I rise at all hours so early in the morn
While the streets are still empty, afore the day starts to dawn;
For the last twenty years that’s how I’ve earnt me pay,
For the last twenty years on the ould waterway.
I roll out o’ bed and I pull on me clothes,
Stumble downstairs, it’s so chilly and cold,
Pull on me topcoat as the clock starts to strike,
Then I pick up me bait and I’m off on me bike.
Working the Aire and Calder Navigation Canal,
The work it is hard but we don’t give a damn;
We bring down the coal by night and by day,
That’s how we earn our living on the ould waterway.
Well it isn’t too long ‘fore I’m on board the tug,
Down in the cabin, so warm and so snug;
I put on the kettle to boil up a brew,
Then I sit down and wait for the rest of the crew.
When the lads come on board, why, there’s no time to shirk,
Ould Bill the engineer gets the engine to work;
The jebus is fastened tight up to the bow;
The pans are chained up and we take ’em in tow.
There’s nineteen empties to take up this trip,
To be filled up wi’ coal from a South Yorkshire pit,
Six-hundred tons of Yorkshire’s black gold
To be carried abroad in a collier ship’s hold.
When the tug she is ready then the long trip is on;
We travel through Sykehouse and then Barnby Dun;
We tie up in Doncaster just before noon,
Then it’s off into town for a pint or two.
When the pans are all full then we’re heading for Goole;
It takes between four and five hours as a rule,
To work the canal and to haul through the locks,
Then we moor the Tom Puddings by the hoist in the docks.
That’s one more day’s work and one more day’s pay,
One more day travelling the ould waterway,
Then I’m on me way home for a bite and a kip
Then it’s up before daybreak to start the next trip
This is a contemporary song about Yorkshire.
The Tom Pudding system was unique to the Aire and Calder Navigation and Goole. From the 1860s to the 1980s the system, invented by Thomas Bartholomew, brought down from the South Yorkshire and West Riding pits millions of tons of coal. By the time the system was converted from steam to diesel tugs in the 1950s there were seven tugs, each bringing down daily a train of pans chained together in a long snake-like formation. Each pan contained thirty-two tons of coal and nineteen pans was the usual load being towed. With the chains connecting the pans needing adjusting every time the train went round a bend or through a lock, the work was highly skilled and dangerous.
There are various explanations for the name ‘Tom Pudding’, all conjecture. ‘Tom’ could be either named after Thomas Bartholomew, or a local dialect word meaning large. ‘Pudding’ perhaps because the pans are shaped like large pudding tins, or the long snake of coal-filled pans resembled a black pudding. The ‘jebus’ mentioned in verse 2 was a separate false bow which, when in use, was chained to the front of the leading pan to stop it from sinking in the turbulence caused by the tug’s powerful five-foot propeller. When not in use, i.e., when towing empties, it was chained to the bow of the tug.