Ratcliffe Highway, now known as The Highway, was a notoriously tough area of bawdy houses, pubs, rough lodgings and ship’s chandlers, south of the Thames in Stepney. The song was collected by George Gardiner from Isaac Hobbes, of Micheldever (a more serene place in Hampshire) in June 1906.
The atmospheric paintings, better seen full-size, are by John Atkinson Grimshaw.
“This song is rooted deep in tradition, so deep, in fact, that its origins can only be guessed at. According to two scholars of English folk-song, Lucy Broadwood and Anne Gilchrist, it is a secularised version of a medieval hymn in praise of Christ, the Fisher King.” (Notes from ‘Marrowbones’ 1965)
Tune from Mrs Jane Gulliver, Combe Florey, Somerset; words from George Roper, Charlton St Mary, Dorset; collected by Henry Hammond 1905.
The Week Before Easter, with its enigmatic riddle in the final verse, was a very popular song in the 60s and 70s folk clubs. We can all answer the questions, but who can interpret the meaning? This version, from my 1972 Diary, comes from north of the border, if I remember rightly.
Searching For Lambs, the epitome of English traditional song from the southern counties, was sung by Mrs Sweet to Cecil Sharp at Somerton, Somerset, on the 16th August 1907.
Outward & Homeward Bound was collected by Cecil Sharp and published in English Folk-Songs for Schools 1906, including the lines about the sailor giving his “old girl a hearty smack” and she replying “You are saucy…!”. The drawing is of the West India Docks, London 1888 as I couldn’t find a suitable one of the Katherine Docks mentioned in the song.
On the 6th January 1909 Harry Richards sang this beautiful song to Cecil Sharp at Curry Rivel, a village in Somerset. If ever there was a song ‘saved’ from obscurity it is this one, for it was never collected from anyone else nor appeared in print until 1922 when it was included in Novello’s School Songs (the ‘official’ publication of songs favoured by the Board of Education) minus the last verse.
Cecil Sharp rode his bicycle around the West Country collecting songs and I ride around on mine singing them.
My well-used copy of Sea Sequel To The Week-End Book, published in 1934, was designed to supply all the information a leisure sailor might require on a cruise ship. Along with the important and useful bits are such entertainments as true stories and songs of the sea. The Smuggler is one.
I haven’t yet discovered the artist of the painting. Slapton on the Devon coast is important for ecological reasons nowadays.