Determined, but Moist

Determined, but Moist

This week’s poem is “Three Ha’pence a Foot” by Marriott Edgar, marking the fact that our traditional English rain dances are having their usual effect on the summer weather.

‘Three ha’pence a foot,’ came the answer.
So Noah ‘is sail ‘ad to hoist,
And sailed off again in a dudgeon,
While Sam stood determined, but moist.

Marriott Edgar (1880—1951)

Poem 222. Three Ha’pence a Foot

I’ll tell you an old-fashioned story
That Grandfather used to relate,
Of a joiner and building contractor;
‘Is name, it were Sam Oglethwaite.

In a shop on the banks of the Irwell,
Old Sam used to follow ‘is trade,
In a place you’ll have ‘eard of, called Bury;
You know, where black puddings is made.

One day, Sam were filling a knot ‘ole
Wi’ putty, when in thro’ the door
Came an old feller fair wreathed wi’ whiskers;
T’ould chap said ‘Good morning, I’m Noah.’

Sam asked Noah what was ‘is business,
And t’ould chap went on to remark,
That not liking the look of the weather,
‘E were thinking of building an Ark.

‘E’d gotten the wood for the bulwarks,
And all t’other shipbuilding junk,
And wanted some nice Bird’s Eye Maple
To panel the side of ‘is bunk.

Now Maple were Sam’s monopoly;
That means it were all ‘is to cut,
And nobody else ‘adn’t got none;
So ‘e asked Noah three ha’pence a foot.

‘A ha’penny too much,’ replied Noah
‘A penny a foot’s more the mark;
A penny a foot, and when t’rain comes,
I’ll give you a ride in me Ark.’

But neither would budge in the bargain;
The whole daft thing were kind of a jam,
So Sam put ‘is tongue out at Noah,
And Noah made Long Bacon at Sam

In wrath and ill-feeling they parted,
Not knowing when they’d meet again,
And Sam had forgot all about it,
‘Til one day it started to rain.

It rained and it rained for a fortni’t,
And flooded the ‘ole countryside.
It rained and it kept’ on raining,
‘Til the Irwell were fifty mile wide.

The ‘ouses were soon under water,
And folks to the roof ‘ad to climb.
They said ’twas the rottenest summer
That Bury ‘ad ‘ad for some time.

The rain showed no sign of abating,
And water rose hour by hour,
‘Til the only dry land were at Blackpool,
And that were on top of the Tower.

So Sam started swimming to Blackpool;
It took ‘im best part of a week.
‘Is clothes were wet through when ‘e got there,
And ‘is boots were beginning to leak.

‘E stood to ‘is watch-chain in water,
On Tower top, just before dark,
When who should come sailing towards ‘im
But old Noah, steering ‘is Ark.

They stared at each other in silence,
‘Til Ark were alongside, all but,
Then Noah said: ‘What price yer maple?’
Sam answered ‘Three ha’pence a foot.’

Noah said ‘Nay; I’ll make thee an offer,
The same as I did t’other day.
A penny a foot and a free ride.
Now, come on, lad, what does tha say?’

‘Three ha’pence a foot,’ came the answer.
So Noah ‘is sail ‘ad to hoist,
And sailed off again in a dudgeon,
While Sam stood determined, but moist.

Noah cruised around, flying ‘is pigeons,
‘Til fortieth day of the wet,
And on ‘is way back, passing Blackpool,
‘E saw old Sam standing there yet.

‘Is chin just stuck out of the water;
A comical figure ‘e cut, Noah said:
‘Now what’s the price of yer maple?’
Sam answered, ‘Three ha’pence a foot.’

Said Noah: ‘Ye’d best take my offer;
It’s last time I’ll be hereabout;
And if water comes half an inch higher,
I’ll happen get maple for nowt.’

‘Three ha’pence a foot it’ll cost yer,
And as fer me,’ Sam said, ‘don’t fret.
The sky’s took a turn since this morning;
I think it’ll brighten up yet.’

This poem pokes gentle fun at supposed Lancashire obstinacy through the disagreement of the “joiner and building contractor” Sam Oglethwaite with the Biblical figure Noah over how much Noah should pay for “some nice bird’s eye maple”.

The poem is written in Lancashire dialect and drops aitches at every turn but is, I hope, still comprehensible. Noah appears in Sam’s yard enquiring for the wood he desires and Sam, enjoying his monopoly position, gives Noah the bad news.

A length of maple nowadays is considerably more than three ha’pence a foot in old money (1.5 pence-worth now costs around £7.40 per foot according to one listing I saw) but presumably three ha’pence went a bit further in Biblical times!

Noah and Sam argue and the discussion descends into acrimony as Sam sticks his tongue out at Noah and Noah makes “Long Bacon at Sam.” Long Bacon is holding your hand up to your nose with the thumb touching the nose and the fingers pointing upwards and waggling in the air; the other hand is then positioned similarly with its thumb touching the knuckle of the little finger. I love the thought of this biblical figure trading insults with a pertinacious Mancunian builder.

Sam forgets the old man until the weather turns bad and the rain begins to fall…and fall…and fall. (“They said ‘twas the rottenest summer/That Bury ‘ad ‘ad for some time.”) Sam swims to Blackpool and stands on the only dry point: the top of Blackpool Tower. At this moment, the two foes meet again as Noah sails his ark nearby. He makes Sam the same offer as he did in Sam’s workshop: “A penny a foot and a free ride” but Sam rejects it and stands “determined, but moist” as Noah sails off again “in a dudgeon”.

Noah cruises around and flies his pigeons for 40 days or so and passes Blackpool on his way back, where Sam is now nearly submerged despite his position on top of the tower. Noah enquires about Sam’s maple and gets the same answer. He repeats his offer for the final time and suggests that “if water comes half an inch higher/I’ll happen get maple for nowt” (he won’t have to pay anything for the maple, since Sam won’t be in a position to charge for it).

Sam is obdurate to the last, holding out for his “three ha’pence a foot” and expresses optimism as to a likely turn for the better in the weather conditions.

I like this poem because it reminds me of the LP record I listened to when I was younger: recordings of Stanley Holloway’s performances of “Albert and the Lion”, “Pick Oop Tha Musket” and this one; it reminds me of Nicola’s dad Lloyd who also appreciated these poems; finally, it’s a funny poem.

Stanley Holloway’s performance is on YouTube; there is also a performance by Mike Harding of his version of the poem, which is brilliant in its own way.


  • Listen to Stanley Holloway’s performance on YouTube.
  • Listen to Mike Harding’s version from A Lancashire Lad on YouTube.