DESCRIPTION: The sailor wanders down Ratcliffe Highway (and stops at an ale-house. What happens thereafter varies, e.g. he meets a girl, he fights with the landlady, etc.). After his business is done, he welcomes the chance to return to sea, even on a lousy old tub
EARLIEST DATE: 1905
KEYWORDS: sailor courting whore fight
FOUND IN: US(MA) Britain(England(South))
REFERENCES (6 citations):
Doerflinger, pp. 114-116, "As I Was A-Walking Down Ratcliffe Highway" (2 text, 2 tune)
Hugill, pp. 200-201, "Ratcliffe Highway" (1 text plus 3 fragments, 1 tune) [AbEd, pp. 155-157]
Vaughan Williams/Lloyd, p. 85, "Ratcliffe Highway" (1 text, 1 tune)
Wiltshire-WSRO Wt 353, "Down Ratcliffe Highway" (1 text)
Purslow-Constant, pp. 75-76, "Ratcliffe Highway" (1 text, 1 tune)
DT, RATCLIF* RATCLIF2*
cf. "Blow the Man Down" (floating lyrics; the songs often cross-fertilize)
cf. "The Deserter"
NOTES [258 words]: Ratcliffe Highway is a road in London near Limehouse Reach. It ran near the docks of the British East India Company. Its was hardly the best part of town -- the "Ratcliffe Highway Murders" are mentioned in the Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet, and formed a backdrop for Thomas De Quincey's Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts. Seven people were killed in two incidents in December 1811, according to Weinreb/Hibbert, p. 638. This eventually became one of the justifications for the foundation of the Metropolitan Police.
Cordingly, p. 7, says "This street lay to the north of the wharves on the riverfront at Wapping. It was described in 1600 by John Stow as 'a continual street, or filthy straight passage, with alleys of small tenements or cottages builded, inhabited by sailors and victuallers.' Most sailors... were looking for women and drink, and the establishments along the Ratcliffe Highway provided for their needs."
Benet, p. 909, says that the highway ran "from one end of the place of execution at Wapping along the Thames into the city."
Ratcliff (the spelling used in Weinreb/Hibbert) is now part of the borough of Stepney, according to Weinreb/Hibbert, pp. 632-633, and -- being a slum area -- suffered many fires and disasters as well as the crimes so widely remembered. The area's reputation eventually became so bad that the road was renamed St. George's Street. - RBW
One version of "The Deserter" has the man recruited on Ratcliffe Highway, and that version is also known by the name of "Ratcliffe Highway." - PJS
Last updated in version 4.2
- Benet: William Rose Benet, editor, The Reader's Encyclopdedia, first edition, 1948 (I use the four-volume Crowell edition but usually check it against the single volume fourth edition edited by Bruce Murphy and published 1996 by Harper-Collins. However, that edition removed the "Ratcliffe Highway" entry)
- Cordingly: David Cordingly, Women Sailors and Sailors' Women, Random House, 2001 (I use the undated, but later, paperback edition)
- Weinreb/Hibbert: Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert, editors, The London Encyclopedia, Macmillan, 1983 (I use the 1986 Ader & Adler reprint)
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