Thursday 1 April 2010

Ratcliffe Highway

"As I was a-walking down London. From Wapping to Ratcliffe Highway. I chanced to pop into a gin-shop. To spend a long night and a day. A young doxy came rolling up to me. And asked if I'd money to sport. For a bottle of wine changed a guinea. And she quickly replied: 'That's the sort'..." sings an unaccompanied Jim O'Connor on the traditional number Ratcliffe Highway from The Critics Group's anthology of London songs, Sweet Thames Flow Softly, which was overseen by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger in 1967. The song is a cautionary tale about being fleeced while out and about on the stretch of road which, as the excellent Victorian London site details, was notorious for its vice and violence, as a haunt of sailors and what were known as 'unbonneted ladies'. It's still there, though now known as The Highway, running from The City out to Limehouse, and still trying to shake off the notoriety of the Ratcliffe Highway Murders which in turn inspired Peter Ackroyd's great novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem. The naughty/nautical nature of Ratcliffe Highway also pops up in other songs, including The Deserter from Fairport Convention's Liege and Lief LP. The traditional song Ratcliffe Highway has been performed by many people, though The Dubliners' live 1964 version provides a fascinating contrast to The Critics Group's ...

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