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Moses of the Mail

[ Roud - ; Mudcat 128515 ; Ewan MacColl]

Ewan MacColl recorded his own song Moses of the Mail in 1951 for a 78rpm record (Topic TRC51). He published this song in 1954 in his book Shuttle and Gage and recorded it for on the same-named 10" LP in 1957, Shuttle and Gage (which later was part of his 12" LP Steam Whistle Ballads). He commented in the original album’s sleeve notes:

“Moses” was the nickname of Henry Poyser, an engine-driver who served on the Manchester-Warrington run in the 80’s. Despite the “local” feeling of the text and the trivial nature of the events described, the song still lives as part of the oral tradition of the Lancashire railwaymen. The version sung here is collated from three texts collected in Newton-Heath Loco shed in 1952.

Tony Rose sang Moses of the Mail in 1977 on the Broadside album Steam Ballads.


Ewan MacColl sings Moses of the Mail

It was a dark and stormy night and snow was falling fast,
I stood on Thorpbridge Junction where the reckless Moses passed.
His hair was widely waving as through the air he sped;
He’d never had such doings since he startet at the shed.

The signals on at Newton Heath, the shed was close at hand;
He sent his mate for some more oil and a couple of bags of sand.
At Moston’s dreary cutting the struggle was extreme –
Both front sanders failed to work and the engine wouldn’t steam.

On passing Hopwood Cabin he heard the engine growl,
And reaching for the tallow pot he broke his collarbone.
When Castleton appeared in view he shook his weary head
And stepping over to his mate this is what he said:

“I’ve worked upon the L&Y for forty years or more
But such a wretched night as this I’ve never had before.”
At Hebden Bridge they stopped the train some wagons to reload
And Moses shouted to his mate, “We’re off the blooming road!”

Up came old Moses, stick in hand, his head hung down with grief;
He viewed the scene contemptously, then wired for relief.
“Pray don’t lie iron hands on me,” poor Valentine did exclaim,
“I know you’ve done your very best, I know you’re not to blame.”

Now flowers may bud and bloom in spring and memories fade away,
But they will not forget that night until their dying day.
But when I’m dead and laid to rest place on my grave sweet roses,
These were, I’m told, the very last pathetic words of Moses.


Thanks to Richard Mellish for help with the lyrics.