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A History of Cant and Slang Dictionaries: Volume I1567-1784$

Julie Coleman

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780199557097

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199557097.001.0001

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(p.209) Appendix B: Canting Songs

(p.209) Appendix B: Canting Songs

A History of Cant and Slang Dictionaries: Volume I

Julie Coleman

Oxford University Press

Francis Place, an important figure in nineteenth-century political reform, wanted to prove that the morals of the working classes had improved since his childhood. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he believed that further improvements were possible, and that the working classes could play a full part in civic life. To this end, he wrote out the vulgar songs that he recalled having heard sung in public places during his childhood. In his autobiography, he noted that:

Some of these songs sung by the respectable tradesmen who spent their evenings in my father’s parlour were very gross, yet I have known the parlour door thrown wide open [so] that whoever was in the bar and the tap room might hear every word. They were sung with considerable humour by men who were much excited; everyone within hearing was silently listening, and at the conclusion of the song expressed their delight by clapping their hands and rapping the tables.1

The songs are preserved in a manuscript copy in the British Library, annotated by Place’s friends, Haywood and Tijou, to whom he turned for confirmation of his own imperfect memories. In this manuscript, Place remarked:

I have no doubt at all that if ballad singers were now to be left at liberty by the police to sing these songs that the people in the streets would not permit the singing of them. Such songs as even 35 years ago produced applause would now cause the singers to be rolled in the mud.2

Place listed thirty-three songs in all, some of which he remembered in full. Six are represented by less than two lines of verse. Where it is possible to determine their subject matter, fifteen are obscene and thirteen celebrate highway robbery and theft. Twelve contain some cant, and it is these that are most interesting in this context, because they suggest that some cant terms were widely known among London’s working classes. Some contain barely a word or two of cant, but the six listed here make extensive use of it. The end notes are Plac’s, Haywood’s, and Tijou’s.

No. 1 Jack Chance [146r-v]3


On Newgate steps Jack Chance was found

And wed up near St Giles’s Pound,

My story’s true, deny it, who can,

By saucy, leering, Billingsgate Nan.

Her bosom heaved with artful joy


When first she beheld the lovely boy,

Thus home the prize she straight did bring.

And they all allowed he was just the thing.

Just the thing, just the thing.

And they all allowed he was just the thing


At twelve year old as we are told,

The youth was sturdy, stout, and bold,

He’d learned to curse, to swear, and fight,

And every thing but read and write;

His daddle clean he’d slip between,

In a crowd he’d nap a clout unseen,

And what he got he home would bring.

And they all allowed he was just the thing.


But when he grew to man’s estate,

His mind did run upon something great.

To pad the hoof he [scorned] to tramp,

So he hired a prad and he went on the scamp.

To strut in the park it was all his pride,

With a flaming whore stuck by his side.

At Clubs he all flash songs would sing.

And they all allowed he was just the thing.


He stood the patter but that’s no matter:

He gammoned the twelve and he worked on the water,

Till a pardon he got from his gracious king;

Then swaggering Jack he was just the thing.

[verse 4 incomplete, verse 5 missing]


With Blue Cockade proclaimed for war,

With bludgeon stout or Iron bar,*

To head a mob he never would fail

At gutting a [Mass] House or Burning a Gaol.

But a victim he fell to his country’s laws,

And died at last in religious cause;

No Popery made the blade to swing.

And when tucked up he was, just the thing.

Just the thing, just the thing.

And when tucked up he was just the thing.


No. 10 Another on some Highwayman [I49r]

With my pops in my pocket and a cutlass in my hand,

So I rode up to the Diligence and bid the Bug—rs stand.

[To] me. Ta ral ra. &c &c &c

As we rode o’er Finchley Common, the swells were standing there.

[Here] comes, a bloody scamping blade only do look there….

He’s flash to the cross roads and never makes a stand.

From Finchley up to London bearing loaded pops in hand.

Another No. 11 [I49v]4

Ye scamps, ye pads, ye divers, and all upon the lay,

In Tothill Fields gay sheep walk, like lambs ye sport and play.5

Rattling up your darbies, I am hither at your call,6

I am Jigger dubber here and you’re welcome to Mill Doll.

With my tow re row de dow &c &c

At your insurance office, the flats you’ve taken in.

The game you played my kiddies,7 you’re always sure to win.

The [illegible] you touch, the [illegible] the numbers up you break,8

With your assurance policy,9 I’d not insure your neck.

With my—&c. &c.10

No. 24 [154v–155r]


To the Hundreds1 of Drury I write,

And the rest of my flashy companions;

To the buttocks1† that pad it all night,

To pimps, whores, bawds, and their stallions;

To those that are down in the whit2

Rattling their darbies3 with pleasure,

Who laugh at the rum3† culls they’ve bit,

While here they are snacking1 their treasure.



This time I expect to be nubbed,5

My duds6 are grown wondrous seedy.7

I pray you now send me some bub:8

A bottle or two, to the needy

I beg you won’t bring it yourself,

The hangman is at the Old Bailey

I’d rather you’d send it by half

For if they twig9 you, they’ll nail10 you.


Moll Spriggins came here t’other night,

She tipped11 us a jorum12 of diddle.15

Garnish is the prisoner’s delight,

We footed away to the fiddle.

Her fortune at diving14 did fail,

For which she has changed habitation;

But now the whore pads in the jail

And laughs at the fools of the nation.


This time I expect no reprieve,

The sheriff’s come down with his warrants.

An account now behind us we leave

Of our friends, education and parents.

Our bolts are knocked off in the whit,

Our friends to die penitent pray us,

The Nubbing15 cull pops from the pit16

And into the timbril17 conveys us.


Through the streets as our wheels slowly move,

The toll of the death bell dismays us.

With nosegays and gloves we are decked,

So trim and so gay they array us.

The passage all crowded we see,

With maidens that [move] us with pity;

Our air all admiring, agree

Such lads are not left in the City.


Oh then to the tree I must go,

The Judge he has ordered that sentence;

And then comes a gownsman you know,

And tells a dull tale of repentence.

By the gullet we’re tied very tight,

We beg all spectators, pray for us,

Our peepers are hid from the light,

The tumbrel shoves off, and we morris.



Hundreds—the wretched courts Lanes and Allies in St. Giles


Miserable haggard prostitutes


Whit—Tothill Fields Prison




Rum Gulls—those whom they robbed








Seedy—Worn out.


Bub—Drink. Liquor




Nail—Seize. Not for bringing the liquor but because you are known—”want you”.






Diddle—Punch—mixed liquor—&c


Diving—Picking of Pockets.


Nubbing Cull—Jack Ketch.





No. 28 Teddy Blink and Bandy Jack [I59r]


On Sunday morning early we went to different chapels,

My pal upon his bended knees the ladies’ yacks he grapples;

“Lord grant that we may keep this law,” and while she’s upward looking,

My pal so ready with his paw, her watch chain is unhooking.

Tol lol de riddle de—&c.


He dings it to his nearest pal, to brush directly after,

The pretty educated lad first naps the newest caster;

Then placed him in the nearest pew long side of father grey locks,

He brings the yellow bag to view the tooth pick case & snuffbox.

Tol lol—&c


Now some had lost their pretty rings, and some had lost their lockets,

To rob in Church, Lord what a sin, cries Jane I’ve lost my pockets;

Poor girl she’d hardly spoke the word when Susan came our bawling,

Says she Fve lost my black silk cloak, and several yards of muslin.

Tol lol—&c.


Now Teddy Blink and Bandy Jack, they laid their heads together,

If they could do the old codger in black, t’woulfdj give them mighty pleasure;

He’d blest the congregation round and through the crowd was passing


When Neddy drew aside his gown and Bandy spoke to the Parson.

Tol lol—&c.


… They worked the church of what would fence, which much alarmed

the people

For fear they should stone eaters* turn and brush away with the Steeple.

Tol lol.

* There was an exhibition at the time of a man who ate stones.

No. 30 Tom the Drover or the Brindled Bull [I60v-161r]


It was on Easter Monday, spring time of the year,

Rolling Torn the Drover to Smithfield did repair;

His Togs were light and clever, his dog was staunch and free,

With a blue birds eye round his Squeeze, and his garters below his knee.

[Ri] tol—&c.


The Blades of the town were a-lurking to turn out a young Brindled Bull

Turn him back, turn him back was the token, at his tail they began to pull

When a knowing young blowen from the Garden happened by chance to

come by Crying blast you why don’t you [hex] him, you’ll never turn a Bull without

you try.


Tom sold his quid, broke the fall, when the Bull gave the dog such a toss Go your length my dear [jewel] for to wind him, to [ ] a Bull he’s never at a loss Five to four he’s a dog will recover, Back, and stop with the best in the field: And he’ll dance on his hind pins so clever till he makes the young Brindled Bull



Sal [Squincy] to their right, napped a tatler, and dinged it to her pal so soon. Her Gull being leery he boned her before she got out of the room. Then a row was kicked up in a minute, a bottle at his head she’d fling Crying blast your eyes you bugger, and down stairs she bundled him clean.


[Suk’ Bay], she’s a saucy blowen, and can [illegible] with any Mott in the Town, At the knuckle, or the lift none so clever though she pads the hoof up and down; Though she pads the hoof up and down, and with a beaver caster she goes, With an Indiaman about her squeeze, and the queer wedges down to her toes.


I’m a lad that can fib with the queerest, pick a cross with [a] pal for a mouse,

Fight a cock, bait a bull, [illegible] a pigeon, hop a sparrow, dance a cat jumps mouse,


At the broads I can palm with the queerest, slip an ace [cat] a duce or a tray

It was I banged blades in the hollow, so come all jolly dogs come away.


Come away to the sign of the Toper where Betsey the [Bunter] you’ll see,

She’ll tip you a good rolling hornpipe, for she’s one that’s staunch and free

She’ll give you a chant of the rummest, if you’ll give her plenty of bub,

Come away to the sign of the Toper, where we’re all flash, and free of the Club.

I think one verse is omitted [notes Place]

Easter Monday—Monday was the great Market day for Cattle in Smithfield


Squeeze—throat—squeeze because of the hangman [‘s] rope

Gaiters below his knees—It was a fashion with Costermongers—Coal-heavers

Drovers and many others to wear breeches very short at the knees they were always

left unbuttoned and the strings with which they should be tied hung down—under

the knees the stockings were usually fastened with broad red worsted garters. This

mode was considered very “knowing”

Blowen—Prostitute Blades—idle foolish fellows

[Hex]—to hit

Back & stop—attitudes of the dog when facing the Bull


Napped a tatler—stole a watch

Dinged—ding is to throw—to give it suddenly


Cull—the man she had picked up

Leery—knowing—in this case found out

Boned—seized. What follows cannot be misunderstood

Had—for another word used for sexual connection


Knuckle—picking pockets—Knuckler a pick pocket

Lift—shop robbing—shop lifting

Pads the hoof—walks

Beaver Caster—Beaver hat—high [crowned] beaver hats are worn by women

Indiaman—Bandana handkerchief

Queer wedges—long quartered—pointed shoes


Pick a cross—cheat



John Farmer also collected together ‘canting songs and slang rhymes’ in his Musa Pedestris, published in 1896. His songs range across three centuries, and are largely from written sources. Because this work is more accessible than Place’s, I have not duplicated them here. Farmer’s volume incorporates some songs included above, from Dekker, Brome, Shirley, and the New Canting Dictionary, as well as some from (p.216) sources that I have not quoted. Also of interest are ‘Frisky Moll’s Song’ (1724) from John Thurmond’s Harlequin Sheppard, ‘Come all you Buffers Gay’ (1760) and ‘The Potato Man’ (1775), both from song-sheets, and ‘A Slang Pastoral’ (1780), by R. Tomlinson. Farmer also lists ‘Ye scamps, ye pads, ye divers’, found in Place’s manuscript. All use cant already familiar from the dictionary tradition, except for ‘Frisky Moll’s Song’, which predates by one year several of the new entries in the New Canting Dictionary

(see Chapter 4).


(1) Place, Autobiography, 57–8.

(2) BL Add MS 27825, 145r.

(3) I have modernized the spelling and punctuation. Words within square brackets arc illegible in the manuscript, and I have supplied my best guess.

(*) Gangs of ruffians with iron bars in their hands went from house to house demanding money, and no one ventured to refuse giving.

This song was made after the execution of the rioters in 1720, and was sung about the streets with general applause.

(4) Farmer, Musa Pedestris, 61, notes that this is ‘From The Choice of Harlequin: or The Indian Chief by Mr. Messink, and sung by John Edwin as “the Keeper of Bridewell”‘. His version differs in a number of respects from Place’s. Important variants are noted below.

(5) Ibid., In Tothill-fields gay sheepwalk …

(6) Ibid., … come hither at my call

(7) Ibid., The game they’ve played, my kiddy …

(8) Ibid., First you touch the shiners—the number up—you break,

(9) Ibid., insuring-policy

(10) Farmer, Musa Pedestris, 62–3, lists a further three stanzas.