A Shropshire Lad by John Betjeman

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Matthew Webb Killed in the Whirlpool Rapids July 24 1883. Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

The gas was on in the Institute,
The flare was up in the gym,
A man was running a mineral line,
A lass was singing a hymn,
When Captain Webb the Dawley man,
Captain Webb from Dawley,
Came swimming along the old canal
That carried the bricks to Lawley.
Swimming along –
Swimming along –
Swimming along from Severn,
And paying a call at Dawley Bank while swimming along to Heaven.

The sun shone low on the railway line
And over the bricks and stacks
And in at the upstairs windows
Of the Dawley houses’ backs
When we saw the ghost of Captain Webb,
Webb in a water sheeting,
Come dripping along in a bathing dress
To the Saturday evening meeting.
Dripping along –
Dripping along –
To the Congregational Hall;
Dripping and still he rose over the sill and faded away in a wall.

There wasn’t a man in Oakengates
That hadn’t got hold of the tale,
And over the valley in Ironbridge,
And round by Coalbrookdale,
How Captain Webb the Dawley man,
Captain Webb from Dawley,
Rose rigid and dead from the old canal
That carries the bricks to Lawley.
Rigid and dead –
Rigid and dead –
To the Saturday congregation,
Paying a call at Dawley Bank on the way to his destination.


Source: Betjeman’s Banana Blush: Sir John Betjeman the Poet Laureate Reads His Verse.  Charisma Records, 1973.

Read about Sir John Betjeman

Captain Matthew Webb was a world-renowned swimmer who attempted to swim the Whirlpool Rapids at Niagara Falls on July 24, 1883. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Niagara Falls, New York. Read about Captain Webb here.

Click here for another story about Webb’s ghost

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