part 7 of series on Navvies
This is from the Railway Archives https://www.railwayarchive.org.uk/thirsty-work-alcohol-and-the-nav
The connection that is made between navvies and the consumption of alcohol is probably the single best known fact about the lives of these travelling labourers. However, even if the image of a drunken, anti-social menace striking fear into the hearts of so-called civilised society is an exaggerated stereotype, the navvies’ infamous drinking bouts were a genuine feature of their lives, resulting largely from the way in which the men lived and worked.
To begin with, the navvies were comparatively well paid. A good navvy could earn up to thirty shillings a week – three times more than an agricultural labourer. But as their nomadic lifestyle required few material possessions and usually offered freedom from the burden of home ownership, the navvies’ was a relatively cheap existence. These hard working men with few responsibilities therefore greeted the monthly arrival of such handsome wages with thirsty enthusiasm. Secondly, as the navvies’ isolation from the rest of society dictated that most did not participate in the many leisure activities enjoyed by the rest of the population, their heavy drinking can be seen more as a chosen social pastime, rather than simply a destructive and unruly tradition. In common with many other workers of the period, alcohol also provided a way for navvies to temporarily ‘escape’ from the toil and privations of their daily lives.
In fact, the navvies at work on the London Extension almost certainly drank less than did their forefathers at work in the mid-nineteenth century. Although navvies still embarked on drinking sprees, or randies, that lasted several days at a time, the Navvy Mission Society, the Temperance movement and better living and working conditions had succeeded in reducing many of the men’s appetite for alcohol. That said, the presence of so many mission rooms along the route does indicate that the navvies’ love of drinking was still a cause for concern.
The Navvies invented a rhyming slang, similar to Cockney rhyming slang, to stop their superiors from understanding their conversations. Some phrases include:
Frog and toad = road
Daisy roots = boots
Bark and growl = trowel
Sugar and honey = money
Fisherman’s daughter = water
Pig’s ear = beer
Tiddy wink = drink
Lord Lovel = shovel
Jimmy Skinner = dinner
Charley Frisky = whisky
Billy Gorman = foreman
thanks to Andy Plant here is a Time Team Eposide about navvies