered to as 'Trad. Arr. Blackburn'. Eric Blackburn was one of The Boatmen and sings this song on the record. David Blagrove's recollection, fifty years on, is that he merely filled in a few blanks and improbabilities in the version that he jotted down very quickly in "The Greyhound" one night in November 1962.

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