The Cruise of the Calabar / The Manchester Canal
A few loosely related songs on the dangers of canal travelling.
Emma Vickers of Burscough, Lancashire, sang Cruise of the Calibar / On Board of the Calibar in 1963 to Fred Hamer. He included this version in his 1967 E.F.D.S. book and on his 1971 EFDSS album Garners Gay. Jon Raven also printed this in his 1978 book of songs of the old mills, mines, manufacturies, canals, and railways, Victoria's Inferno. He noted:
Text and melody: sung by Emma Vickers of Lancashire and collected by the late Fred Hamer. The words were written by Johnny Greenwood in the 1870's and describe the adventures of a barge on the Manchester/Rochdale Canal. The song is in general currency in Lancashire.
Cyril Tawney sang The Cruise of the ‘Calabar’ in 1970 on his Argo album A Mayflower Garland. He returned to it in 1992 on his Neptune Tapes cassette Little Boy Billee; this recording was also included in 2007 on his posthumous anthology The Song Goes On. He noted:
A Devonshire version of the widespread song which satirises the typical sailor's “Come-all-ye” of the 19th Century. The hazards and dangers normally associated with deep-sea sailing voyages are encountered by a clumsy barge in the comparative safety of a canal, in this case the Teignmouth to Newton Abbot Canal. To be precise, much of the action actually takes place in the Teign Estuary. A characteristic of this type of song is that the voyage is in the wrong direction. In our case Dartmoor turf is being taken up river to the “port” of Newton!
Harry and Lesley Boardman printed The Manchester Canal in 1973 in their book Folk Songs & Ballads of Lancashire (Oak Publications). The geographical references in the song indicate that it is about the Rochdale Canal which enters Manchester via Ancoats.
Harry Boardman sang The Manchester Canal to the tune of The Girl I Left Behind Me on his and Dave Hillery's 1971 Topic album Trans Pennine. They noted:
The Manchester Ship Canal, opened in 1894, was of tremendous economic importance, both to Lancashire and the country as a whole, changing as it did one of the world’s greatest commercial and trading centres from a land-locked city to an important inland seaport. Before work on the Canal was started, tremendous controversy raged between those who saw it as a great leap forward and those who anticipated it being the fiasco of the century.
Many songs were printed in support of one side or the other and it is interesting to note that shilling shares in the Canal Company were sold to the public from door to door. The navvies working on the Canal were also expected to contribute a penny a day for hot water to brew their tea and a penny towards the building of the Canal. One navvy was heard to remark, “What wi’ tea wayter an’ sea wayter, we’ll ‘ave nowt left.”
The Manchester Canal comes from an undated printed sheet and was supplied by Paul Graney of Manchester. The notion of describing a mere canal voyage in terms of the dangers of the deep has been very popular in times past, to judge by the number of versions on the go, one of the best known of which is The Calibar.
Sung to us by Emma Vickers of Burscough, who was a marvellous lady, loved and respected by all who knew her. Emma would often spend her school holidays with her grandfather, who worked a boat on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, and from his singing she learned several songs. This is one of them.
Emma Vickers sings Cruise of the Calibar
When I were young and in my prime, as lazy as can be;
I stepped on board a Bradford fly, her number were twenty-three.
As we seet sail fro' Galsey Bay we geet lost in a terrible fog,
And th'only mate abooard that flat were Dookey's Airredale dog.
Now when we geet a bit further on we met owd twenty-one,
John Dakin he were steering, He'd a Bradford fly hung on.
That Bradford fly were owd Dolly's John, Owd Dolly stood on t'bow deck
When t'tow rope broke and catched owd Dolly a belt at t'back o't'neck.
We sailed along quite merrily till we come to Aintree Val,
And then it started raining, by gum it went dark wi' cloud,
I catched me foot in t' stern rail and went slurring reight on t'deck.
And I went heead fost down t' scuttle hole and I nearly broke me neck.
Me fayther were down in t' cabin, He were hewing his bit o' scoff.
He said, “Now lad be careful, tha welly knocked t'kettle off.
Tha'd better frame and start pumping for I think we've sprung a leak.”
And I wished I'd never gone booating for my living for to seek.
Soon after that we'd an awful shock, ee met another ship.
And that were old Tom Rover, ee were on a Sunda' Schoo' trip.
He shouted out, “Howd in,you clown!” I forgeet and howded out.
And we met stem up in t'middle o' cut, by gum and I geet a clout.
We ended up w't' booat i' t' pawnshop and our crew went to Walton Jail,
And I'm th' only survivor who lived to tell the tale.
I've 'ed some happy memories and some bad 'uns too, I vow,
But I'll never forget when I war t' fost mate on booard o' the Calibar.
Cyril Tawney sings The Cruise of the ‘Calabar’
Come all you dry-land sailors bold and listen to my song,
There are but forty verses so it won't detain you long.
It's all about the history of this here British tar
Who shipped as a man before the mast on board of the Calabar.
The Calabar was a clipper flat, copper-fastened afore and aft,
The rudder stuck away out behind and the wheel was a great big shaft.
With half a gale to swell each sail, she'd make two knots an hour,
The smartest craft on the whole canal, though only one horse-power.
Our captain was a strapping youth, he stood about four foot two.
His eyes was black, and his nose was red, and his cheeks was Prussian blue,
He wore a leather medal that he'd won in the Crimea war,
And his wife was pilot and passenger's cook aboard of the Calabar.
Our vessel ploughed the waters of the Teignmouth to Newton Canal,
All under close three topsails for the glass foretold a squall.
It was in old Salty pool, my lads, we was beaten about the surf,
All bound for the port of Newton, my lad, with a cargo of Dartmoor turf.
We started with a favouring gale, the weather was all sublime,
But just on passing the Teignmouth bridge where you can’t pass two at a time.
We were struck midships by another flat which gave us a serious check
For she stove in our larboard paddle-box and destroyed our hurricane deck.
While hugging the shore near Netherton Point, a very dangerous spot,
We ran down onto a cob of coal that wasn’t marked down on the chart.
So to keep the ship from sinking and to save each precious life
We threw the cargo overboard, including the captain’s wife.
Then all was great confusion while the stormy winds did blow,
Our bosun slipped on an orange peel and he fell in the hold below.
“A piratical junk!” the captain cried, “and on us she doth gain!
And when next I'm going go to Newton, my lads, by jaggers I’ll go by train.”
We got our arms all ready for to meet the coming foe,
Our grappling arms, our boarding pikes, our Armstrong guns also.
“Slap on all speed!” the captain cried, “for we are sorely pressed!”
But the engineer replied from the bank that the ‘orse was doing his best.
Full thick and fast the heroes fell, in torrents the blood was spilt.
Many were falling before they were touched to make sure they wouldn’t be killed.
And when the enemy struck her flag, the crew being laid on their backs
Well, we found that she was a sister's craft with a cargo of cobbler’s wax.
Harry Boardman sings The Manchester Canal
O the S.S. Irwell left this port the stormy sea to cross.
They heaved the lead and went ahead on a voyage to Barton Moss.
No fair ship e'er left the slip from this port to Natal
Than the boats that plough the waters of the Manchester Canal.
The third day out or thereabout, a great storm swept the main.
The captain called his officer, I just forget his name.
“You see that light there on the right?” “Aye, aye,” he did exclaim.
“Well it's the Wilsons' Brewery lightship at the end of Ancoats Lane.”
The captain's brow was darkened for he saw a storm was brewing,
And the engineer reported that the horse it wanted shoeing.
“Is there a chart aboard this barque?” He asked of one or two.
The captain he was ashy pale and so was all the crew.
“By gum, we've lost our reckoning, whatever shall we do?
We must be near to Bailey Bridge on the banks of Pin Mill Brow.”
Then all became confusion as the stormy winds did roar,
The captain wished himself and crew were safe again on shore.
“Let go the anchor, boys,” he cried, “for I am sorely puzzled.
The mate is drunk and in his bunk, see that the cook is muzzled.
We're short of grub in this 'ere tub, and we are far from land.
There's not an oat in this 'ere boat and the engine's broken down.
“Close reef the sails,” the bosun cried, “we're in a great dilemma.
Just row her to Pomona Bay, she cannot stand the weather.
She's sprung a leak, now all is lost! Let each man do his best,
For soon she'll be a total wreck on the shoals of Throstle Nest.”
But soon the storm abated, it was rather overrated
When captain, crew and officers were quickly congregated.
They searched the chart in every part, to find their situation.
They were east-nor-east of Bailey Bridge, just south of Salford Station.