Category Archives: Culture: songs, stories, photography and art

Traditions and culture relevant to the world of real boating and sailors

Beale’s shows The Riddle of the Sands

Riddle of the sands DVD

London chandlers Arthur Beale’s monthly talk on the 2nd of July is a screening the film Riddle of the Sands – the film of the first real spy novel, set in the seas off Germany and the lowlands, and written by Erskine Childers.

The story of the novel and film centres around two plucky British yachtsmen sailing around the Frisian Islands in an attempt to first discover and then to thwart a German plot to invade the UK.

The talk event is not just to be a screening – for the film is to be introduced by Lloyd Shepherd and Tim Wright of the only slightly bhonkers Riddle of the Sands Adventure Club.

These chaps plan a journey by foot, cycle and sail re-enacting the events of the book by Erskine Childers from which the film takes its story, and using the book as a guide. What could possibly go wrong?

Shepherd and Wright are to discuss their plans as part of their introduction, which I gather is likely to be highly entertaining – but more than that, the aim is also to explore some of the themes of the book and film, and their historical context.

Start time is 18:45 sharp – please arrive early, at Arthur Beale’s premises at, 194 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8JP. Booking is essential, by email at talks@arthurbeale.co.uk or telephone 02078369034. Entry is 5.00 fee on the door, but this is waived if you buy anything on the day amounting to more than £15.00.

Riddle of the Sands

Jackie Tarr, or Come Ashore Jolly Tar with Your Trousers On

This is a smashing old hornpipe, and I hope I’ve done it justice in my YouTube video for local learning musicians.

But I thought it worth reading around, and what I found was a good story – read about some of it here and here. It seems a printed copy of a variant of the tune used for the (rudish) song The Cuckoo’s Nest goes back to 1723.

It seems that in his book Bushes & Briars: Folk Songs Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams folklorist and historian Roy Palmer wrote this on the subject of the trousers:

‘At the end of the 18th century, when most men wore knee-breeches, sailors (apart from officers) wore trousers, and had been doing so for some fifty years. (Incidentally, the revolutionary French sans-culottes were so called, not because they went about with bare posteriors, but because they, too, wore trousers in preference to breeches). A sailor could easily roll up his wide trousers when decks had to be scrubbed, or seas were breaking over them. The trousers (usually spelled “trowsers” at the time) were often stained with the Stockholm tar used on the standing rigging, and “tarry trousers” were thus the unmistakable badge of the sailor.’

In this later book The Oxford Book of Sea Songs, he included a set of lyrics from a broadside ballad published by J Pitts, Printer, Wholesale Toy and Marble Warehouse, 6 Great St Andrew Street, Seven Dials, London. The ballad was printed between 1819 and 1844, but Palmer throught the ballad probably dated from soon after the end of the American War in 1783.

I think it’s a fairly challenging song to sing, but it seems to have caught on – 20th century folk song collectors found there were still people singing the song in the community in Aberdeenshire, and the song title has certainly stuck to the tune.

Here are the Pitts lyrics. Perhaps someone will fancy singing them!

Come Ashore Jolly Tar with Your Trousers On

1. When Jack had pulled the oar and the boat was gone
And the lassie on the shore with her head hanging down
The tears stood in her eyes and her bosom heaving sighs
Farewell, my dear, she cries, with your trousers on
Farewell, said he, I go to sea, and you must stay behind
But do not grieve, for while I live I ever will be kind
And when I come to land you will meet me on the strand
And welcome Jackie Tar with his trousers on

2. Now peace is proclaimed and the wars are all o’er
The fleets they are moored and the sailors come ashore
Now you may see her stand with a glass into her hand
To welcome Jack to land with his trousers on
While up on high, she catched his eye with all her lovely charms
Her face he knew and straight he flew and caught her in his arms
Her hand he kindly pressed as he held her round the waist
And he kissed the bonny lassie with his trousers on

3. O Jack, where have you been since you went from me
And what have you seen upon the raging sea
I mourned for your sake while my heart was like to break
For I thought I’d never see my Jack with his trousers on
And while you stayed I sighed and prayed to Neptune and to Mars
That they would prove kind and send you home safe from the wars
And now to my request they have been pleased to list
And sent you to my breast with your trousers on

4. I have sailed the seas for you to the Torrid Zone
From the confines of Peru to Van Diemen’s Land
From the Bay of Baltimore to the coast of Labrador
But now I’m safe on shore with my trousers on
I have beat the storms in many forms upon the raging main
I have fought the foes with deadly blows and many a hero slain
I have heard the cannons road, I have rolled in blood and gore
But now I’m safe on shore with my trousers on

5. I have been aloft when the winds have blown
And I have been aloft when the bombs were thrown
But like a sailor bold I have now come from the hold
With my pockets full of gold and my trousers on
And now no more from shore to shore I’ll plough the raging seas
But free from strife as man and wife we’ll live in peace and ease
To the church this couple hied and the priest the knot has tied
And the sailor kissed his bride with his trousers on