Waterways Lament

by David Blagrove (1967)


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Along our the British waterways, I’m sorry to relate
The boatmen and their families are in a woeful state
There are few others in this land, who do so toil and strive
And now the Board will take away their calling and their lives

They say canals are finished now, they want the cut to die
’Tis more than any man can tell, to know the reason why
And while they take our homes from us, our working boats and loads
Ten thousand corpses every year, lie bleeding on the roads

I little thought I'd see the day, the boats would cease to move
The weeds and all the rubbish fill the boatmen's muddy groove
As from the cut its life blood runs, then with it dies its soul
The music and the laughter too, with boatmen on the dole

There's little work upon the cut for honest boating chaps
It's all white paint and fibreglass and dandy yachting caps
Although it takes both pride and skill to steer a loaded pair
The pleasure boats go cruising past with noses in the air

The paddle gear is hard to draw; they let the lock gates leak
The pounds are filling up with mud, and getting worse each week
The dredging boats and piling gangs but work in bits and parts
Our brasses and our painted boats do hide our breaking hearts


The above video (recording and slides) was created by John Prowse in 2014.

David Blagrove in the sleeve notes to 'Straight from the Tunnel's Mouth' wrote : The transport act of 1968 which removed the publics right to navigate their own canals inspired this song. There was a real gloom and despondency among the boat people; and one sad result of the pleasure/amenity explosion has literally been to take away their calling. Wharves and basins have been redeveloped thus depriving the boats of essential terminals. The tune is Scots 'Tramps and Hawkers'.

David Blagrove has provided the following additional information : This was written in 1967 when the Transport Bill then before Parliament appeared to contain clauses that would prevent commercial boats using the waterways in future because of the lack of obligation that British Waterways Board would have to maintain depth. Thanks to much lobbying by IWA and others an obligation was placed upon the Board by the Transport Act 1968 to maintain 'Cruiseways' in no worse condition than they were in 1967. Thankfully this somewhat negative obligation has been taken seriously in recent years by BW and will remain in place under the new Canal & River Trust.

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