It is a traditional English folk song from North-East England. It became popular when it was used as the theme tune of a TV series in 1970 on BBC, also called “When the Boat Comes In”. It has also featured in a TV advertisement for fish products.
It is a joyful kids' nursery rhyme and participation song. Most often it is performed as an action songs or dancing songs where children must perform certain actions during the lyrics. At the social gatherings, this song encourages to dance in a group.
It is one of the truly historical nursery rhymes dealing with child poverty and child labor. It refers to the time when most children had to work "Those who would eat must work" and there was little time for play.