Have you ever wondered why there is a red “pom-pom” on a French sailor’s hat?
There is a popular legend which goes as follows:On 9th August 1858, the Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoléon III, was visiting a naval vessel in Brest, when a sailor cracked his head open when passing through one of the low doors on the ship. The Empress immediately took her fine white hanky & placed it upon his head whereupon it became soaked in blood.
A second theory is that the pom-pom is used a sort of shock-absorber and protects the sailor’s heads from the inevitable low ceilings and doorways.
The official term for the hat is “Bonnet de Marin”, but it is generally known amongst sailors by its navy slang name: a “Bachi”.
“Pom-pom” or « pompon » is the popular term – the correct term is “houpette”.
Touching the pom-pom is said to bring luck, as long as the sailor doesn’t notice you doing it. And if he catches you he can insist on a kiss in return. So choose your sailor carefully!
Le bonnet de marin (parfois appelé à tort « béret de marin »), ou bachi dans l’argot maritime français, est le nom donné à la coiffure des matelots et quartiers-maîtres. Dans la marine nationale française, il est surmonté d’une « houpette » rouge appelée plus communément pompon. Il est traversé de droite à gauche par une sorte de lacet de coton blanc appelé jugulaire, qui permet à la fois d’éviter qu’il ne s’envole quand le vent souffle et de reconnaître le personnel de service, car celui-ci porte son bonnet « jugulaire au menton ».
La croyance populaire veut que le pompon avait l’utilité d’amortir les chocs, lorsque les marins se cognaient la tête en circulant dans les batteries et les coursives de faible hauteur sous barrot. Il est sensé amortir les chocs à la tête des marins qui se déplacent, dans les navires, car les plafonds sont très bas.
Histoire qui circule: « L’Impératrice Eugènie était en visite, le 9 Août 1858, sur un navire au port de Brest. Un Matelot, très grand sans doute, en se mettant au garde à vous à son passage se heurta violemment le sommet du crâne au plafond de la coursive. Il saignait et l’Impératrice lui offrit son mouchoir en guise de pansement. Ce mouchoir taché de sang , placé sur sa tête, devint alors, en souvenir de son geste, le pompon rouge du bachi de Marin. »
Il ne s’agit sans doute en fait que d’une légende, la réalité serait en fait que lors de la confection du bachi, on faisait ressortir les fils qui plus tard ressemblaient à un pompon. D’ailleurs, si cela avait été la véritable raison, tous les marins du monde, confrontés au même problème, auraient adopté une coiffure surmontée d’un pompon, ce qui est loin d’être le cas.
Chantimor est désormais déclaré auprès le Sous-Préfet de Pontivy en tant qu’une Association (N°:W562001987). Notre mission: Préserver et se produire sur scène les chants de marins du monde anglophone au but non lucratif.
Yep, we are now officially an « association », registered at the Sous-Préfet at Pontivy.
Our mission: To preserve and perform Sea Shanties from the English speaking world. Chantimor is a non-profit making organisation.
Here is the first review of our CD « Roll ‘n Go ».
‘Roll ‘n Go’ – ‘Chantimor’.
Chants de Marins Traditionnels: Chants de Travail.
‘Chantimor’ are a British expatriot group of Shanty Singers (Eight ‘Crewmen’ and two, charmingly called, ‘Sirens’) [sic] based in the Vallée du Blavet, Brittany. I believe that this is their first recording, but don’t worry, all the tracks are in English!
The CD has 20 tracks, all ‘standard’ shanties and sea songs and (in Baidin Fheidhlimidh and The Navy Hornpipe) two tunes. See the website for a full list. The instruments (accordion, whistles, violin and drum) are used sparingly (for the afficianados who feel that Shanties should not be accompanied), which I feel adds some depth to the tracks.
The material is performed with some enthusiasm (if not to say gusto!) which, to my mind, separates this production from the many of the previous ‘straight faced’ offerings. Music and Song nearly always sounds better if sung with a smile. Having said that, this is not ‘over the top’ as some that I have heard! On the whole, I’d say that this is a good intro. into the world of Shanties.
The package is simple but not understated with a list of the tracks, but sadly with no information on the material.The CD can be obtained from ‘Chantimor’ at their gigs and from their website; www.chantimor.com
Tony O’Neill. 22nd June 2013.
Tony, a Shantyman in his own right, has performed live with and recorded with renowned UK Shantymen Bob Walser and the late Johnney Collins.
26 March 1726. Last week as a labourer was going over Black-Heath to work, he met 4 fellows who press’d the poor man, but he begging heartily, and telling them his family must starve, &c. they yielded to his intreaties, provided he would give them some money, which he complying, they marched off. In a quarter of an hour he falls into another gang, with a Lieutenant, who likewise stopp’d him, upon which he bemoans his condition, saying, it was very ill fortune to be press’d twice in a day, that he had not one farthing left, having given half a guinea and three shillings to the other press gang. The Lieutenant hearing the story, went in quest of those who had extorted the money from him, and found them carrousing at an ale-house, and that they were sham press-masters; upon which he order’d the labourer his money, set him at liberty, and carried off the other chaps. [Mist’s Weekly Journal]
The payment of a shilling was offered to tempt lowly paid workers to leave their trade and join the British Army or the Royal Navy. The average daily wage during the Napoleonic period was 2d, that’s two pence or tuppence and at 12d (twelve pennies) to a shilling, this represented six days wages in one go. Once the shilling had been accepted, it was almost impossible to leave the army.
So the expression « to take the King’s shilling » meant that a man had agreed to serve as a soldier or sailor.
A career in the army or navy was not especially desirable at that time so recruiters used all sorts of tricks, mostly involving strong drink, to press the shilling on unsuspecting victims. The man could escape his fate by paying his recruiter « smart money », however in the 1840s this amounted to £1 (twenty shillings), a sum which most recruits were unlikely to have.
Dropping the shilling into a man’s beer was a popular method of forcing a man to take the shilling, so landlords started serving beer in tankards made of pewter with a glass bottom. Men could check that there was no coin lurking at the bottom of the tankard.
A further possible advantage of the glass bottomed tankard was that you could see your enemy coming at you when you were supping.
* Blog Post, written for fun & fancy rather than serious historical research, inspired by Shantyman Ian & his collection of glass bottomed tankards.