A poem a day: Manchester Ship Canal Shanty

Very chuffed to be “featured participant” and have yesterday’s poem chosen by the lovely folk at NaPoWriMo. Today’s prompt is a call and response poem – used in gospel, sea shanties, and folk songs.  As I was lucky enough to get tickets for one of the final Bellowhead concerts, I’m going to have a go at a folk song structure (in the vein of Fire Marengo).

Small snippet of history – as snippets of history go – many of the men working on the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal were from Ireland.  They weren’t particularly paid well (if at all), endured racist banter from the locals, and many died during the building of the canal.  A large portion of the Irish diaspora in Greater Manchester settled near Heap Bridge in Heywood, Rochdale; there’s an explanation of the “Monkey Town” story retold by Chris Dawson in his blog (Chris’s blog is great – it’s a bit of a study of the literary geographies of Heywood itself).

The Ship Canal brought a great deal of wealth to Manchester, however, the construction was not without glitches: the canal company ran out of money by the late 1890s and had to be bailed out by the Corporation of Manchester (essentially, the City Council).  It was also opposed by some Liverpudlians who called the project the ‘Big Ditch’, they feared, quite rightly, that any riches would flow past their city and head east to the Port of Manchester.  The Manchester Ship Canal Company was acquired by private estate and infrastructure behemoth Peel Holdings in the 1990s.

 

Manchester Ship Canal Shanty

Lord Tatton only cut one sod

Dig down deep lads, dig this Ditch

Here again for the daily plod

Dig down deep lads, dig this Ditch

 

Canal company is flat broke

Dig down deep lads, dig this Ditch

Got no cash from the working folk

Dig down deep lads, dig this Ditch

 

Sell the land for a handsome steal

Dig down deep lads, dig this Ditch

The company that becomes Peel

Dig down deep lads, dig this Ditch

 

Peel own the water, own the land

Dig down deep lads, dig this Ditch

Any change is at their command

Dig down deep lads, dig this Ditch

 

Of democracy there’s a lack

Dig down deep lads, dig this Ditch

Maybe one day we’ll take it back

Dig down deep lads, dig this Ditch

 

 

Finally, because I personally can’t get enough of them, here’s Bellowhead performing the Rochdale Coconut Dance.  (Boasty moment: I was at that gig as I was volunteering at the folk festival.  Albeit with labyrinthitis. Which is a whole other story. . .)

 

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