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Maggie May

Shanties
Maggie May

Liverpool's "other National Anthem" is today perhaps one of the most well-known shanties but, strangely enough, did not appear in any shanty collection published before Stan Hugill’s ‘Shanties from the Seven Seas’ appeared in 1961. He says it was sung at the capstan in many Liverpool ships, and was probably also a forebitter.

One of the earliest recordings was of Hugill himself, made by Seamus Ennis in 1954 as part of the BBC’s folk-song collection. The first commercial recording was by A.L. Lloyd in 1956, followed by two skiffle versions in 1957: that by the Vipers Skiffle Group becoming a top ten hit although banned by BBC Radio because the story was considered unsuitable for family audiences. Lionel Bart’s 1964 musical has a rewritten version, which was also recorded by Judy Garland in 1964.

Of course, it has also been recorded by many Liverpudlian singers and groups, including the Searchers, the Spinners (and after their break-up, by Hughie Jones on a solo album), and the Beatles on the 1970 ‘Let It Be’ album. Indeed,
almost up to the time of his murder in 1980, John Lennon made several home recordings of himself singing it.

Hugill's book gives four-line verses followed by a chorus, but modern versions almost invariably have eight-line verses, with the second four sung to the tune of the chorus.

Roud Number 1757
Click to play MIDI file
Maggie May
Maggie May

Come, gather round, you sailor boys, and listen to my plea,
When you’ve heard my tale, you’ll pity me,
For I was a god-damned fool in the port of Liverpool,
On the first time that I came home from sea.
I was paid off at the Home, from the port of Sierr’ Leon’,
Four-pound-ten a month was all my pay,
And it jingled in my tin, till I was taken in,
By a girl with the name of Maggie May.

Oh Maggie, Maggie May they have taken her away
To slave upon Van Diemen's cruel shore.
For she robbed so many sailors, and captains of the whalers
But she'll never stroll down Paradise Street no more
.


When I first met Maggie May, she took my breath away
She was cruising up and down old Canning Place,
She was dressed in a gown so fine, like a frigate of the line,
So, me being a sailor, I gave chase.
She gave me a saucy nod, and me, like a farmer's clod,
Let her take me line abreast in tow,
And under all plain sail, we ran before the gale
And to the Crow's Nest Tavern we did go

Oh Maggie, Maggie May they have taken her away
To slave upon Van Diemen's cruel shore.
For she robbed so many sailors, and captains of the whalers
But she'll never stroll down Paradise Street no more
.


In the morning when I woke, I found that I was broke,
I hadn’t got a penny to my name,
So I had to pawn my suit, and my John L’s and my boots,
Down in the Park Lane pawnshop number nine.
Oh you thieving Maggie May, you robbed me of my pay,
When I spent last night with you ashore.
And the judge he guilty found her, of robbing a homeward-bounder,
But she'll never stroll down Paradise Street no more.

Oh Maggie, Maggie May they have taken her away
To slave upon Van Diemen's cruel shore.
For she robbed so many sailors, and captains of the whalers
But she'll never stroll down Paradise Street no more
.

She was chained and sent away from Liverpool one day,
The lads they cheered as she sailed down the bay,
Oh, and every sailor lad, he only was too glad
That they'd sent the old girl off to Botany Bay.

Oh Maggie, Maggie May they have taken her away

To slave upon Van Diemen's cruel shore.
For she robbed so many sailors, and captains of the whalers
But she'll never stroll down Paradise Street no more
.

Recorded by Stormalong John
Play MP3
Maggie May, sung by Stormalong John
I was paid off at the Home ...

In 1844 the prospectus for the Liverpool Sailors' Home in Canning Place listed its main aims as:

  • to provide for seamen frequenting the port of Liverpool, board, lodging and medical attendance, at a moderate charge;

  • to protect them from imposition and extortion, and to encourage them to husband their hard-earned wages;

  • to promote their moral, intellectual, and professional improvement;

  • and to afford them the opportunity of receiving religious instruction.

  • A reading-room, library, and savings bank will be attached to the institution; and with a view to securing to the able and well-conducted seamen a rate of wages proportionate to his merits, a registry of character will be kept. Among the ulterior objects in contemplation are schools for sea-apprentices, and the sons of seamen, with special regard to the care of children who have lost one or both their parents receiving religious instruction.


John Cunningham was appointed Architect, and construction started in 1855. He was also engaged in the reconstruction of the building after a disastrous fire in 1860, which closed the home for two years.

For over a century from from 1850 it provided safe and inexpensive lodging for merchant sailors until its closure in 1969 and final demolition five years later.

The ornate wrought iron entrance gates designed by Henry Pooley & Son Ltd, an engineering company whose speciality was weighing machines, were destined to bring about two deaths, but neither of them were mariners: in July 1852, 52 year-old Mary Ann Price, wife of the porter was crushed to death when the gates fell on her while her husband was closing them for the night. And in November 1907 the same fate befell PC Brownlow Locke of the Liverpool City Constabulary, who had been sheltering there from the rain and had offered to help the porter lock up.
 

After World War II it was decided to remove the gates. Pooley's had been taken over by the Midlands firm of Avery, who made an offer of 50 guineas for the gates. So in December 1951 the gates were transported to the Avery Historical Museum at the Soho Foundry in Birmingham, but returned in 2011 to be installed near their original location as "The Sailors' Home Gateway" in the Liverpool ONE development, as a monument to the thousands of Merchant Seamen who passed through them during the 120 years the Sailors' Home operated.


... she'll never walk down Lime Street any more
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