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24 September 2014

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Voices 2005

Southwell Minster

South Well or Suthell?

It's the long running argument over how the name of this Notts town should be pronounced. What is the right answer? Southwell resident David McCartney investigates...

"We say South Well but we don't really mind either way..." Southwell residents.

Southwell is home to a racecourse, a National Trust Workhouse and of course the beautiful Minster.

However, it may be more famous for the never ending debate over the pronunciation of the town’s name.

Is it South Well or Suthell?

audio Listen to how people in Southwell say Southwell >
Audio and Video links on this page require Realplayer

What is the right answer?

In the town centre, everyone seems to have an opinion (sometimes strong!) on how it should be said but there seems to be no conclusion.

Monument in Southwell
A monument to the name of the town.

Many people have a good reason for how they say it but others don’t.

"I call it Suthell and I think around the Nottingham area they say Suthell." Southwell visitor.

And if the local people are confused imagine what it must be like for the tourists who visit the town.

The manager of the local tourist information Sue Rogers explains, “Many of them are just as confused as the rest of us. There is no right answer and there tends to be a fifty-fifty split but it adds extra interest to the town!”

"I know on the BBC they call it Suthell but I don't know what the proper way is." Southwell tourist.

However, on the outskirts of the town stands a monument which may hold the key to the correct pronunciation of the town’s name. The engraving on it reads, “Near this site is the SOUTH WELL from which the town takes its name.” Does this then, provide a definitive answer of the how it should be pronounced?

audio Lena Olausson explains her research into the name. >
Audio and Video links on this page require Realplayer

Lena Olausson from the BBC’s pronunciation department researched what the original recommended pronunciation was, “The earliest note I found from the advisory committee on spoken English made a note of Suthell. In the 1980’s we added Southwell to the recommendation. Suthell is perhaps the more traditional form.”

"The posh people say Suthell but we say South Well." Southwell locals.

There seems to be no right answer and the way that you say it will probably depend on a lot of things… whereabouts you live, the context in which it is used and how people around you say it. So how do you pronounce it?

Well, I don't know about you lot but I'm one Southwell resident who says Southwell.

last updated: 01/09/05
Have Your Say
So how do you pronounce it?
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Kalvin Southwell
I live in America my whole live and pronounces it as South Well. This is how people in America pronounces it. What I don't get is how does someone get Suthell out of Southwell, it must be a British thing. I plan to some day visit Europe and the town of Southwell. I find it interesting having a town with the same name as me. I learned of the town when my Grandparents came back from their vacation of Great Britain and Ireland.

Graham Johnson
I've just been reading with great interest your article on the pronunciation of Southwell. I've lived there nearly all my life and i've always understood that it was people who were born there tended to say Southwell (particularly if middle/upper class) and people from outside say Suthell. I think that the increasing popularity of the pronunciation Southwell is perhaps an indication of the rising popularity of the town as a commuter town and people trying to sound posher and more distinctive. I have no evidence for this (!) and I've always said Southwell, and I'd certainly appricate to hear pronounced as such on the BBC. I don't know if you've spoken to Diocese in Southwell, but I'm sure they'd feel the same.

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