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

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Benjamin Britten wearing Orfords – the Suffolk fishermen’s ideal in trousers

Britten in a pair of Orfords

Our fashion correspondent writes: Orfords are a traditional style of simple rugged canvas seafaring jeans said to have been much favoured on the Suffolk coast between the wars – and now you can buy your own pair online from Old Town Clothing.

I gather Benjamin Britten had two pairs made up in chambray by an Aldeburgh tailor for himself and Peter Pears, who in turn knitted two fetching bobble hats. Sadly I haven’t been able to obtain a photograph of Britten and Pears wearing the local fishermen’s garb, but I Old Town’s William Brown rustled up the image above showing how composer Britten might have looked in his Orfords.

Now, if anyone does have a photo of Britten and Pears in those bobble hats and sailors’ trousers that they’d like to share with a wider public, do please get in touch at gmatking@gmail.com.

My thanks to Otis Luxton for pointing this one out.

I don’t know why it is, but I have to say that I haven’t found a pair of trousers that made me smile as much as this since I discovered a photo of my Dad wearing blue jeans some time in the mid 1950s. He never wore anything like that again…

PS – Chambray, or cambric, is a fine fabric woven with white threads across a coloured warp, and gets its name from Cambrai in Northern France.