As I was a-walking down London
From Wapping to Ratcliffe Highway
I chanced to pop into a gin-shop
To spend a long night and a day
A young doxy came rolling up to me
And asked if I'd money to sport
For a bottle of wine changed a guinea
And she quickly replied: 'That's the sort'
When the bottle was put on the table
There was glasses for everyone
When I asked for the change of my guinea
She tipped me a verse of her song
This lady flew into a passion,
And placed both her hands on her hip,
Saying: 'Sailor, don't you know our fashion?
Do you think you're on board of your ship?'
'If this is your fashion to rob me
Such a fashion I'll never abide
So launch out the change of my guinea
Or else I'll give you a broadside'
A gold watch hung over the mantel
So the change of my guinea I take
And down the stairs I run nimbly
Saying: 'Darn my old boots, I'm well paid'
The night being dark in my favour
To the river I quickly did creep
And I jumped in a boat bound for Deptford
And got safe aboard of my ship
So come all you bold young sailors
That ramble down Ratcliffe Highway
If you chance to pop into a gin-shop
Beware, lads, how long you do stay
For the songs and the liquors invite you
And your heart will be all in a rage
If you give them a guinea for a bottle
You can go to the devil for change
Vaughan Williams, R & Lloyd, A.L. (eds) (1959), The Pengiun Book of English Folk Songs
Sung by Mrs Howard, King's Lynn, Norfolk (R.V.W. 1905)
From the notes to the Penguin book:
In the first half of the nineteenth century, Ratcliffe Highway, Stepney, was the toughest thoroughfare in London. It was the place of sailors' lodging-houses, sailors' pubs, sailors' ladies. Henry Mayhew has given us vivid descriptions of the Highway, with tall brazen-faced women dressed in gaudy colours, sly pimps and crimps, roaring sailors out for a good time, bearded foriegn musicians from the fifteen dance halls of the locality, and the intrepid Policemen of H division walking through the throng in twos. The Ratcliffe Highway
song may have been made for performances in ships foc'scles, or it may have been made to impress the patrons of the Eastern Music Hall, the British Queen, the Prussian Eagle, or another public house licensed for music. In any case, it now has something of the ring of tradition and much of the ring of truth. Mrs Howard's text is supplemented from an unpublished version collected in Sussex. in 1954 and kindly communicated by R Copper, and from a broadside by Catnach.
(Search Roud index at VWML) Take Six
Ratcliffe Highway (1)