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The Ballad of the Queen’s Shilling (1965)

The Ballad of the Queen’s Shilling (1965)

1837 bronze medal by William Wyon, featuring Queen Victoria, celebrates her visit to the Corporation of London’s Guildhall. (Not the Mansion Hall as incorrectly referred to by this post’s author) ~ Photo by A.H. Baldwin & Sons Ltd.

What a beautiful coin the shilling is which bears the famous Wyon head! J. C. Horsley, RA—victim of Whistler’s savagely contemptuous “Horsley soit qui mal y pense!” —did a sketch of the 19-year old Queen, and William Wyon engraved the head for a medal struck to commemorate the Queen’s first visit to the Mansion House. HM liked the Wyon head so much that it was adopted for both the coins and the first postage stamp—the Penny Black.



Not until the Golden Jubilee (1887) was the Queen represented as older than eighteen or nineteen.

* * *

As I was getting off the bus—

(a green ‘un: Thomas Tilling)—

a bloke said, ~ a minute, lad,

while I tells yer somethink thrilling!”

He’d ribbands in his pill-box cap,

and his buttons shone a treat;

his pipe—clay blazed like washing-day—

and his quiff was flattened neat.

He took me firmly by the arm,

and said, “I’ve got a job

to do, me lad—and that’s make you

accept this bran’—new bob!”

He digs down deep in his trousers’ sky,

and fishes out a shilling.

“This here is yourn, me lad,” says he;

“that is, if you are willing.”

The day was hot. He said, “A pot

of brown would come in pleasant.

So step in neat, and I’ll stand treat—

and call it the Queen’s present.”

The Sarge stopped smart, me following,

into the Yarmouth Packet,

and I could see how well he filled

his natty pipe—clayed jacket.

“Four—arf—two pints!” the Sergeant cried,

as he grabbed a corner table.

“Sup up, me lade I’ve a tale to tell

as many are not able.

“You see this scar? The others are

in places I must hide.

But l copped the lot where the sun blazed ‘ot,

and the blokes around me died.

“Yus. . . in the ole Sudan, I played the man—

me an’ ten thousand more;

when the Fuzzies died, an’ the mules at our side

was up to their hocks in gore….

“Two pints!” the Sarge to the potman yelled.

“But that ain’t the arf of me story—

I’ve fought ‘em all, from the Cape to Bengal.

Yus. . . and ‘ad me share o’ the glory.

“There’s no—one can say we was ruined with pay,

and hungry we often has been.

But hungry or broke, by Cripes, no—one spoke

of us, save as the Guards of the Queen!

“God Save Her Majesty!” he cried.

(“Ere, potman, bring some more2”)

“Go easy, Sarge,” I said to him,

“or you’ll end on the ruddy floor!”

“A loyal little card you are,” he says;

“that much to me is plain.

So please take my bob!” he says, with a sob;

“I won’t like to ask you again.”

“Before you do,” I says to him,

“there’s a story I must tell you

It happened right here in London-town—

and not on the sun—baked Karoo.

“A moment gone by, you’d dipped in your sky,

and fished out a silver shilling.

You promised to give it, if only I

to wear the red was willing.

“Now this you should know: the answer’s ‘No go!‘—

and not that I’m Bradlaugh’s man.

I’m as loyal, Sarge, as you; and that’s dead Gospel-true—

But I don’t fit in, Sarge, with your plan.

“The reason why I can’t accept

the offer of your shilling,

is I got my chip some years ago,

in a manner I find thrilling.

“We lived in a cottage near Baker-street—

Dad loafed whilst me Mother charred;

and I earned a brown or two with the dung

that I shovelled up in the yard.

“Pease-pudden—an’-faggots was what we ate;

we had marge instead of butter;

we played the fool in the National School,

and walked barefoot in the gutter.

“You must have had your hero, Sarge. . . ?”

(“Sir Garnet, me lad,” says he.)

“Well, ours hung out in Baker-street—

at Number Two-twenty-one B.

“He’d a face like a hawk, and a cat-like walk,

and an eye that stripped you bare.

But, upon me Ned, when the Guv’nor said,

‘Be here!’ you bet you was there!”

“That’s discipline,” the Sergeant said.

“You’re right there, Sarge, it’s true.

Dad dished out the strap, but till I met that chap,

there was little of conduct I knew.

“Yes, he straightened us up, and we came to his call,

for the weekly reward of a shilling.

And we done what he tole us, and always obeyed.

You never found flippers more willing!

“Through sewers we went on the trail of that gent—

with rats big as tom—cats we fought:

hot on the scent of the foes of our Guy—

for danger we’d never a thought.”

Well, I’ve oft seen surprise in another’s mince—pies,

but none to compare with the look

on the Sergeant’s red face as I told him my tale—

though they’re facts you can read in a book.

“Gor lumme!”he said. “Now may I drop dead,

ef you ain’t seen more service nor me!

I’ve faced savage blacks—but if you’ve got the facks,

it’s a quieter life over the sea!”

“Ah, what a man he was!” I said,

whilst the Sergeant drank up hearty.

“You might have faced cannibal chiefs,” said I;

“But I’ll tell you of Moriarty. . .

“The wickedest bugger in London,” I said;

“in the whole of the world, come to that.

Yet the moment my Guy heard that bloke was around,

he was off at the drop of a hat.”

“You oughter seen Injer, me lad,” says he;

“wiv its minarets an’ domes . . .“

“You oughter seen Baker—street,” says I,

“in the days of Sherlock Holmes!”

“Yes. . . I done my stretch with the B.S.I.—

and a raggedy corps we were.

But we took our bob for a well-done job,

when we might have ate skilly in stir. . . .“

“I’ll drink yer Gracious Guv’nor’s health,”

the loyal old booze—hound said;

“You’ve just made me feel like a lump o’ cow—heel—

and me jam-tart’s as heavy as lead.

“But . . . talking o’ stir, I wonder if, sir. . .“

(Here the Sergeant’s face got very red)

“… I proffered a bob to you, hours ago.

Could you give one to me, sir, instead?”

“To join Sherlock’s Own?” I exclaimed in surprise.

“Not quite, sir. To porter I’m partial.

(It’s me vice—I admit.) And mow need the fare

back to barracks—or face a court—martial.

“You see, sir, I left with me sky full of bobs,

to haul in recruits for our Queen.

But what with one thing and another, me lad,

I find that I haven’t a bean!

“I was due back at ten, but I reckon if when

I speaks to the guard on the gate,

He’ll remember the good turn I done him last week—

but I’m due on parade before eight!”

The worry was plain on his battered old clock—

And I thought how the Guv’nor was willing,

at all times to help them as needed his help—

so I just handed over HIS shilling.

Originally published in the December 1965 issue of The Baker Street Journal (Volume 15, Number 4, pages 195-198)

michael-harrisonMichael Harrison, BSI, was investitured into the Baker Street Irregulars in 1964 as The Camberwell Poisoning Case. He was the author of The London of Sherlock HolmesThe World of Sherlock Holmes, and I, Sherlock Holmes, among others. Harrison was a Senior Copywriter of a leading London advertising firm.