The Ballad of Dead Bod Steve Gardham
Tulip was a bit of a bird man, when a molly came down on the deck,
Its wing was all bent and misshapen, and looking a bit of a wreck;
So Tulip he got an old carton, and placing the molly within,
He fed it on scraps from his packup, but what could he do with its wing?
Chorus: Singing too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-addity,
From Saltend right up to the Pod,
I’ll tell you the tale of a marker
That’s known by the name of Dead Bod.
He sent us ashore on an errand, two lollies he asked us to bring;
He didn’t want ’em to suck ’em, he wanted the sticks for the wing.
Well, he took the two sticks and he tied ’em, right fast to that poor molly’s wing,
The carton in front of the wheelhouse, its head popping out, just the thing!
Our bosun he was a mean bugger, he’d just lost his shot on an ’oss
His missis had give him an earful, and let him know who was the boss.
He clambered aboard in a paddy, and gave such an almighty kick,
Poor molly and carton went flying, and splattered all over the deck.
Poor Tulip he took this quite badly, but bottled it up in his head,
To think that he’d saved that poor molly, and now it was wasted and dead.
Well, when we were back in the Humber, me an’ Pongo ’ad a skinful of ale,
And when we tied up to the quayside, a ladder he quickly did scale.
He’d a tin o’ white paint and a paintbrush, and he started to paint with great flair;
He painted that poor deceased molly, on its back with its legs in the air.
It covered the side of the warehouse, from the quayside right up to the tiles,
And when the boats passed in the morning, they said you could see it for miles.
Pongo did this in the sixties, and now the old lad is no more,
But he left us his wonderful artwork, so we’ll save it and keep it in store.
If I had the wings of a molly, I’d fly from the Deep to the Pod,
But the rounding-up marker for Alex, is the one that is known as Dead Bod.
Based in Hull, United Towing Company’s fleet of tugs sailed the seven seas towing and rescuing large vessels. In 1960 the steam tug Englishman was in Falmouth harbour for a few weeks having just returned from a long haul and awaiting orders. The skipper, one William Valentine Hopper, nicknamed ‘Tulip’, was something of an ornithologist so when a seagull , a ‘molly’ in riverman’s parlance, came down on the deck with a broken wing he decided to rescue it. He took it into the wheelhouse, placed it in a cardboard box and fed it on scraps until its wing had recovered. The second mate, Len Rood, nicknamed ‘Pongo’ was party to this and Tulip sent him ashore for two ice-lollies so they could use the sticks as splints for the broken wing.
For a couple of weeks they looked after the unfortunate molly until it was ready to fly again, the rest of the crew unaware of this. When they thought the molly was about ready to fly they placed the box in front of the wheelhouse and watched to see if it would take flight. They had no sooner returned to the wheelhouse when the bosun, Bob, came up on deck wearing his clumpers (heavy seaboots) in something of a bad mood. He spotted the cardboard box and took one big kick at which the box disintegrated and the poor molly was dispatched.
Needless to say the skipper was very annoyed and for the rest of the trip back to the Humber went on and on to anyone who would listen about how he had carefully nursed the molly back to health. The bosun kept out of his way but also chuntered frequently, ‘All this fuss over a dead bod!’ to the rest of the crew.
When they got back to the Humber the Englishman was moored up to the jetty near the entrance to Alexandra Dock and most of the crew went ashore to see their families. A few days later Pongo and the engineer, Gordon Mason, went on a pub crawl down Hedon Road before they were due to take their turn on watch, so that when they arrived back at the jetty they were somewhat merry. With the story of the molly still in his head Pongo decided to play a prank on the skipper and bosun as the story by now had spread around the other tug crews. He went aboard, procured a ladder, a pot of white paint and a brush and placing the ladder against the warehouse on the jetty, Gordon held it while Pongo climbed. He painted a large representation of the dead molly lying on its back with its legs sticking up, and just to make sure everyone knew what it represented he wrote the bosun’s words ‘A DEAD BOD’ underneath. The graffiti covered the whole of the side of the warehouse from quayside to roof and it could be seen right across the estuary from the shipping channels.
Some years later Pongo himself became skipper for United and often told the story to his crew members. The paint he used must have been high quality marine gloss as it lasted for many years and his piece of graffiti soon became a marker on the Humber so that ships waiting for the tide to enter Alex Dock used it as a rounding-up marker, and when passing vessels needed to tell VTS where they were on the river, ‘Just passing Dead Bod’ was a frequently used phrase.
Later stories tell of attempts by Associated British Ports to paint out Pongo’s artwork, but mysteriously by the following morning the artwork always reappeared.
The piece of graffiti could only be seen properly by anyone on the river so that for fifty-odd years most of the local population were unaware of it. Gradually the jetty became redundant and fell into disrepair but Dead Bod remained clear to be seen from passing vessels.
When it was proposed that Siemens wind turbine factory was to take over Alex Dock they decided they needed to dismantle the jetty completely along with Dead Bod. Of course this produced an outcry from the river men and all who were aware of the artwork. It was reported on the local radio and in the media and it became something of a symbol to the people of Hull, an icon that must be preserved at all costs. Burnsy on Radio Humberside took up the cause, along with Pongo’s family, both Pongo and Tulip having passed away by then. Eventually ABP were prevailed upon to preserve the corrugated iron on which it was painted when the jetty and warehouse were dismantled in 2016. It currently is on display in Humber Gallery café on Humber Street, but it is hoped that the new jetty will eventually have some replica of the marker on display in more or less the same spot on the river. We Hull people are not too fond of having designs and icons foisted on us by outsiders, but we know how to look after our own, and now we have a fight on to preserve the Three Ships mosaic on the old British Home Stores building. Geronimo!