> A.L. Lloyd > Songs > With Me Pit Boots On

The Bold English Navvy / With Me Pit Boots On

[ Roud 516 ; Master title: The Bold English Navvy ; G/D 4:787 ; Ballad Index RcWMPBO ; DT NAVVYBOT ; Mudcat 3079 ; trad.]

Karl Dallas: One Hundred Songs of Toil Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger: Travellers’ Songs From England and Scotland Roy Palmer: Songs of the Midlands James Reeves: The Idiom of the People Stephen Sedley: The Seeds of Love

The tinker Lal Smith of Belfast sang The Bold English Navvy to Peter Kennedy and Sean O’Boyle on 24 July 1952. This BBC recording 18303 was also included on the anthology Songs of Seduction (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 2; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1968).

Frank Purslow and John Pearse sang Wi’ Me Cattle Smock On in 1961 on their album Bottoms Up!

A.L. Lloyd recorded With Me Pit Boots On in November 1962 for the Topic anthology of industrial folk music, The Iron Muse. He sang it again in 1966 on his album The Best of A.L. Lloyd, accompanied by Alf Edwards on concertina. Lloyd commented in the album’s sleeve notes:

There’s a widespread humorous song about a young man who visits his girl at evening with a billycock on, a cattle-smock on, a leather apron on. The song gets its laugh because whatever happens, the hero never removes the badge of his standing of trade. Northern industrial workers know the song as well as southern farm folk. This is a Durham miners’ version.

Jimmy McBeath sang The Bold English Navvy in a recording made by Sean Davies in his studio at Cecil Sharp House, Camden Town, London, in 1966 or 1967. In was published in 1967 on McBeath’s Topic album Wild Rover No More, and was also included in 1998 on the Topic anthology Who’s That at My Bed Window? (The Voice of the People Series Volume 10).

Bob Davenport sang Navvy Boots in 1975 on his Topic album Down the Long Road.

Bill Parnell sang Navvy Boots in a recording made in 1974-76 on the Topic anthology of traditional singers, Devon Tradition.

Louis Killen sang Pit Boots in 1980 on his Collector album of songs of the British Industrial Revolution, Gallant Lads Are We. He noted:

The universal theme of “maidens beware!”—a robust song, versions of which have been collected about different trades and from areas as far apart as Shetland and Somerset in the British Isles.

Mary Delaney sang Navvy Shoes in a Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie recording of Irish Travellers in England made in 1973-85. It was included in 2003 on their Musical Tradition anthology From Puck to Appleby. And James McDermott sang With the Old Navvy Boots On to Keith Summers in McGrath’s pub, Brookeborough, Co. Fermanagh, on 8 August 1980. This recording was included in 2004 on the Musical Traditions anthology of “songs from around Lough Erne’s shore” collected by Summers, The Hardy Sons of Dan. Rod Stradling noted in both albums’ booklets:

The navvies who dug the canals and laid the railways in Britain had, and earned, a reputation as hard fighters, hard drinkers and womanisers. In 1839, Lieutenant Peter Lecount, assistant Engineer to Robert Stephenson while building the London to Birmingham railway, wrote of them:

These banditti, known in some parts of England by the name of ‘Navvies’ or ‘Navigators’, and in others by that of ‘Bankers’, are generally the terror of the surrounding country; they are as completely a class by themselves as the Gypsies. Possessed of all the daring recklessness of the smuggler, without any of his redeeming qualities, their ferocious behaviour can only be equalled by the brutality of their language. It may be truly said, their hand is against every man and before they have been long located, every man’s hand is against them; and woe befall any woman with the slightest share of modesty, whose ears they can assail. From being long known to each other, they in general act in concert, and put at defiance any local constabulary force; consequently crimes of the most atrocious character are common, and robbery, without an attempt at concealment, has been an everyday occurrence, wherever they have congregated in large numbers.
The Railway Navvies, Terry Coleman, Hutchinson, 1965.

Of the handful of songs that were made about the navvies (and one should not forget the famous reel, Navvy on the Line), this is undoubtedly the one that has survived the best. It’s known throughout these islands, but seems to have been most popular in Scotland.

Isla St Clair sang The Bold English Navvy in 1981 in the BBC television series and on the accompanying album, The Song and the Story.

Mick Groves sang Bold English Navvy in 2010 on his album Still Spinning and in a May 2018 live recording on the Liverpool Spinners’ CD Legends.

Jon Wilks sang Navvy Boots on his 2018 album Midlife. He noted:

This was collected in Pelsall Common, just north of Birmingham, on October 1, 1967, when it was sung to members of the Birmingham and Midland Folk Centre by a traveller named Eileen Hannoran. Irish in origin, several versions exist, and it’s not unusual to find that it was common in the Midlands area where many labourers worked on the construction of the railways and canals. It’s not a meditation on hard labour, however, and keen-eared listeners will recognise several floating verses common to a number of Night Visiting Songs. I originally found it in Roy Palmer’s book, Songs of the Midlands.


A.L. Lloyd sings With Me Pit Boots On

A-diggin’ and a-pickin’ as I was one day,
The thought of my true love had led me astray.
Well, the shift being over and the night coming on,
And away I ran with me pit boots on.

I tapped at my love’s window, crying, “Are you in bed?”
The minute that she heard me she lifted up her head,
She lifted up her head, crying, “Oh is that John?”
“Indeed it’s me with me pit boots on.”

She come to the door and invited me in,
“Draw off to the fire and warm your skin.”
The bedroom door it opened and the blanket it turned down
And I rolled into bed with me pit boots on.

We tossed and we tumbled until the break of day
Not thinking of the hours that we had passed away.
Till my love she sat up, crying, “Oh what have I done!
The baby will come with his pit boots on.”

I chastised my love for talking so wild,
“You silly young girl, you will never have a child,
For all that I’ve done it was just a bit of fun,”"
But away I ran with me pit boots on.

Come all ye young gals wherever that you be,
Beware of them colliers who are single and free.
For their hearts do run light and their minds do run young,
So look out for the fellows with the pit boots on.

Louis Killen sings Pit Boots

A-diggin’ and a-pickin’ as I was one day,
When to thoughts of my true love my my mind did fondly stray.
The shift bein’ over and the night comin’ on,
Well, away I ran with me pit boots on.

And I ran to my love’s window, cryin’: “Are you in bed?”
And as soon as she heard me she lifted up her head.
She lifted up her head, cryin’: “Is that John?”
“Oh, indeed it’s me with me pit boots on.”

She opened the door and invited me in,
“Draw up to the fire, love, and dry your skin.”
Well, the bedroom door bein’ open and the blankets bein’ turned down,
Well, I jumps into bed with me pit boots on.

We sported and we tumbled until the break of day,
When thinkin’ of the hours that we had passed away,
My lover she sat up cryin’: “What have I done?
The baby will be born with its pit boots on.”

I chastised my love for talkin’ so wild:
“You foolish young girl, you will never have a child,
For all that we done it were only done in fun,”
But away I ran with me pit boots on.

So come all of you young maidens; a warning take from me,
And never trust a collier so handsome and so free,
For their hands do run wild and their hearts do run young,
So keep clear of them fellows with the pit boots on.

Mary Delaney sings Navvy Shoes

I’m the bold English navvy who worked on the line,
And worked there for weeks and worked overtime.
And when my work was over and night coming on,
I strolled to the roads with my navvy shoes on.

I first took my supper and then had a shave,
And for courting pretty fair maids I was highly repaired,
For courting pretty fair maids they stand with me then,
I roamed through the roads and my navvy shoes on.

I knocks at my love’s window, my knocks they were low,
And out of her slumber, my voice she did know,
She woke from her slumber and she said, “Is it John?”
“Yes it is ma’am”, says I, “And my navvy shoes on.”

Oh she opened the window and then left me in,
The night it was cold and the blanket rolled on,
And I slept there all night with my navvy shoes on.

When I woken next morning here’s the words she did say,
“Sleep down John, sleep down John, don’t you know you done wrong,
For to stay there all night with your navvy shoes on?”

Now six months was better and three coming on,
When this pretty fair maid got tight in the waist,
And handed me a young son with his navvy shoes on.

Oh then, all ye young ladies, wherever ye may be,
Don’t ever let a navvy stroll into your bed,
For now if you do then, you’ll think it’ll be John,
He’ll leave you a young son with his navvy boots on.

James McDermott sings With the Old Navvy Boots On

I’m a hard working cobee, I lived on the line.
Nine months I have worked in Newcastle-on-Tyne.
With the moon shining bright and the stars shining on,
I was bound for my work with the old navvy boots on.

I came home from my work and I shaved off the beard;
Courting this young girl I was highly prepared.
I went to her window, her light it was low,
And out of her slumber my voice she did know.
And out of her slumber she says, “Is it John?”
“Well it is then”, says I, “with th’ould navvy boots on.”

She quickly arose and she soon let me in.
It was into her bedroom she landed me then.
She jumped into bed with the blankets pulled on.
And I jumped in behind her with me navvy boots on.

In nine months after or twelve I might say,
I was brought up to Court in the very same way.
The judge found me guilty, hardly able to speak.
Well he says, “My young man, you’ll pay five bob a week.”
“Five bob is too much or a hard-working man.”
So I left the Courthouse with th’ould navvy boots on.