A Keelman’s Song

I’ll sing you a song of the keelmen of old,
Who sailed on the Ouse from York down to Hull,
The Wharfe, the Darren, the Aire and the Don,
The Ouse and the Humber, the River Ancholme.

By Ouse and by Darren where great tides do roar,
When Sloppy put Iano upon the lee shore,
He says to Micky Watson, “I’ve a good mind to cry.”
Micky said, “Keep thi heart up, she’ll fight off next tide.”

Then up come Jack Sandy with the Warrior of War,
A trim little craft as you ever saw,
She’s spick and she’s span, she’s neat and she’s clean,
She’s a sweet little craft and she’s fit for a queen.

On New Year’s Eve it was blowing no end,
When we rounded the Houps for No Man’s Friend,
Into Tooth and Gum, and then Tooth and Jaws,
Selby Long Rack and away she goes.

Now Violet’s my wife, she’s a fine strapping lass,
She worked on a farm and we wed Martinmas,
She packed up her bag like a true loyal wife,
And she boarded the Emma to start a new life.

When moored at Black Tom’s Staith awaiting the tide,
The aegir came a- roaring way up the bankside,
Poor Violet she cried, she knelt and she prayed,
For she thought we’d all perish all in that great wave.

We penned out the cut with a good hour’s tide,
Wi’ a cargo of coal for up at Top Side,
With a snick through the brig we loosened our sail,
For Bishopthorpe Palace to serve his good grace.



Eddie Sanderson’s father, from a long line of keelmen, wrote and sang this song. We got it from a type-written sheet passed on to Steve by his mother-in-law, Eileen Sherburn, Goff’s wife and Chris’s mother. Goff actually crewed on the keels just after the war on the same waters as the Sandersons, before becoming a tugman. The song was also printed in the first issue of Slabline the magazine of The Humber Keel and Sloop Preservation Society. Sloppy Barnes was skipper of the Iano and Mickey Watson was the mate. The stranding in verse three was near Wressle on the Derwent. All other places mentioned are on the Ouse sailing up from the Derwent mouth to York. Black Tom’s Staith is just south of the Derwent mouth and although the Trent is famous for its aegir all tidal rivers can be subject to such tidal bores.