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Define: Pincher laddies

DigiTrad:
McALPINE'S FUSILIERS


Related threads:
Lyr Req: McAlpine's Fusiliers (57)
(origins) Origins: McAlpine's Fusiliers (Dominic Behan?) (63)
ADD Tune/Lyr Req: McAlpine's Fusiliers (26)
Lyr Req: McAlpine's Fusiliers (16) (closed)
Lyr Req: McAlpine's Fusiliers (24) (closed)


GEST 20 Jul 08 - 07:24 PM
Jim Carroll 21 Jul 08 - 02:45 AM
GEST 21 Jul 08 - 08:13 AM
GEST 21 Jul 08 - 08:53 AM
GUEST 21 Jul 08 - 12:01 PM
GUEST,ultan cowley 21 Jul 08 - 05:27 PM
GEST 21 Jul 08 - 06:33 PM
Jim Carroll 22 Jul 08 - 04:48 AM
hobo 22 Jul 08 - 05:27 AM
Teribus 22 Jul 08 - 07:10 AM
GEST 22 Jul 08 - 09:01 AM
Teribus 22 Jul 08 - 10:18 AM
hobo 22 Jul 08 - 11:03 AM
hobo 22 Jul 08 - 11:41 AM
GUEST,Paddywack 22 Jul 08 - 04:53 PM
hobo 23 Jul 08 - 03:02 PM
Gulliver 23 Jul 08 - 10:23 PM
Teribus 24 Jul 08 - 03:31 AM
mayomick 24 Jul 08 - 08:07 AM
hobo 24 Jul 08 - 05:30 PM
olddude 24 Jul 08 - 07:47 PM
MartinRyan 24 Jul 08 - 07:59 PM
Jim Carroll 25 Jul 08 - 03:19 PM
Jim Carroll 25 Jul 08 - 03:27 PM
hobo 25 Jul 08 - 04:32 PM
Barry Finn 26 Jul 08 - 01:31 AM
Jim Carroll 26 Jul 08 - 02:28 AM
Zen 26 Jul 08 - 02:10 PM
GUEST,Paddwack 27 Jul 08 - 08:39 AM
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hobo 27 Jul 08 - 01:01 PM
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Jim Carroll 27 Jul 08 - 02:04 PM
GUEST 27 Jul 08 - 02:31 PM
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MartinRyan 27 Jul 08 - 03:00 PM
MartinRyan 27 Jul 08 - 03:10 PM
MartinRyan 27 Jul 08 - 03:12 PM
Jim Carroll 27 Jul 08 - 03:30 PM
GUEST,mayomick 30 Jul 08 - 08:00 AM
GUEST,Paddywack 30 Jul 08 - 03:17 PM
GUEST,mayomick 01 Aug 08 - 08:44 AM
MartinRyan 01 Aug 08 - 09:41 AM
MartinRyan 01 Aug 08 - 09:57 AM
ard mhacha 02 Aug 08 - 07:23 AM
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Rowan 04 Aug 08 - 08:34 PM
ard mhacha 05 Aug 08 - 04:45 PM
Gurney 06 Aug 08 - 12:38 AM
ard mhacha 06 Aug 08 - 04:20 AM
ard mhacha 06 Aug 08 - 04:29 AM
ard mhacha 06 Aug 08 - 04:30 AM
Jim Carroll 06 Aug 08 - 04:42 AM
hobo 06 Aug 08 - 06:35 PM
hobo 07 Aug 08 - 08:32 AM
GUEST 07 Aug 08 - 12:13 PM
GUEST,mayomick 07 Aug 08 - 12:14 PM
GUEST,Paddywack 07 Aug 08 - 07:14 PM
ard mhacha 08 Aug 08 - 05:17 AM
hobo 10 Aug 08 - 10:00 AM
Gurney 11 Aug 08 - 02:11 AM
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Subject: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GEST
Date: 20 Jul 08 - 07:24 PM

As used in McAlpine's Fusiliers:

'Twas in the year of thirty-nine, when the sky was full of lead,
When Hitler was heading for Poland, and Paddy for Holyhead;
Come all you pincher laddies and you long-distance men,
Don't ever work for McAlpine, for Wimpey, or John Laing.

Cheers,

GEST Songs of Newfoundland and Labrador


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 21 Jul 08 - 02:45 AM

The Pincher Kiddies were the old-time navvies; the building trade equivalent of the the 'Shellback' - the sailors who had no homes other than the ships they sailed in.
This is a good description of them from, 'The Men Who Built Britain; The history of the Irish Navvy', by Ultan Cowley:

Pincher Kiddies
Bill Brennan (who found a home in Arlington House and a place in the British Medical Journal as the only individual on record with ten clubbed fingers, smashed on site) came under the influence of the old 'Pincher Kiddies' as a youth. He learned the techniques of tramping from them, in England, in the 1940s:
The Pinchers never advised any of us younger men, 'Learn a trade, don't settle for this'.... They'd never take another man's tools.... Each had his own, washed and spotless, tied up with a leather strap ? their own 'graft', fork, foot-iron.... These were often pawned in Ryan's of Warren Street on a Saturday. The foot-iron was a great thing; you strapped this strip of steel under your boot between sole and heel to protect the leather from the digging. Out in a place like High Wycombe, flinty ground, boots without the foot-iron wouldn't last a week.
They had a kit bag, with a billycan, and a ball of twine and a six-inch nail for hanging up your billycan when you were sleepin' out. The best place to 'skipper up' [sleep out] was always under a palm tree ? the water was all carried out to the ends of the leaves and wouldn't drip down on your clothes. The old Pinchers always told me, 'When you're in a town, always walk to the kerb, not near the doors, so if someone comes out at you, you can dodge'....
They knew where everyone was ? if there was a job, they'd tell you, better than today. But they had the wanderlust ? no matter how good the money, or the job, how well they were treated, for no reason they might say, 'I'm jackin'? I'm off. He might be diggin', you might be chasin', and he'd just look, up.... Ah, it's time I was movin' on', and he'd jus; walk away.... You mightn't meet him again for two or three years.
They were a great race of people ? a mighty people. Regimental men ? not educated, but they knew their work ... better than any machine today. Neat, and tidy, and yet they'd maybe be sleepin', under hedges. You'd know them by the neck-scarf and the moleskins, and the 'Yorks', and the hobnail boots.
Jim Gallagher also commented on the legendary footloose character of the Long-Distance Men, with whom he worked in the 1950s, saying that such a man might be beside him in the trench, when,
The head would come up, and look around, and he'd reach over for his jacket, and be ready for the off, like the mountain ewe [the nomadic hill-country sheep of the west of Ireland].
These men were unsuited to the new-style hostel accommodation, which was run along military lines, and often staffed by ex-servicemen. Only the Rowton Houses, such as Arlington, still retained to some degree the sort of semi-charitable system that had characterised the pre-war lodgings of the tramping fraternity.
A lot of men went into digs that shouldn't have been there at all ? they'd wet the beds, an' all that, they couldn't help it. The 'Pincher Kiddies' ? the 'Mile¬stone Inspectors', their kidneys were weak from years of sleepin' out under hedges.

Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GEST
Date: 21 Jul 08 - 08:13 AM

Thank-you, Jim. That answer is chock full of information. When you wrote "pincher kiddies" does that mean the words in the song in the DigiTrad as well as many other sources should not be "Pincher Laddies", but "pincher kiddies"? And is there a need to capitalize pincher - is it a locale or a formal name of some sort?

Cheers,

GEST Songs of Newfoundland and Labrador


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GEST
Date: 21 Jul 08 - 08:53 AM

If Pincher laddies and Pincher kiddies are interchangeable than a Google search also found the following:

Pincher kiddies - men who worked for 'The Pincher Mac', whose name was MacNicholas, per Paul O'Brien of Dublin, Ireland, as published in the glossary errata of The Essential Ewan McColl Songbook, sixty years of songmaking by Peggy Seeger ©2001.

Cheers,

GEST Songs of Newfoundland and Labrador


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST
Date: 21 Jul 08 - 12:01 PM

GEST:
I have always heard the term 'Pincher Kiddies' - never come across 'Laddies, or the MacNicholas reference, but I always knew Paul O'Brien to be reliable. Cowley's book seems to bear out the 'Pincher'MacNicholas explanation, though in Hiberno-English, Pincher is given as a whinger, a petty, 'crabbid' individual.
Thanks for the question - it reminded me how good Cowley's book is - I'm going to re-read it.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,ultan cowley
Date: 21 Jul 08 - 05:27 PM

Hi All

      Gest brought this discussion to my attention & invited me to comment.

Paul O'Brien is mistaken about the derivation of the Term 'Pincher Kiddie'; it was conferred on 'Pincher' Mac because of his tight-fistedness and sharp practices - i.e., restricting trench shuttering to Two Down & One Across, stealing lorry jacks, stacked on railway sleepers, to demolish to concrete roofs of bomb shelters on contracts after the war, etc., but it long pre-dated him. The inter-changeable use of 'Laddies' is erroneous...

The Pinchers were true Tramp Navvies, in the great Railway Navvy tradition, with a fierce pride and independence unmatched by any of the post-war Irish in British construction. It was said to me by an East End taxi driver who was boy at the time that many amongst the last Pinchers died of exposure sheltering under the railway viaducts in London during the Big Freeze of 1963.

As someone who tramped the roads of Europe as a youth in the early 'Sixties, hitch hiking and sleeping rough, I have a great fondness for such free spirits and I think to some extent it was my empathy with that 'outsider' mentality which persuaded so many navvies to open up to me. Beat, Vagrant, Busker or Navvy -we all knew the joy of free men under an open sky!

My current project is collecting the reminiscences of 20C. UK-based Irish labourers and its interesting to find so many 'younger' men, veterans of the '80s, and Irish-Descent children of first-generation navvies, making contact with their stories and using the internet to do so.

In the Autumn I'm launching a one man multimedia production with the title, 'The Craic was good in Cricklewood: Songs and Stories of the Irish Navvies' - An Entertainment with a Sting in the Tail, which I hope to tour in the UK and maybe elsewhere. Inquiries welcome!

Best to all

Ultan Cowley


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GEST
Date: 21 Jul 08 - 06:33 PM

My bad, Ultan ~

I'm the one who suggested the possible interchangeability of 'kiddies' and 'laddies' in trying to find a reason for 'Pincher laddies' in so many variants of McAlpine's Fusiliers. I think my opening sentence about kiddies and laddies being interchangeable in that post confused the matter.

So what did Dominic Behan really write? It appears thus far that we must assume 'Pincher laddies' as sung by the Sons of Erin and many others is incorrect and Pecker Dunne's variant with 'Pincher kiddies' is correct, as Behan wrote it.

All the rest can be attributed to the folk process at work, eh? :-)

Click on this link and you can watch a YouTube video along with the lyrics by the Sons of Erin: McAlpine's Fusiliers.

There's no doubt the term used is 'Pincher laddies'.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 22 Jul 08 - 04:48 AM

Ultan,
Thanks for your intervention.
I have always been interested in the life led by the navvies, and your book did much to put flesh on the bones of the subject.
My father went off to work on the roads in the forties after being blacklisted from his old job because he had fought in Spain.
A neighbour and friend in London, the late Paddy Boyle, from Ardaragh in Donegal used to give wonderful accounts of his time as a navvy; it was he who gave me the explanation of the term 'hot-bed'.
He said that some of the landladies would rent out the bed rather than the room, and while one man was working his shift another would be sleeping in the bed - which never got cold.
Don't know if this is true or folklore.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: hobo
Date: 22 Jul 08 - 05:27 AM

Gest

   I'll have to work on this one - my acquaintance with the term 'pincher' originated with oral interviews and I just accepted it without question as part of the navvies' jargon ('can do better', as the teachers say!).

I correspond occasionally with Sir William ('Bill' as he likes to sign himself!) MacAlpine so I'll ask his opinion; the family take great pride in their long association with Irish labour, their Scottish ancestry notwithstanding.

On a related point: I was researching pictures in the MacAlpine HQ in Hemel Hempstead one afternoon when I first met Bill. He'd obviously dined well, and was feeling expansive, so we sang a few verses of the eponymous song together at his invitation - much to the consternation of the office staff!

Interestingly, he insisted that the classic Behan/Dubliners' version was a derivation of an earlier song, and could quote lines in support of his argument. I didn't know enough to argue...About two years ago however, I was researching work songs of migrant labour when I met the musician and collector Joe Byrne of Aghamore in East Mayo, and he knew that facts of the case.

Apparently MacAlpine's Fusiliers was written (but not copyrighted!) by one Martin Henry of Rooskey, near Doocastle in East Mayo, probably sometime in the 'Fifties. Martin, like men over many generations in that part of Mayo, had for many years been a Spailpin or seasonal harvester/farm labourer in England and, again like many others, had gravitated into construction in search of work.

It was commonplace for such men to write doggerel verse about their experiences and put it to traditional airs (as in so many manual occupations) and there are a lot of similar but less familiar songs known to Irish collectors.

One very significant fact which supports this is the line:
'I stripped to the skin with the Darky Finn
Way down in the Isle of Grain'

The Darky Finn was a neighbour of Martin Henry and lived in Cloontia, near Doocastle. The Isle of Grain project, as readers of The men who built Britain will know, entailed construction of an oil terminal, refinery, and power station over almost ten years between the late 'Fifties and early 'Sixties.

I suspect that Dominic added to the song and saw its commercial potential...such is life! Martin is dead but his sister still lives.

Ultan


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Teribus
Date: 22 Jul 08 - 07:10 AM

"I was there the day that the Bear of O'Shea,
He fell into a concrete stairs;"

The character referred in the first line came from the fishing port of Castletown Bear Haven more commonly known as Castletownbere. The line should read:

"I was there the day that the 'Bere O'Shea,"

I met one of the man's relations while staying in Castletownbere working on the salvage operation mounted after the tanker "Betelgeuse" blew up alongside at Whiddy Island in January 1979.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GEST
Date: 22 Jul 08 - 09:01 AM

So many doors have been opened into the background of the Fusiliers by this thread that it seems musical history needs to be rewritten. ~grin~

For example, the name primarily used here is MacAlpine, not McAlpine. If one were to search Google for either spelling the results would be about 63 references to MacAlpine's Fusiliers and a mere 8,450 to McAlpine's Fusiliers. As a Libran my scales are certainly out of balance.

Teribus' comment about Bere vs. Bear O'Shea is likewise befuddling. What would the name Bere mean vs. perhaps a great nickname like Bear for a construction worker in a song?

Mired in lyrics - GEST


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Teribus
Date: 22 Jul 08 - 10:18 AM

Befuddling? No quite logical really, particularly if you had a number of people with the surname O'Shea, the system of differentiating between them by the place they came from is quite common.

While our cousins across the far side of the pond might go in for knicknames such as "Bear", all that would mean to most over this side is some clown setting himself up for a bloody good hidin' every week-end.

Still believe whatever, as I said, I got it from one of the man's relations, absolutely no skin off my nose whether he lied or not, I just cannot see for the life of me why he should, or would, lie about something so pointless and inconsequential.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: hobo
Date: 22 Jul 08 - 11:03 AM

Gest

    Like the two spellings whisky & whiskey, the alternative pre-fixes for the Gaelic word meaning 'son' befuddle even the most pedantic of us from time to time -patricularly when we get excited!

You are quite right: the company/family name is spelt 'McAlpine'; 'Mac' being the Irish usage...

Don't know about the derivation of O'Shea's nickname, but the verse has all the hallmarks of Behan's penmanship! O'Shea however (O'Se as Geailge) is definitely a Cork/Kerry surname, which might be a pointer there...

Many 20C. Irish migrant labourers, by the way, like the old Railway navvies before them used nicknames and aliases to hide their true identities - for all the obvious reasons. Something for another day perhaps...


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: hobo
Date: 22 Jul 08 - 11:41 AM

Hello Jim

         Glad you liked the book...

Hadn't heard the term 'hot bed' before, and while many men on shift work took turns with the bed - and no doubt kept it warm, I doubt that the landladies had the brass neck to just rent the mattress - but you never know! Donal MacAuligh has a lovely story about being put into a bed with a Corkman when he was stuck one night, & the two of them saying the rosary together; innocent days...

Re. my new project, any similar titbits most welcome...

Best

Ultan


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,Paddywack
Date: 22 Jul 08 - 04:53 PM

Have just spotted this tread and it brought back some memories. I came to Hammersmith in the 60's and can well remember going to Wimpeys office in The Grove where you would get a travel voucher to what ever site you fancied in the country. In those days you stayed in makeshift camps on site.
I remember working for an English subbie who was totally amased that "the Paddy Labourers" could spend £49 from Friday night till Sunday night and £1 would do for the rest of the week.

A Murphy ganger who was once asked why only £3 sub for the breakfast replied " An empty sack cant stand and a full sack cant bend"


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: hobo
Date: 23 Jul 08 - 03:02 PM

Hi Paddywhack

             I'm looking for stories like your's above; this is where I'm coming from...
            DID YOU EVER WORK IN BRITISH CONSTRUCTION?

In 2001 I wrote a history of the Irish in British construction, The Men who built Britain, and now I want to publish the stories of those who were there ? in their own words.

In Britain almost half a million Irishmen worked in construction. On hydro dams, power stations, oil terminals and motorways. Many lived in camps, often in remote locations, working long hours for Wimpey, Tarmac, or MacAlpine, following the Big Money and sending what they hadn't 'subbed' back home to families in Ireland.

In London, Birmingham, Manchester and elsewhere other Irishmen were working, often on 'The Lump', for Irish contractors renewing and expanding the utilities - telephones, water, gas and electricity.

The pub was their labour exchange. Although working in the public eye theirs was a hidden world: of gangers, agents, publicans and landladies whose whims and vagaries set out their everyday existence. They moved between the pubs, the digs, the dancehalls, 'caffs' and roadside 'Stands' where 'Skins' were hired each day by gangermen who judged them by their boots.

Those who were there remember 'Tunnel Tigers', 'Heavy Diggers', and 'McAlpine's Fusiliers'; 'Hen Houses', 'Cock Lodgers', and 'Landladies' Breakfasts'; 'Pincher Kiddies', 'Long Distance Men', and 'Shackling Up'; 'Dead Men', 'Walking Pelters', and 'Murphy's Volunteers'; 'The Shamrock', 'The Galtymore', 'The Buffalo' and 'The Crown'; exile and isolation and loneliness and despair...

In the 'Eighties exodus there were new twists on the old story, which have yet to be chronicled. If you were there, and have a tale to tell, please contact Ultan Cowley at
The Potter's Yard
Rathangan
Duncormick
Co. Wexford
Email: ultan.cowley@gmail.com


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Gulliver
Date: 23 Jul 08 - 10:23 PM

This is an interesting thread about a still-popular (at least in Dublin) song. However, the contribution by Teribus (re 'Bere O'Shea) is nonsense.

Don


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Teribus
Date: 24 Jul 08 - 03:31 AM

Thanks for clearing that up Don


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: mayomick
Date: 24 Jul 08 - 08:07 AM

It was neither the Bear nor the Bere O'Shea . It was the Pear . He had a head shaped like a pear .
My dad who died last year aged 94 was related to the MacNicholas clan ,he knew all the people mentioned in the song . He showed me once how the pincher knot was tied . I asked him how the name came about .He thought it derived from the word "pensioner " , so it would be a way of saying an old timer . He wasn't quite sure on that though .
Pincher Mac used to sit on a high stool in the saloon of the Crown in Cricklewood holding court. One day my dad was in Camden Town and met a cousin of his -and also a cousin of MacNicholas - who had a terrible reputation for fighting. My father asked him why he was carrying an axe and was told that he was on his way to the Crown to sort MacNicholas out .My father refused to go with him . On the way in the door Picher Mac's brother put a glass into his face.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: hobo
Date: 24 Jul 08 - 05:30 PM

Hello Mayomick

             Sounds like the times that were in it, allright...

Don't suppose you live in the vicinity of London, by any chance? I'd dearly love to see how the pincher knot was tied - never thought to ask anyone I met who would have known, and now its probably too late.

I'm based in Ireland but I'll be over in the smoke in October - check out Hammersmith Irish Centre's autumn programme.

Ultan Cowley


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: olddude
Date: 24 Jul 08 - 07:47 PM

silly question but I don't know the answer, is this the same as a tinker? I visited Ireland several time and heard the term used for traveling people ... is this the same?

Dan


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: MartinRyan
Date: 24 Jul 08 - 07:59 PM

Dan

No!

Regards


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 25 Jul 08 - 03:19 PM

Ultan,
It was quite often difficult to sort out the truth from the humour with many of the people we met over the years, mainly in London.
My father told of when he was working for a firm called McAdams in Stevenage, the toilets were a long trench with a plank resting on two upturned oildrums, inside a corrugated hut. The trench was regularly treated with disinfectant until eventually it was filled in and re-sited on another part of the site.
One day (he claims) he walked into the hut to find one of his workmates wading in the bottom of the trench with his arm buried deep in the morass. He asked your man what he was doing and was told that the man's jacked had fallen off the plank and had sunk, and that he was trying to find it.
My dad said, "surely you can't wear the jacket after its been down there".
"No" replied your man, "but my sandwiches are in the pocket".
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 25 Jul 08 - 03:27 PM

PS,
Ultan,
I'm sure you are aware, but just in case.....
I know there are unused recordings made at the time of the making of the Radio Ballad, 'Song of a Road'.
These are housed in the Charles Parker archive in Birmingham Central library and are accessible to the public.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: hobo
Date: 25 Jul 08 - 04:32 PM

Hi Jim

      No - didn't know about those recordings. The Radio Ballads were ground-breaking in their day and could do with a fresh airing...If anyone today gives a damn.

But your post confirms my suspicion that you must be the 'Jim Carroll' whose name I found jotted down in the notes I consulted to track down the Martin Henry info. recently for this forum...

Maybe you'd be so kind as to contact me privately to discuss thesde matters - ultan.cowley@gmail.com

Many thanks

Ultan


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Barry Finn
Date: 26 Jul 08 - 01:31 AM

Jim, very funny story about the trench & the sandwich, are you sure there's not a song in there?

Thanks for the lovely laugh
Barry


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 26 Jul 08 - 02:28 AM

"are you sure there's not a song in there?"
Barry,
Not to everybody's taste - if you get my drift.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Zen
Date: 26 Jul 08 - 02:10 PM

Excellent thread and a refreshing change from some of the other dross that abounds. I'm following closely as two of my uncles (both sadly now passed away) from around the West Sligo/East Mayo border were both "Tunnel Tigers" as referred to ealier in the thread. Unfortunately I can't recall their stories well enough to contribute.

Zen


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,Paddwack
Date: 27 Jul 08 - 08:39 AM

This is bringing back some memories. When we on the road one of the most important pieces of gear was a large saucepan into which went meatand veg which would last for a week This was called a shackle pot does anybody know where this comes from and Im positive it has nothing to do with sheckles.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,mayomick
Date: 27 Jul 08 - 11:43 AM

Sadly I can't remember how the pincher knot was tied Ultan. My father read your book and enjoyed it very much ,it's a pity you never met up with him - he must have been one of the last of the old timers.
He told me that the idea behind the spikes was that they would be within a day's tramp of each other. It didn't always work out that way of course so the shackle pot would have been indispensable . Dad always called stew 'the shackles', the main ingredients was bones if I remember rightly.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: hobo
Date: 27 Jul 08 - 01:01 PM

'Shackling up' was the term used amongst Irish building workers, apparently well in to the 1970's, for communal cooking - whether on site or in the bed-sits where the only available stove/cooker was on the landing outside the rooms.

Again, to my shame, I never thought to ask for the derivation - probably because I work by establishing a rapport and don't like to break the flow by asking awkward or pedantic peripheral questions. There is of course a happy medium...

I suspect that the term may originate with the construction of a system for suspending a cooking pot over an open (camp) fire...Shows how far removed we have all become, in a relatively short space of time, from certain ways of living whose elements stretch unbroken back to the Middle Ages. How un-free today's semingly well-padded youth are even compared with those of us who were young in the nineteen sixties!

Ultan


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: MartinRyan
Date: 27 Jul 08 - 01:24 PM

A quick look through some slang dictionaries doesn't come up with anything promising on "shackle pot" or "shackling up". Off the top of my head, all that comes to mind is using a length of chain with a shackle to suspend a pot over an open fire.

Regards


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 27 Jul 08 - 02:04 PM

From Partridge's 'Dictionary of the Underworld'.
Shackling-up
A great cooking of food in a pot ('Sneak Thief on the Road' 1934)
Shackle up
To cook one's stew, esp in a 'jungle' ca. 1920
Shackle
"Soup (British and American tramps' slang) WH Davies and George Orwell
Short for shackle-(or knuckle) - bones. Shackles has, in Britain, been long a proletarian word for remnants and scrapings of meat in a butchers shop".
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST
Date: 27 Jul 08 - 02:31 PM

All of the Radio Ballads have been re-issued by, and are available on CD, from

Topic Records Ltd,
50 Stroud Green Road,
London,
N4 3ES.

I heard about the re-issue earlier this week and got two of them for around £9.00 each.

Enjoy


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,ythanside
Date: 27 Jul 08 - 02:34 PM

Sorry, that was my post re the Radio Ballads.

Ythanside


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: MartinRyan
Date: 27 Jul 08 - 03:00 PM

Jim (Carroll)

Ha! I had started one step further back in time! I see it now in the "Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang" with a reference to 1935-6. It suggests a connection to "shackles" and in turn to "shackle-bone" meaning "knuckle-bone" - as does the Partridge reference you cite.

Regards


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: MartinRyan
Date: 27 Jul 08 - 03:10 PM

In fact, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary makes the same connections, so to speak. Ultimately, I suspect the nautical root is the key link.

Regards


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: MartinRyan
Date: 27 Jul 08 - 03:12 PM

Which is Low German, seemingly.

Regards


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 27 Jul 08 - 03:30 PM

Hi Martin,
Orwell suggests in 'Down and Out In Paris And London' that the term was "probably coined in some prison where soup was so cathartic as to keep prisoners 'shackled' to - or near - a latrine".
Partridge dismisses it as "a nice theory...." and gives his own definition of the word.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,mayomick
Date: 30 Jul 08 - 08:00 AM

I would have thought that the verb "to shackle " was taken from the practice of tying a prisoner up by the shackles . Thereafter manacles came to be known as shackles .


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,Paddywack
Date: 30 Jul 08 - 03:17 PM

I remember the communal cooker very well and am gratefull for the various definitions of shackle and shackling up.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,mayomick
Date: 01 Aug 08 - 08:44 AM

Does anyone have any ideas on the origin of the word "spikes" ? My father thought it might have been an Irish word .


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: MartinRyan
Date: 01 Aug 08 - 09:41 AM

Sorry, mayomick - the meaning isn't clear to me from the earlier mention. Tell us more, please?

Regards


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: MartinRyan
Date: 01 Aug 08 - 09:57 AM

BTW. : I notice "shackle pot" or "shackle-pot" being used in the sense of a stewpot in some tinker/traveller related postings on the net - as well as in one or two documents I can make no sense of! Can anyone check dictionaries of tinker cant and related languages?

Regards


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: ard mhacha
Date: 02 Aug 08 - 07:23 AM

During my working years in England from the late 1950s to the late 1960s I met a few of those old timers some who had been away from Ireland 50 or more years.
The real `pinchers` were mostly from the west of Ireland, they were clannish and moved in packs from job to job.
The Labour Weekly was their paper for finding the best paying jobs, hard work was secondary as long as the wages were good that is all that mattered.
The `Culchies` mostly `Pinchers` and referred to as ¬Long distant boys`[derived from Kiltimagh in County Mayo] were looked down upon by lots of other Irish men the Dublin men picked many a row with them.
The `Spike` was, from memory a lodging house in London, Donall MacAmhlaigh`s book An Irish Navvy republished in 2003 by Collins is a must read for anyone interested in this subject, also Patrick McGill`s Children of the dead end.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,Paddywack
Date: 02 Aug 08 - 07:58 AM

Spikes were hostels of sorts where you went and got 3 days (not sure of exact no) free board and lodgings in order to clean up and get sorted out. These were used mostly by people who had been skippering for a long time and were in need of a clean up. There was strictly no drinking on these premises. There was a really good one in Wales cant remember where exactly,brains a bit pickled at my age.

I would guess that these were forerunners of The Salvation Army Hostels.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: mayomick
Date: 02 Aug 08 - 08:40 AM

The Spikes seem to have been set up around the begining of the 20th century by some official body - the Ministry of Works perhaps?- to facilitate navvies who would be on the tramp looking for work .The original idea behind them was that they would be within a day's tramp of each other . This is according to my father who came from very near Kiltimagh and started work in England in 1929 . He thought that the word may have been Irish - he never met anyone other than Irish people in them he said.

They may have cleaned up their act before Paddywhack arrived ,but in the thirties Spikes were apparantly places to avoid - unlike the Rowton Houses which served a similar function but were considered cleaner.

I think Paddywhack was right in his use of the word "shackle" in the singular when referring to the stew . The word "spikes" on the other hand was always -at least in my recollection - used with an 's' on the end as if it was plural. Martin , how do you think the word would be spelt if it was Irish ?


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: MartinRyan
Date: 04 Aug 08 - 02:12 PM

mayomack

That's what bothers me, really! That "aye" (diphthong "ei") sound doesn't really occur in Irish, in my experience (some of our local pedants will no doubt come up with examples, nonetheless!).

My immediate reaction when I heard the word was an image of the sort of spike on which shopkeepers used to stick receipts. Given the time-frame suggested above, this might not be a crazy idea - some sort of "chit" system? I'll see if I can find out anything more.

Regards


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: MartinRyan
Date: 04 Aug 08 - 03:16 PM

Several online dictionaries give "spike" as (U.K.) slang for a hostel for the homeless. Nothing on origin as yet - nor much real sense of date.

Regards


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: MartinRyan
Date: 04 Aug 08 - 03:20 PM

Partridge's Dictionary of Historical Slang gives it as mid 19 Century tramps cant. To go "on the spike" is to sleep in the workhouse.

Regards


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: MartinRyan
Date: 04 Aug 08 - 04:58 PM

The 1811 "Dictionary of the Vulgar tongue" has no sign of "spike", which is consistent with Partridge's estimate of date.

Regards


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: hobo
Date: 04 Aug 08 - 05:08 PM

The Spike (never heard it referred to in the plural) in the first half of the 20th century was the successor of the 19th century Workhouse and was run, in the main, by the local authority. It was regarded by men on tramp as a place of last resort, usually frequented by tramps (in the professional sense, as opposed to 'Tramp Navvy').

The 'Kip House', on the other hand, seems to have been the Model Lodging House - as described by Patrick MacGill. This was a commercial venture providing for transient labouring men and was the precursor of the Rowton Houses which however were established by the Victorian philanthropist Lord Rowton.

I have a very graphic and almost frightening description of a night in The Spike which is part of a memoir given to me by a man, now in his seventies, who became infatuated with the way of life of the Pincher Kiddies whom he met in his youth labouring in England. This man claims that, while those in the Kip Houses were to some extent apart from society, those who habitually stayed in the Spikes were utterly and irredeemably alienated totally from it -as indeed were many of the true Pinchers or Long Distance Kiddies such as MacAuligh met in the early 'Fifties.

As a youth I once stayed in a German 'Ubernachtstellung' in Karlsruhe which was probably their equivaqlent of a Spike and was scared out of my wits by the wild men I met there. On another occasion I stayed in one somewhere near Whitechapel in London's East End. These were places where it was advisable,once you removed your shoes or boots for bed, to put one under each of the legs below the bed head so that anyone trying to steal them would have to risk waking you up in the process!

As bad as most of these facilities were, after their demise the habitual tramping fraternity were left in a bad way because their usually weak bladders and fondness for drink made them personae non grata with landladies renting 'rooms' - the only remaining alternative. A number of the old timers died of hypothermia sleeping out under the railway arches in the big freeze up of 1963.

Ultan


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,Paddywack
Date: 04 Aug 08 - 05:43 PM

Hobos description of the spike is far nearer the mark from my own experience.

Having spent a number of years tramping around the British Isles,our way of life was very rough and ready. We worked when we needed money for drink and drank a very lethal dose of cider and surgical spirit which we called "Jacks" and have often been questioned as to why we needed surgical spirit.

The spike was used in our way of life as a means of getting cleaned up and an address to get the NAB and we were ready to go on the road again.

In those days we didnt have Irish Welfare Agiences to look after us and were treated as an embaressament who were best ignored.

Reading this ,before I post it, makes me sound very bitter and yes I am, the Irish Government has never done anything for the real Irish down and outs.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Rowan
Date: 04 Aug 08 - 08:34 PM

Sorry for the late entry and apparent thread drift but it's a fascinating read. The following snippets from 22 July triggered my response.

A neighbour and friend in London, the late Paddy Boyle, from Ardaragh in Donegal used to give wonderful accounts of his time as a navvy; it was he who gave me the explanation of the term 'hot-bed'.
He said that some of the landladies would rent out the bed rather than the room, and while one man was working his shift another would be sleeping in the bed - which never got cold.
Don't know if this is true or folklore.
Jim Carroll


Hadn't heard the term 'hot bed' before, and while many men on shift work took turns with the bed - and no doubt kept it warm, I doubt that the landladies had the brass neck to just rent the mattress - but you never know! Donal MacAuligh has a lovely story about being put into a bed with a Corkman when he was stuck one night, & the two of them saying the rosary together; innocent days...
Re. my new project, any similar titbits most welcome...
Ultan


Melbourne is a long way from the action in the thread but hotbedding has appeared twice in my life. During the 1940s Fitzroy (an inner northern suburb of Melbourne) was regarded as having the highest population density in Oz. While the terraced houses along the main streets were still fashionable the ones in the back streets were run down and regarded as slums. Many were boarding houses where the rooms had several beds in them and the beds were rented by the shift. It was an area where it was necessary to be streetwise, even into the 60s, when the area started to be gentrified.

That was my first exposure to the term hotbedding.

The second was much more recent. As a volunteer firefighter in the NSW Rural Fire Service I was part of the first team my brigade contributed to the task force in the (rather large) Pilliga fires in 1997. We were billeted in a motel and, after the first three days, we were joined by another team from our brigade. Accommodation for 350 firefighters in the area was in short supply so we were all billeted in the same beds; while one team was doing their 12 hours the other team was having a kip and the roles changed every 12 hours. This was known as hotbedding and, at the time, was not uncommon in such circumstances.

Not central to the experiences of Irish workers but you may be interested to know that the practice and the term has had such recent currency so far away.

Cheers, Rowan


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: ard mhacha
Date: 05 Aug 08 - 04:45 PM

The term `long distant kiddies` was the term I often heard to describe the `Pinchers`.
I wouldn`t agree with Paddywack regarding the non-help from the Irish government, the position that some of the Irish labouring man found himself in was entirely of his own making. I was with labourers from all over Ireland and the majority of them were steady workers who didn`t depend on anyone for help, those that were constantly on `the scrounge`were too reliant on the drink,they were to be avoided.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Gurney
Date: 06 Aug 08 - 12:38 AM

From memory of a book read long ago, called, I think, The Navigators.

The term navvie is an abbreviation of navigator, from the labour force that dug the earlier form of mass transportation, the canals or 'navigations.'

Hard men, mighty workers, hearty eaters, and unpopular with the locals around where they were working, because of accusations of theft. The first navvies were English, although the term has now become almost exclusively linked with Irish.
When building the railways in India, English firms are supposed to have found it cheaper to import experienced navvies from Britain, the local labour being ineffective for such brutal work. The book said it was thought to be due to the local diet.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: ard mhacha
Date: 06 Aug 08 - 04:20 AM

Gurney, A book by Terry Coleman, `The Railway Navvies` published in 1965, later a Penguin paperback, tells the story of the men who built the Railways in Britain. This excellent book would be well worth a request in your local library.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: ard mhacha
Date: 06 Aug 08 - 04:29 AM

The Railway navvies can be bought for the pricely sum of 75p at ABEbooks also on e-bay.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: ard mhacha
Date: 06 Aug 08 - 04:30 AM

Pricely?, Princely.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 06 Aug 08 - 04:42 AM

I know there was an excellent Jim Allen (Manchester building worker - scriptwriter) film back in the 60s entitled 'The Lump' and also an extremely depressing film by Ken Loach about itinerant workers (name escapes me) - does anybody have any information about either of these or know if they are available at all.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: hobo
Date: 06 Aug 08 - 06:35 PM

Ironically the first navvies, technically speaking, were the 'Excavators' who worked on the Newry Canal (completed 1745), and so were in fact Irish.'Navvy' was the abbreviated form of navigator, the term applied to the excavators of the commercial canal network known as the Inland Navigation System, the Newry Canal being the first example.

I say ironically because, although the modern British public assume that all navvies were Irish, exhaustive research carried out in the early '80s by Dr. David Brooke of Bath proved that approximately 90% of the 19th century railway navvies employed in the United Kingdom were in fact British - predominantly from the North of England (in the US it was a different matter and Brooke does state that the only 'the ubiquitous Irish' were a truly international force in railway construction). His very scholarly book, based on a doctoral thesis, is The Railway Navvy: That Despicable Race of Men (London, 1983).

Other non-fiction works on the navvy:
Terry Coleman's The Railway Navvies (London, 1965). A very good read with a wealth of anecdote.

James Handley (Brother Clare) wrote The Navvy in Scotland (Cork University Press, 1947) also based on Ph.D. research, and it remains the definitive work on that specific aspect of the subject.

Navvyman (London, 1983), another history of the railway navvies, is in similar vein to Coleman's but its author, the surname notwithstanding, is not only English but the son of a navvy father and a mother born on site to a railway navvy. This excellent book is marred only by the author's marked prejudice against the Irish in the industry, echoing that of a great many railway navvies of Scottish origin.

To the best of my knowledge the subject of the Irish in British construction overall was not seriously addressed in print until the publication of my own book, The Men who built Britain: A History of the Irish Navvy, in 2001. My objective was to put the Irish navvy in the twin contexts of Irish emigration and British civil engineering history, while at the same time giving an authentic voice to the men concerned (and their women) as individuals. This was a difficult circle to square and the extent to which I was successful is a matter of opinion!

Donal MacAuligh, John B. Keane, Timothy O'Grady,the author of 'Kings of the Kilburn High Road (?), and Peter Woods have all written fictional treatments of the subject - in every case, I believe, based on some degree of fist-hand experience. Interest in the subject, it seems to me, is now largely confined to a small proportion of the Irish abroad and a shrinking number of returned emigrants and their families in Ireland.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: hobo
Date: 07 Aug 08 - 08:32 AM

Sorry Folks - when I listed 'Navvyman' and referred to the author's Irish-sound surname, I didn't spot the fact that I hadn't in fact given the author's name - Dick Sullivan,in the first place... Alzheimer's can't be far off!

Apologies...


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST
Date: 07 Aug 08 - 12:13 PM

True , but also from afficianados of MacAlpine's Fusileers. I don't want to go into the "what is a folk song" argument here , but Fusileers does seem to me to be a genuine example of a song taken up by and sung by the people it was written about. According to my father , the men working on the tunnels "would sing bits and pieces of it while they worked". He was adamant btw that Dominic Behan didn't and couldn't have been the composer.
It mightn't come across in the song so much ,but the Irish actually had something of an ambiguous attitude towards MacAlpines . Along with natural class antipathies went a measure of respect , because at one time MacAlpine's was the only big contractor in England that would employ the Irish..They employed large numbers buildng the huge exhibition centre at Earl's Court in the thirties . I was wondering whether the Irish population in close-by Hammersmith would have originally come from that job or if their connection there went back further..
Ultan , I'm living in Dublin now , but otherwise I'd have been pleased to meet up with you in Hammersmith . As far as your book is concerned , I thought you circled the square very successfully indeed ? the Gobban Saor himself couldn't have done any better.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,mayomick
Date: 07 Aug 08 - 12:14 PM

the last post was from me btw.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,Paddywack
Date: 07 Aug 08 - 07:14 PM

Maybe we were dependent on drink as Ard Maca points out, but dependency is a disease and in typical fashion "to be avoided" was the typical Irish Catholic attude.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: ard mhacha
Date: 08 Aug 08 - 05:17 AM

Believe me Paddywack there were lots of Irish atheists who were of the same opinion.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: hobo
Date: 10 Aug 08 - 10:00 AM

This is a very thorny subject - for the Irish in British construction (or perhaps anywhere?) was addiction to 'the dhrink' down to individual weakness, was it built into the hiring system, was it pre-emigration conditioning, or was/is it a flaw in the Irish national character? Or a composite of all these things...

Would it be straining this forum to offer a few quotes from a paper I gave at the Meriman Summer School a few years ago called 'Connaughtmen And Horned Cattle To The Far Platform: Irish Navvies & The Culture of Migration'?

Don't know who moderates this discussion but I'll understand if this is too much. Here goes ...

Navvy quotes re. drink

'In their youth, having escaped the petty tyrannies of priests, parents, and community back home in rural Ireland, they revelled in an unaccustomed freedom but failed to replace the supportive framework of family and community with something similar in Britain. At the same time, having been educated to regard the British as 'the old enemy', they evinced no sense of civic responsibility towards the host society. Often theirs was virtually an 'outlaw' mentality ('They taught us to hate England ? and then they sent us over here!').

The seeming camaraderie of the building site was tenuous and temporary although peer pressures, for example to prove ones self a hard drinker or fighter, could become a new tyranny for anyone not naturally so inclined. Efforts to advance, for example by becoming a gangerman or subbie, carried connotations of assumed superiority which in turn provoked resentment and rejection

"When I looked at my husband, and looked at all the rest, and at my children's       friends, I thought it was me, then I thought it was England, and eventually it dawned on me that it was Ireland, had done all this to them?I realised that the harm was done before they ever left. England added to it, but it wasn't the cause of it?

When my children were younger, I had to explain why their father was like that; that he was from another country. If you're Irish, you've got to admit that that is Ireland, and that's the way it brings up its young?Yet they were expected to go out into the world and behave normally - but they can't; they don't trust anyone.

And the fellas were living a lie too; they weren't supposed to be men, out drinking and dancing and chatting up girls, or whatever?They just don't know how to face anything, because they were never told about anything, and they were never allowed to ask for anything; because if you asked, you were a failure.

The men won't face reality; if they can't get the material things, have it there on show, they live in dreams - all in the mind?And the more stable ones eventually crack up; its not that they crack up, they come to their senses, wake up to reality. They've been living under this stress for so long, and it suddenly dawns on them that they were tricked that it was all a lie?

And while they were told that England was a place where you could be yourself, they found out that, if you're Irish and need the support of your own kind to survive, as the "Westies" who work in construction always do, then you can't be yourself - they won't let you. You want to make a stand, and speak out against it, and they won't let you speak out; so you become an outsider?

`Whatever way they were brought up, there's a lot of bitterness, and spite, and jealousy in them?So much so that it can eat away at them, and it can destroy them, and any relationships they might have? They end up old, and bitter, and alone; they've worked so hard for something better, but they never get that thing that's better, because of their own selves?'
Where were these men coming from? The views of an anonymous Irish subbie, a very wealthy man, were recorded in Jackson's 1964 work, The Irish in Britain:
"And then coming to England with the lads and sticking together, being afraid to talk to the English girls, and all the time this brooding thing of history?well, it didn't help you know in so-called integrating'.   
`Mind you, we were all very sensitive and unsure then?we might have a meal, but never in a place that looked "proper", with table cloths and so on. We'd be scared to go into a place like that, even on Sundays with our best suits on, in case they'd throw us out for not knowing how to behave properly at table?Sometimes now I go for a stroll around Camden Town, after Mass on a Sunday, and the lads are still there?atin' away without a word between them, stuffin' mixed grills down their gollops?and I'm glad them days are behind me".

Joe McGarry, an ex-navvy and reformed alcoholic, had this take on it:
"An awful lot of Irishmen - some of the finest of men, 18, 25, 27 years of age, really handsome men, afraid to talk to a woman or an English person, riddled with fear?I've seen them go into a caff and, if there was a young woman of their own age behind the counter, they could not talk to her. They had to knock each other out to prove they weren't afraid. And it was Ireland that did that to them'

'The people who did have a sense of self, who were true individuals, became the millionaires, while I was standin' down a hole, to get money, to buy drink, so that I could fit in, belong, be 'normal', be 'one of us'. If you didn't maintain this togetherness you weren't part of 'our little group'; you were 'one of them', whoever 'they' were. If you didn't drink your money at night, you were seen as mean - there was somethin' wrong with you?Now I know I'm an island of self, between two places, and I have to identify my own self - what I am, what I can do'.

John Docherty, a Donegal-born director of Tarmac Construction, also had strong views concerning the Irish class system:
"When I first came over my mother was ashamed to let it be known that I was in London, because it might be thought that I had been in trouble with the law back home. In those days it was commonplace for a first offender, if male, to be given a choice by the courts of either going to gaol or going to England'


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Gurney
Date: 11 Aug 08 - 02:11 AM

Ard mhacha, I think, but I'm not sure, that the book that I mentioned earlier, had no 'Railway' in the title. I seem to remember being surprised that it wasn't about sailors! I was expecting it to be about Magellan and Drake and Cook and such heroes.
A good and interesting read anyway.

Maybe I should do a search.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: ard mhacha
Date: 11 Aug 08 - 07:33 AM

Gurney sorry I can`t help you there.
Hobo,I met people from all over Ireland while I worked in England and lots of them while enjoying a drink didn`t always end `washed up` through excessive drinking.
I never met anyone who had to leave because of some crime petty or otherwise, they left because o there was nothing in the line of employment during the mid-1950s and I am speaking of the six counties and such was the situation in the 26.

I worked with English men the majority of whom were the salt of the earth, I had no trouble integrating and attending sporting fixtures with,
lots of Irish men did likewise, I still correspond with two of my cockney friends and exchanged visits with them, because I abhor most British politicians dosen`t mean I include every individual English man, I spent some of the happiest years of my life in England and I would be betraying great friends and workmates if I said different.

Getting paid daily by sub-contractors and working without paying national insurance caught up with lots of Irish `lumpers` who when they could no longer to do hard work were had to apply for relief of the British government,they were the people asking for assistance of the Irish government,I know plenty had to rely on their workmates to help them.

In all walks of life you have to make your way and too bad if you hadn`t the common sense to provide for yourself.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,mayomick
Date: 11 Aug 08 - 10:51 AM

There's a photos in Ultan's book showing the mass being said on one of the sites . What I don't seem to recall was any photos of the wet canteen . It seems inconceivable today that such an institution could have existed up until the sixties given the dangerous work the men were engaged in. The macho drinking culture was always facilitated by the contractors ;when there was a wet canteen it was literally institutionalised.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: hobo
Date: 11 Aug 08 - 03:50 PM

A lot of Irish subbies had friends & relatives in the pub trade with whom they colluded to releive lumpers of their cash in the process of 'obliging' them in cashing cheques... I was also told by an Irish Tarmac exec. that, when he was a junior engineer with Wimpey, men who didn't 'sub' weren't as welcome as those who did- for obvious reasons.

'Ard Mhaca': Like the existence of 'Dry Money', a criminal conviction wasn't likely to be publicised and the 'gaol or England' offer is very well documented in the archives of Irish provincial newspapers...

'ard mhaca': an awful lot of damaged people emigrated from this country, many from state institutions and abusive family situations, in the half-century following Irish independence,and the UK statistics on alcoholism, criminality, and psychiatric disorders amongst the Irish in Britain reflect this.   

I'm not indulging in special pleading for any sub-group here, just suggesting some of the roots of people's problems, as I have found them both researching The Men who Built Britain and living in Britain over almost twenty years beginning aged fifteen in 1961. Never had any problem with the English - a bit slow on the uptake, maybe, but fair and even-handed. Slow to make friends, unlike Paddy, but rock-solid thereafter - unlike Paddy...


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: ard mhacha
Date: 12 Aug 08 - 05:54 AM

Hobo, All I can say is that my home town had mass emigration and during the 1950s when I started out at as a 17 year old, I can vouch for the fact that the men and boys from my town were not old or young `lags` just honest people in search of work.
I think you are referring to a very small minority when you suggest that they had `problems, I would suggest too minute to consider as a factor in the problems they brought on themselves in their new homeland.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: hobo
Date: 12 Aug 08 - 07:50 AM

ard mhaca,
         
         Undoubtedly the majority of Irish male (and female) migrant labourers were relatively well-adjusted people, dealing rationally and effectively with the economic circumstances in which they found themselves by emigrating to a more dynamic economy,and behaving responsibly in their new situation.

Like the presence of the Irish in the industry however (statistically small but disproportionately significant by virtue of their concentration in groundworks and their 'can-do' mentality) the very public profile of the 'navvy' meant that the public got a distorted impression of the extent of Irish anti-social behaviour in Britain.

Nevertheless, the industry has always been synonymous with over-dependence on alcohol, a macho mentality, and a level of brutality not usually associated with other labour-intensive industries. Some, for reasons which I've tried to suggest, were perhaps more susceptible than others.

Emigration, especially from a collective and communal pastoral environment to an urban, industrial, and anoynymous one (often characterised by varying degrees of anti-Irish sentiment), is a hard choice - some would argue, no choice at all. I think a charitable response would be to say, simply, 'There, but for the Grace of God...'


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: ard mhacha
Date: 12 Aug 08 - 02:24 PM

Hobo, the figures for crime in Ireland from the 1930s through to the 1960s would give no cause for concern, again I worked alongside Irishmen from rural backgrounds and they were no better or worse than the urbanites.
Concerning `the grace of God sentiment`I would be inclined to lean more to `wee bit of common sense` sadly lacking with many of the `lumper` fraternity.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 13 Aug 08 - 02:25 AM

Ultan,
I can't remember if you covered it in your book (on loan at the moment), but there was an 'Irish-speaking only' club in Greenland Street, at the North end of Camden High Street which was said to be frequented by mainly Connemara men who had a reputation as being 'hard men'. If they heard anybody speaking 'the tongue of the oppressor' would eject the offender, often forcibly, down the steep flight of stairs.
We got this from several people, mainly musicians, who were around at the time.
Also, can't remember if you used the term 'under-the-lamp', which is still in use in my native Liverpool (or was when I worked on the docks there) for clandestine payment to avoid the tax man. It referred to the practice of subbies paying the men under a street lamp at the end of a days work.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: hobo
Date: 14 Aug 08 - 09:49 AM

Ard Mhaca

         As I recall, I seemed to demonstrate very little in the way of common sense in my youth, and did an awful lot of stupid things - often, I suspect, because of the unaccutomed degree of freedom which I enjoyed in England. So I don't consider that I have the right to castigate anyone - lumpers or otherwise, for their follies.

Because there seems to have been a consistent pattern to them I do, however, feel obliged to look for possible explanations for them...


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: hobo
Date: 14 Aug 08 - 10:08 AM

Jim

   Didn't know about this particular take on the 'Connies' attitude to Irishmen speaking English in their company, but I have often been told of the reverse situation, where non-Irish speaking workers would react adversely (in a wagon, for example) to conversations conducted exclusively in Gaelic on the grounds that the offenders must have been speaking (critically) about them! Also heard of Connnies who didn't have English being exploited by subbies who withheld their papers. On a one to one basis, however, I'm told the Connies - the 'Heavy Diggers', were no pussycats!

Donegal men, especially tunnellers, by contrast had a reputation for canniness, diligence, and relative sobriety, probably because they worked in teams, and therefore couldn't afford to indulge loose cannons...

Never heard the expression 'under the lamp' either but I imagine all industries employing casual labour indulged in tax-dodging to some degree; inevitably, of course, to the ultimate detriment of the labourers.

The industry has always been characterised by sharp practice. One labour historian - I think David Brooke, citing a minor British civil engineering firm which was paid a subsistence allowance for the construction of a spur line in the final decade of the 19th century, gave their labour force only a small percentage of it, and used the remainder - a considerable sum, to finance its expansion a contract which elevated it into the 'premier league' of contractors shortly thereafter...


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: ard mhacha
Date: 14 Aug 08 - 02:59 PM

Hobo, Woe betide the person with the northern accent who had the misfortune to be in earshot of the `connies`, and I include Donegal gaels, they were the most clannish of any Irish men I encountered.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 14 Aug 08 - 03:00 PM

Ultan,
Wasn't singling the navvies out as being tax dodgers - we've all.... s**t, there might be a tax man in the vicinity.
My first job when moved to London was on the site of the London Business College at the end of Baker Street near Regents Park.
Every Thursday half the site would empty out; the men would climb down the ladder, go into the hut and shortly afterwards emerge dressed in collar and ties and make their way to the dole ofice over the road.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: hobo
Date: 14 Aug 08 - 06:34 PM

Jim

   Lots of Dubs used to cross to Liverpool every week & draw there as well as at home! Not to mention the old scam of declaring tribes of children in Ireland to the British taxman...

Swapping insurance cards was also commonplace; I' ve often wondered why it was that, when Joseph Murphy of JMSE died a couple of years ago, the (British) death certificate gave his name as 'John' (cf. the Irish Times of the day)!!!

Ah, the good old days before computers...

Spent part of a summer in the early 'Seventies painting the student study bedrooms in the London Business School, by the way. Never want to see soft sheen magnolia, or white emulsion, ever again!

Ultan


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: ard mhacha
Date: 15 Aug 08 - 04:36 AM

Jim Carroll is right about the insurance cards, I worked with a man from Sligo who told me to call him Tommy, I couldn`t understand why his friend kept referring to him as Sean, later I found he had three national Insurance cars.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST
Date: 15 Aug 08 - 08:08 AM

London Business School was my first experience of site-work and of sunstroke.
Worked on the slab without my shirt on the first day and passed out going down the ladder - carried down on the shoulder of a Mayo man.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,MacDonnchaidh Co Doire
Date: 21 Aug 08 - 06:11 PM

I went to England in my teens and worked as a navvy in the sixties with the Murphy brothers etc, 'The green and the grey and RSK' as the saying went at that time,i done a spell with them all and the saying of the long distance men was always 'pincher kiddies' only very seldom was it laddies.   A pincher was also a temporary frame consisting of two upright planks with two struts between them used to shore up a trench until it was properly timbered. A lot of the old timers back then used to have songs and poems about the Irish naavy life, and 'the crack was good in cricklewood' was one of them, i would say it was out long before Dominic Behan wrote McAlpines fusiliers. we had a lingo of our own looking back, where men were skins, the ganger man had the 'shout',an expression which came from pulling in cable by hand, and we pulled each time the ganger man shouted. Cookin was 'shacklin up'.and going to the pub at night where they spent the sub was doing the 'session' There was 'rakes of beer','deadmen',the 'skipper''gresheens' and 'dampers' tarmackers and narrowbacks. Damping, wetting the bed, was very often blamed on kidneys weakened by sleeping out but the truth was it was more often caused by drinking 20 pints of beer on the way home from work and falling into bed drunk. When the oul landlady discovered the damage in the morning you would be sleeping out under the ditch. There is probably no Dictionary meaning to a lot of the slang used by the navvy's. As for nicknames, Bere V Bear,i worked with rakes of men nicknamed Horse,also the Pony,the Donkey, Racehorse,Elephant, and even the Pig. I remember when we moved to a new town on a job we would be told not to say we were Murphy's men when looking for digs or drinking in a new pub, as a lot of them had a bar on the cable men,especially Murphy's men because of the fighting and drinking. A lot of people resented the Connemara men because they spoke the gaelic but i always got on well with all but a tiny minority of them,and respected them for using the language, and this held true for every county, as they all had their blaggards my own county included. I remember working with three Connies who spoke practically no English, and i did'nt see anyone worried about the fact that all around them were talking in English,though if it had been the other way around a bit of paranoa would doubtless have set in. Ultan Crowleys book gives a good picture of what the times were like then,and while i loved the life back then, and had good friends from every county in Ireland, those times are probably better gone. By the way i still have the foot iron given to me when i was 18 by Mick Gallagher from Mayo, the grey Murphy's gangerman. McAlpines rubber boots worn by the tunnel tigers had the footiron built into it.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: ard mhacha
Date: 22 Aug 08 - 04:23 AM

Great stuff from MacDonnchaidh, do you remember, `the gimp`, this was the characteristic walk, there was no marks for defining the nationality of anyone with `the gimp`, he was sure to be a `paddy`, the exaggerated
sway of the shoulders and the splayed feet, stand aside or `Faugh a Ballach` here comes `the paddies`.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,Martin Farrell
Date: 22 Aug 08 - 05:35 PM

Ultan, when can we expect to see your new book published? I'm really looking forward to it.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,macDonnchaidh, Co doire.
Date: 23 Aug 08 - 10:04 AM

I remember the gimp all right, and they used to say of a bluffer,who would look and dress the part, but could'nt stick the work, maybe through no fault of his own; 'he's got the gimp, but he has'nt got the go'. Sometimes some comedian would add 'well he'll go on friday night alright', and they generally did if they even lasted that long.I saw fellas sacked before breakfast time, miles from home and not a penny in their pockets.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,lyn Butterworth
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 04:51 AM

Hi can anyone tell me the difference between a ganger and a navvie. I researching a place in blackpool where the roadbuilders and railway workers mainly settled once everything had been built. The old ladies I interviewing call their dads 'gangers'. However some of their mothers 'put up' navvies for the week or night.
What is the difference between the two?
Thanks
Lyn


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Subject: navvies v gangers
From: GUEST
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 04:57 AM

Hi Can anyone tell me the difference between a ganger and a navvie please. I am researching a place in Blackpool where many gangers lived. But the navvies also stayed in some of the lodging houses. The old ladies I am interviewing seem to think the difference is purely Irish vs English.

My email is lyn@bnbdesign.co.uk
Thanks
lyn


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 05:12 AM

Navvy is a general term for a labourer - a ganger is an overseer or foreman; best illustrated by a story I was told about the making of a film in the 60s about Irish labourers in Britain.
For the recording of the music for the film a studio was booked at the BBC in London (apparently at great expense).
Before the session started those involved gathered in the hospitality suite for a drink and to relax.
Two of the musicians, a fiddler and a flute-player, both from Galway, had previously been great friends, but had not seen each other for some time and greeted each other warmly. The conversation went something like this.....
Flute - "What are you doing these days ******?"
Fiddle - "I'm a ganger on a site in Edgeware."
Long cold silence... then
Flute - "I'm not playing with any ******* fascist."
Flute player made to leave, but was, with a great deal of difficulty, persuaded to stay.
The session proceeded, but was subtlely sabotaged by the flute player, who, very skilfully played wrong notes, or went out of time, blaming his former friend with an accusing glare.
The session had to be re-scheduled.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: ard mhacha
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 05:28 AM

Almost all gangers were viewed in the same light as Kapos in concentration camps, the majority were ruthless, just the type of man the employers wanted.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Newport Boy
Date: 28 Aug 08 - 05:11 PM

I don't think those descriptions are quite right. My background is on major construction sites from the 60s through the 90s, mostly working opposite McAlpine, Wimpey, etc.

The basic contractor's hierarchy was Agent, Sub Agent, Foreman, Ganger, Craftsman or Labourer. The first two were the technically qualified or long-experienced staff. The foreman was the management supervisor of the labour and plant, and normally did no physical work. (I have a photograph from my first site in 1960, captioned "foreman carpenter on the tools!".)

The ganger worked as part of the gang, and controlled operations. It was common on timesheets to have him recorded as "working ganger". When work was paid for by the hour, the ganger could be included, but not the foreman, whose costs were covered in the supervision overhead.

From the point of view of the labourer, the ganger was often a hard taskmaster, but any foreman would take a dim view of a ganger who didn't do a share of the work. Foremen were usually less popular among the men than gangers.

The term 'navvy' was really applied only to the labourers who shovelled or barrowed earth or concrete. Labourers assisting carpenters, etc wouldn't expect to be called a navvy. The term dates from the construction of the canals in the late 1700s/early 1800s, and is short for navigator - the early canals being commonly known as 'navigations'.

Phil


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: ard mhacha
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 04:25 AM

No doubting that the Foreman can be included in the same light as the Ganger, this was the case in all of the firms I worked for.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Den
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 03:21 PM

Fascinating thread. Thanks to everyone who contributed. Its a subject in which I am very interested too as my own father worked for many years in England in the sixties for Wimpey and John Laing. I remember spending a summer in Cumberland in a little place called Tebay in a house with no running water or electricity that my Dad had rented. He was working on a motorway. I'm not sure now which motorway I was very young at the time.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Newport Boy
Date: 29 Aug 08 - 05:13 PM

Den

The motorway would be the M6 through Westmorland (not Cumberland). Construction was between 1967 and 1970, and the story and some pictures are here .

Westmorland services at Tebay are still the only decent services on UK motorways.

Phil


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: mayomick
Date: 30 Aug 08 - 07:25 AM

"I have cut the rock against the grain from Derry to Strabane
Forty years a ganger and never sacked a man"

Somebody wrote to Mudcat a few years ago looking to see if anyone knew the rest of the words - without any success. I remembered my father quoting the same lines saying it was from a song the men used to sing in the tunnels .It gives a different angle on the popularly held view of the barbarian ganger .I wonder if Guest macDonnchaidh from Co Doire knows the song or what job it referred to.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: ard mhacha
Date: 30 Aug 08 - 10:52 AM

Mayomick, I have heard the last line of that stanza repeated on many a job, but never expanded on, it was always used by the men as a sarcastic dig at the ganger, always out of his earshot of course.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,mayomick
Date: 01 Sep 08 - 07:22 AM

Ard mhacha , In the tunnels they used to also have it as 'twenty years a leading miner and never sacked a man ' . Am I right in thinking that a leading miner would be the equivalent to a ganger ? I've had little first hand acquaintance with the shovel myself , and am happy to be corrected by anyone with direct hands-on experience of it .I'm just recalling some of the things recounted to me by my father who was a leading miner ,but by no means a thug or a fascist.

Not all gangers or leading miners were mindless gorillas . To work as a leading miner for instance you had to know the job - how to follow a line underground and make cuttings in the timber . That required a certain degree of training . The majority of the workers in a gang would be unskilled ; the leading miner an ex coal miner or perhaps somebody who had experience in digging wells in Ireland. It was no good just being a hard man with your fists ,although you couldn't afford to be a wimp of course.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: ard mhacha
Date: 01 Sep 08 - 04:18 PM

Mayomick I always made sure any work I done was above ground, I was never that fond of money.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST
Date: 08 Nov 08 - 11:20 AM

Can anyone shed any light on the melody to McAlpne's Fusilires? A lovely tune where can I get it??

TVM
BJK


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Leadfingers
Date: 08 Nov 08 - 01:09 PM

The D T has a 'Click to play' but it doent go anywhere !!


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GEST
Date: 08 Nov 08 - 06:49 PM

The YouTube video in the first post can't help you with the melody, GUEST BJK???

GEST


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 09 Nov 08 - 06:54 PM

great thread. I've passed it on to a friend who works in the construction industry on the health and safety side - to see what he makes of it.

I've really enjoyed it. thanks to all the contributors.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Volksman
Date: 14 Nov 08 - 09:38 AM

I was born in Ireland and have spent most of my working life in Construction (mainly piling) and have never heard of "Pincher Laddies"

The working conditions of the original navvies were disgraceful. However I have been on building sites in the past 12 months were the provisions were not much better. Ther are still some contractors who think that a "thunderbox" in the corner is all the welfare a working man needs.

[Thunderbox - a one man chemical toilet, aka "Glasgow phonebox" (sorry I just made that up)]

Volksman


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: Snuffy
Date: 14 Nov 08 - 02:51 PM

Do you mean a "Turdis"?


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,Colin Bargery
Date: 21 Nov 08 - 07:27 AM

David Brooke says in 'The Railway Navvy; that despicable race of men' that Pincher was a term for an experineced navvy. The Oxford english dictionary says that a rare usage of pincher is for one who uses a crowbar to move rock and cites a usage from 1855. Tregelles says in 'the ways of the line', 1858 that 'the navvy proper deals only with the shovel, the pick, the crowbar, and the wheelbarrow'


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,axel
Date: 09 Dec 08 - 08:43 AM

Is a 'Bear' not someone who is hairy?

Or is that just jocktalk?


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,Denmark
Date: 21 Feb 09 - 04:36 AM

Great stuff - thoroughly enjoyed reading it! Would love to read the book - has it been published?

My late father was a Boyle from Donegal, and left home at the age of 14 to work in Scotland and England, sending money back to his parents. After working as a farm labourer , he then spent a large part of his working life with the big contractors including spells with McAlpines - as did many of his friends and relations from 'home'. They did have a reputation as hard working hard drinking men and many of their wives would time a visit to the pub on pay day to prevent all of the the pay packet reaching the hands of the landlord before the end of another drunken night. There were of course many exceptions to this hard drinking image - my father was a long term 'pioneer' - but this quieter side of the Irish personality understandably went unnoticed. As far as drinking is concerned, It seems to me that there was no middle ground - I don't remember who first said this but it was often a case of "one Guinness is too many, and twenty is not enough". Perhaps the alcohol was the help some of these men needed to throw off the inhibitions they brought with them from strict their Catholic upbringing when they left home. As my brother and I left school and were heading for further education, my father gave us both a taste of his working life for a couple of weeks each - about as much as we could take - and enough to convince us of the merits of a good education. That education lead me to work in the head office of the London pub company who owned the Crown in Cricklewood, so the song had an additional relevance to me as well as the one it had when I first heard it played back home in Edinburgh. In my view,like a previous poster has said I think, the men who worked for McAlpine and the other big firms were proud of what they did, despite the conditions and body-breaking nature of the work. They were also fiercely proud of their country, and the song gave their feelings a voice.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST
Date: 27 Feb 09 - 07:00 AM

MacDonnchaidh, Co Doire
The two lines from mayomick are the only two i remember hearing myself, but i think there were a lot of these type of songs and the words were often forgotten, though a couple of lines would be remembered through common usage, probably as ard mhaca says,they would be used sarcastically against some particular gangerman

One i remember hearing on the cable work went as follows ;    ''I watched the frame as it took the strain, and i standing on the top, the timbers were all cracking, and the trench was caving in, so McAlpine sent to Leicester for the famous Darkie flynn.'' The Darkie Flynn [or Finn,depending on who was saying it ]   of the song being a legendary ''timberman'',this being the term used for the men who shuttered the trenches after they were dug out


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,ultan
Date: 28 Jun 10 - 12:16 PM

Hello Martin

            I haven't been looking at this forum for ages and don't know if you're still in the loop but, if so, I'm delighted to be able to finally answer your query to the effect that my latest book on the navvies, 'McAlpine's Men: Irish Stories from the Sites', is finally to hand.

Its a collection of first-hand accounts, across the whole spectrum of experience, collected over the past decade. The time frame is 1940's - 1980's.

A percentage of the profits will go to the Irreland fund of Greast Britain's 'Forgotten Irish' Campaign which helps, amongst others, many former construction workers down on their luck.

I won't get into price etc. here so as not to abuse the forum but full details can be had from me at ultan.cowley@gmail.com

Do spread the word!

Best

Ultan


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,ultan cowley
Date: 29 Jun 10 - 04:16 PM

Email me at ultan.cowley@gmail.com for news re. new book, McAlpine's Men: Irish Stories from the Sites

Ultan


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,achillbeg fooreen
Date: 15 Sep 10 - 02:46 PM

i lived in the spike for years,god it was rough,all irish,how we did it ,tough times,pray god that they never come back again..


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,ssaghiaeirina
Date: 15 Sep 10 - 02:53 PM

worked in england as a navvy,lived in the spike,tough times.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GUEST,LongOlWoody
Date: 08 Mar 11 - 06:23 AM

Further to the queries above about gangers; in John Laing construction on civil engineering jobs in the early 60's you had foremen who normally had a number of gangers working under them. Each ganger ran a team of between half a dozen to a dozen men.

Gangers, in turn, were normally supervisors who worked alongside the men in their gang. There were also "walking gangers", who did not work beside the men, but who filled the position of a sort of junior foreman. A walking ganger might therefore supervise several groups of men, each group being supervised by a ganger who worked with them.


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Subject: RE: Define: Pincher laddies
From: GEST
Date: 26 May 11 - 07:07 AM

Here is the intro to Ultan Cowley's book, THE MEN WHO BUILT BRITAIN, on this topic. (No SPAM intended.) :-)

WHAT HAVE THE IRISH EVER DONE FOR US?

Anyone asking this question, in the aftermath of the Queen's historic visit to Ireland, will find many fascinating answers in Ultan Cowley's definitive history of Irish Labour in British Construction, The Men Who Built Britain, just published in a special Veteran's Edition?

By 1960 over 200,000 Irishmen worked in British construction. The ubiquitous Irish Navvy was at the cutting edge of landmark UK civil engineering triumphs such as the first Wembley Stadium, built in 1924 by 'Concrete Bob' McAlpine (whose deathbed exhortation was, allegedly, 'Keep the Big Mixer goin', and keep Paddy behind it!'), the Victoria Line ('If it wasn't for the Irish there wouldn't be a single bloody tunnel built in England', Cockney engineer Tubby Buesden, London Evening Standard), the ubiquitous Motorways including Birmingham's iconic Spaghetti Junction, the Thames Barrier ('one of the largest moveable flood barriers in the world'), Scotland's massive hydro dams, oil terminals, power stations, and the Channel Tunnel.

Cowley's book breathes soul into the statistics with riveting and often entertaining first-hand quotes which illustrate why 'The Craic was good in Cricklewood' and how barriers bearing such names as Murphy, Clancy, and McNicholas have become commonplace on London's streets ('You'd mark off every 35 yards with a piece of chalk and tell a new man, "If you can't dig that out before this evenin', don't come in tomorrow").

For Irishmen such as Murphy and many of his generation who, after World War Two, left Ireland to help rebuild Britain with little formal education, few skills, and even fewer financial resources, there really was gold in the streets, as the old song had it. When he died in 2009 John Murphy's personal fortune was estimated at close to £100M. Many others made more modest livings in Britain whilst maintaining families at home in Ireland.

'If I were asked about the legacy of Irish labour', said Cowley, 'I'd have to quote Wren's epitaph: "If you seek a monument, look around!"

Contact: Tel. 00 353 51 563377. Email: ultan.cowley@gmail.com

Website: www.ultancowley.com


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