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A Smuggler’s Song

[ Roud 25475 ; Henry H494 ; Ballad Index HHH494n ; DT PRESGENT ; Mudcat 13779 ; words Rudyard Kipling, music Peter Bellamy / Tim Laycock; notes on A Smuggler’s Song at the Kipling Society]

A Smuggler’s Song is a poem from Rudyard Kipling’s book Puck of Pook’s Hill. Peter and Anthea Bellamy and Chris Birch sang it in 1972 on Bellamy’s second album of songs set to Kipling’s poems, Merlin’s Isle of Gramarye. He noted:

A Smuggler’s Song is one of Kipling’s best loved poems. It presents a somewhat romantic view of the cut-throat Sussex smugglers of the Eighteenth Century. The melody is derived from that of The White Cockade, a song which survives in the repertoire of a family in a village in which Kipling himself lived for a period: the Copper family of Rottingdean, Sussex. The harmonies were arranged by Chris Birch.

Isla St Clair sang Smuggler’s Song in 1981 in the BBC television series and on the accompanying album, The Song and the Story.

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sang A Smuggler’s Song as the title-giving track of their 1992 CD A Present From the Gentlemen, referring in their liner notes to Peter Bellamy.

The New Scorpion Band sang A Smuggler’s Song in 2004 on their CD The Downfall of Pears. They noted:

A new setting by Tim [Laycock] of Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem from Puck of Pook’s Hill. There are surprisingly few traditional songs about smuggling, given the remarkable amount of it which evidently went on along England’s south coast during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. We have recently been collecting smuggling stories on our travels, and are particularly grateful to the villagers of Shipton Gorge, Dorset for their tales of the infamous Isaac Gulliver and his ghostly appearances at the pub window.

Jess and Richard Arrowsmith sang Smuggler’s Song in 2010 on their CD of (mostly) nursery songs, Off We Go!, in 2011 on Pecsaetan Morris’s CD At One With the Bells, and in 2012 on their CD Customs & Exercise where they noted:

Another song about smugglers, this time written by Rudyard Kipling. Jess learnt this at school. We first released it on our album of nursery songs, rhymes and lullabies, Off We Go!, released in November 2010, but wanted to expose it to a wider audience; not least for the scrumptious cor anglais part from Jo Maher.

Jon Boden sang Smuggler’s Song as the 15 January 2011 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day.

Martha Tilston sang her own song Shipwreckers, with a chorus borrowed from A Smuggler’s Song, in 2014 on her CD The Sea.

Mawkin sang A Smuggler’s Song on their 2018 album Down Among the Dead Men. They noted:

A Rudyard Kipling poem set to music by Peter Bellamy. Dave [Delarre] fell in love with this one as it’s about those unsuspecting characters in a village that get up to no good. It’s always the quiet ones that you have to be wary of!


Rudyard Kipling’s poem A Smuggler’s Song

If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse’s feet,
Don’t go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
Them that asks no questions they isn’t told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

Five-and-twenty ponies, trotting through the dark—
With brandy for the Parson and ’baccy for the Clerk.
Laces for a lady and letters for a spy,
And watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

Running round the woodlump if you chance to find
Little barrels, roped and tarred, all full of brandy-wine;
Don’t you shout to come and look, nor use ’em for your play;
Put the brushwood back again,—and they’ll be gone next day!

If you see the stable-door setting open wide;
If you see a tired horse lying down inside;
If your mother mends a coat cut about and tore;
If the lining’s wet and warm—don’t you ask no more!

If you meet King George’s men, dressed in blue and red,
You be careful what you say, and mindful what is said.
If they call you “pretty maid”, and chuck you ’neath the chin,
Don’t you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one’s been!

Knocks and footsteps round the house—whistles after dark—
You’ve no call for running out until the house-dogs bark.
Trusty’s here, and Pincher’s here, and see how dumb they lie—
They don’t fret to follow when the Gentlemen go by!

If you do as you’ve been told, likely there’s a chance
You’ll be give a dainty doll, all the way from France,
With a cap of Valenciennes, and a velvet hood—
A present from the Gentlemen, along o’ being good!

Five-and-twenty ponies, trotting through the dark—
Brandy for the Parson, ’baccy for the Clerk.
Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie—
So watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!