Shanties

Joe Grundy died today. Rather, Edward Kelsey, who played Joe Grundy on The Archers for 34 years, died today. He’ll be greatly missed by many, many faithful listeners. And, obviously, by his family. He was 88.

Apart from that, today was all about songs of the sea. I was in the library at Portsmouth working on the usual Naval Tomes and this week it was all about songs and shanties.

Some were by composers unknown (generally made up by a gang of sailors turning a capstan) while others were by famous sea shanty creators. Still others were collected together by folk singers who’d been to sea. By far, my favourite of them all has to be the amazingly prolific Cicely Fox Smith (1882–1954).

Cicely was born in Cheshire, lived in Canada for a bit, working as a typist on Vancouver Island then settled in Hampshire, writing poems and prose.

While on Vancouver Island, she hung around wharves and alleys, speaking with sailors and learning their ways, their songs and their language. These experiences stood her in great stead when it came to her writing. She could speak with authority when it came to life at sea without actually having been a sailor. This famously fooled one reader who called her Captain Fox Smith whenever he wrote to her.

Her writing output was extraordinary. She wrote over 600 poems in her life, most of them published in leading magazines like Punch and The Times Literary Supplement to name but a couple. She also wrote many books (both fiction and non-fiction) for which she is rightly and highly regarded.

During the First World War she would invite sailors and soldiers to her home and visit the wounded while they were convalescing.

An extraordinary woman and one who rightly deserves to be remembered.

And here’s a picture of a bunch of seafarers dancing to a shanty…not one of Cicely’s.

By the time I went home, I’d had more than enough of sea songs I can tell you.

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