|This day for our new navigation
We banish all cares and vexation.
The sight of the barges each honest heart glads,
And the merriest of mortals are Birmingham lads!
Birmingham Lads, jovial blades,
With pride every heart must be glowing,
Play in the air, free and fair,
Let Stratford's sons boast out of measure
Birmingham toys, all men praise,
|The Thames, Severn, Trent and the Avon
Their countrymen frequently rave on,
But none of their neighbours are happy as they
Who peacably dwell on the banks of the Rea.
Banks of the Rea, ever gay,
Not Europe can match us for traffic,
Birmingham ware, none so fair,
Since by the canal navigation,
Birmingham cut, fairly wrought,
This song is an adaptation of lines written by John Freeth in 'Aris's Birmingham Gazette' on November 6th 1769, on the opening of the Birmingham Canal.
Stratford's sons ..... mulberry treasure: Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, is some 25 miles south of Birmingham (at the end of the Stratford Canal). A mulberry tree in the grounds of New Place, Stratford, is supposed to be the scion of one planted by Shakespeare.
Jubilee joys: the Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769.
toys: small metal articles, such as buckles, buttons, etc. This is the original meaning of the word. Birmingham was at one time unrivalled in the production of a huge variety of small metal articles - and not a few large ones, too.
Banks of the Rea, ever gay: the Rea is the river on which Birmingham stands. It was never navigable, hence the reference to the Secern, the Trant, and the Avon, all of which were. The Birmingham Lads are 'gay' because they now share in the riches of inland navigation thanks to the canal. Gay is used here in its original sense of 'lightheartedly mirthful'; it cannot be used in that sense nowadays, a pity since there is no exact English equivalent.
Songs index British Canals Home page
Rod Beavon 17 Dean's Yard London SW1P 3PB