Thursday 21 February 2013

Water Works

The 1819 crisis in which 'monopolist' London water companies, having clubbed together to carve up the capital between them, then raised water rates, doubling many Londoners' bills, created something of a furore. When householders refused to pay, their supply was simply cut off.  This is an excerpt from a contemporary street ballad which - I think you will forgive me for suggesting - may contain the occasional double entendre.

For fear of their Water Works

Being a Comical Dialogue and a Funny Song.


O HERE is fun riding upon fun,
The Ladies cry they are undone,
They storm and rage like any Turks,
For spoiling of their water works,
Our housewives all do scold and fight,
And fire the house from morn to night,
For fear their water should run dry,
Their husbands can't them pacify.

My water works if they should spoil,
How will I get my kettle boil'd,
My husband cannot boil his pot,
If there's no water to be got,
Cod's head and shoulders I did buy,
But they useless now do lie,
I cannot get my dinner dressed,
Since my water is suppressed,

O good master, hear me I pray,
Do not cut the cock away,
Let me water freely run,
Or I will surely be undone;
I've fish and fowl and rumps to boil,
It breaks my heart to see them spoil,
I surely will be in the lurch,
If you spoil my water works.

Lady: John, step over the way, and read that large bill stuck against the wall, and let me know what it contains.
John: I read it this morning, my Lady, and, as far as I can remember it something about cutting off cocks, and stopping water works.
Lady: Oh, dear! will they cut mine off?
John: That I cannot say Madam, but I should suppose that if they do not interefere with yours, they will have master's off safe enough!
Lady: That is all the same thing. I will go distracted I'm afraid - oh my poor water cock; I will feel your loss night and day.

[excerpt from a broadside ballad, J. Pitts Printer, 6 Great Andrew Street, 7 Dials]


  1. Sadly no indication of the tune. I think they were rarely specified, although I may be wrong - I don't know much about street ballads.