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[Note 264.1] The fact that Happy Jack is wearing a smock suggests that he was a countryman and is English. Railways were an important source of employment for farm workers made destitute by the invention of the threshing machine which took over the hand threshing that was an important part of winter-time employment. A railway surveyor observed that ‘one feature which strikingly distinguishes the construction of railways from that of canals is the employment of the surrounding agricultural population’. [i]

“Sunday clothes” or “Sunday Best” were a person's best clothes, traditionally for wearing on Sundays, and (in later use) on special occasions. Frequently associated, especially in the 19th century, with the wearing of formal clothes to attend church.[ii]


[ii] OED 

[Note 264.2] Young men living together and sharing danger, develop bonds of friendship that are often expressed in the form of nicknames. Gipsy Joe, Bellepheron, the Fisherman, Fighting Jack, Bullfrog, Lanky Tom, Norfolk Bill and Moleskin were all names of individual navvies. Perhaps this song was made by a real ‘Happy Jack’.

[Note 264.3] Work on the line around Bury began in 1844. Bury station in Lancashire was opened by the East Lancashire Railway  September 1846. []

[Note 264.4] Jack says “geet my wages” for ‘got my wages’; another indicator that he was from Lancashire. Many navvies came from the north west of England.

[Note 264.5] There is a Clerke Street in Bury, about 400m east of the railway line. No reference to Jenkinson’s has yet been found.

[Note 264.6] Women entered 'tally' arrangement expecting it to lead to marriage. If it did not, women would often try their luck elsewhere. Although estimates vary, common-law marriages normal among poor and constituted about 25% of all couples 1800-1850. Poorest classes often did not make distinction between marriage and cohabitation. Cohabitation was economically flexible some cohabited to guard against economic disaster. If things went wrong they could return to their separate natal homes

Reference: Frost, ginger S. Living in Sin: Cohabiting as husband and wife in nineteenth-century England (Manchester University Press, 2009)



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