> Folk Music > Songs > The Boatswain and the Tailor / Tailor in the Tea Chest

The Boatswain and the Tailor / Tailor in the Tea Chest

[ Roud 570 ; Master title: The Boatswain and the Tailor ; Laws Q8 ; G/D 7:1432 ; Henry H604 ; Ballad Index LQ08 ; VWML CJS2/9/1666 , GG/1/19/1196 ; Bodleian Roud 570 ; DT BOATTAIL ; Mudcat 67612 ; trad.]

Nick Dow: Southern Songster Gale Huntington: Sam Henry’s Songs of the People Frank Purslow: The Wanton Seed James Reeves: The Idiom of the People

Frank Purslow and John Pearse sang The Bosun and the Tailor on their 1960 album of “English folk songs Miss Pringle never taught us”, Rap-a-Tap-Tap.

The Woods sang The Little Tailor in 1969 on their Traditional Sound album Early Morning Rain.

Bandoggs with Pete Coe in lead sang Tailor in the Tea Chest in 1978 on their eponymous Transatlantic / The Leader Tradition album Bandoggs. They noted:

Tailor in the Tea Chest alias chapter one in the Lapsang Souchong story—or “How Earl Grey first hitched a lift to China” is our usual starting song. We have Roy Palmer to thank for this novel variation on the unfortunate tailor theme.

Nick Dow sang The Bos’n and the Tailor as the title track of his 2016 album The Devil in the Chest. He noted:

The tune and chorus is from Gardiner’s informant Henry Blake of Bartley, Hampshire, 1980 [VWML GG/1/19/1196] . The other verses have been added from other versions. The Tailor in the Box was a well known song 150 years ago but this tune is the best I’ve found.

George Sansome and Matt Quinn sang Tailor in the Tea Chest in 2023 on their duo album Sheffield Park. George Sansome noted:

I first heard this song around 10 years ago on the mighty record Bandoggs (1978) by the band of the same name—one of my all-time favourite albums. A perfectly ridiculous moral tale of how to behave (or not) when you’re courting.

Jon Wilks sang The Boatswain on his 2023 album Before I Knew What Had Begun I Had Already Lost. He noted:

Brummie folk historian and online pen pal, Pam Bishop, sent me this song because it had been published in New Meeting Street, Birmingham, in the heyday of broadside balladry. I’ve recorded it here with Lukas Drinkwater and Tom Gregory. Cecil Sharp, who collected it in 1908 from Charles Neville in East Coker, Somerset [VWML CJS2/9/1666] , felt it was “boisterous and unprintable”. I’ve adapted the words slightly—I’d hate to think what he’d make of it now.


Bandoggs sing Tailor in the Tea Chest

Oh there was a tarry sailor and he in this town did dwell;
He had a handsome wife and she loved the tailor well.

Chorus (after each verse):
Toor-an-addy fol the laddie
Toor-an-addy fol the lee

“Oh, I say this very night you must come and visit me
For me husband’s off to China to buy himself some tea.”

Oh they were not long a-courtin’ by the tollin’ of the clock
When a bootin’ at the hall door came as loud as it could knock.

“Oh now where shall I run too, oh now where shall I hide?”
“In my husband’s tea-chest a-close to the bedside.”

She run quickly down the stairs and she opened up the door,
There stands her dandy husband and nine sailors more.

Oh she run into his arms and she’s pressed him with a kiss,
“Husband, dear oh husband, what’s the meaning of all this?”

“Oh I haven’t come to rob you or disturb you of your rest,
But I cannot go to China without me tea-chest.”

So four of these good sailor lads, they bein’ so stout and strong,
They picked up the tea-chest and they carried it along.

And they hadn’t got as far as a mile out of the town,
The weight of the tea-chest it made the sweat come down.

Oh it’s then one of the sailor lads he turned round to the rest,
“I wonder what the devil is a-kickin’ in the chest?”

So they took out the key and they opened up the chest
And there lay the randy tailor like a pigeon in its nest.

“Will we take him out to China, will we trade him in for tea?
Or will we leave him in old England to raise a family?”

So they took him out to China and they traded him for tea,
And he made a fine supply for the whole ship’s company.

Come all you randy tailors a warning take by this
When you go a-courtin’ never hide in a tea-chest.

Jon Wilks sings The Boatswain

There was a bold boatswain and in Dover he did dwell,
And a handsome wife had whom a tailor’s loved well.
And when the bold boatswain was out of the way
His frolicsome young wife and the tailor they would play,
To my rally tally tall, oh rally tally tay.

One day she’s gone a-walking and she’s out into the street
When this loving tailor man, well she has chanced there to meet.
“My husband is on board with the rest of the crew,
So on this very night I shall frolic here with you.”
To my rally tally tall, oh rally tally tay.

Now as it all fell out, about twelve of the clock,
Well, the boatswain he’s returned and on the door there he did knock.
Which surprised them in their frolics, for neither were to sleep,
Says the tailor, “Loving woman, o where shall I creep?”
To my rally tally tall, oh rally tally tay.

So there they’ve laid a-pondering and musing in the bed
When a comical fancy has come into her head.
“My husband’s chest’s a-waitin ’neath the dresser, there,” she’s cried,
“Where in it my young tailor you may certainly hide.”
To my rally tally tall, oh rally tally tay.

So down the stairs she goes and she’s opened up the door
Where she’s found the boatswain there with sailors three or four.
“My dear I am so sorry I’ve disturbed you in your rest
But here I am returned for I need to have my chest.”
To my rally tally tall, oh rally tally tay.

From the chest the tailor whispers, “Woman, pay me some regard,
They’ll be breaking all my bones and they’ll be cutting off my yard.
And if that were to happen then I’m ruined I’m afraid,
For I get more from my yard than from the tailor trade.”
To my rally tally tall, oh rally tally tay.

Well the sailors scarcely carried that old chest from the town
When the weight of it had drenched them in sweat all running down.
They sat themselves all comfy on their baggage for to rest,
Saying one to another, “Well the devil’s in the chest!”
To my rally tally tall, oh rally tally tay.

Now, neither of these sailors this old chest could undo
So up comes the boatswain and the rest of the crew,
He’s opened up the cargo and in view of them all
There lay the tailor like a dog inside a stall,
To my rally tally tall, oh rally tally tay.

“Now, what have we here, bold fellow,” the boatswain cried,
“I’ve been cuckolded on shore many times I’m afraid.”
So he pressed this bold tailor and took him off to sea,
Saying, “He’ll not be staying at home with his yard to cuckold me.”
To my rally tally tall, oh rally tally tay.