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An ear for an aye – listening to England's dialect poetry

Radio 4's Tongue and Talk: The Dialect Poets explores dialect poetry in the North West, the East Midlands and Northumberland. Here, you can listen to poems in the authentic voices of each region, read the texts and savour the meanings of words which – preserved in these emotive recordings – have often passed from the language but still leave enduring resonances.

North West

The Lancashire dialect poets were once household names and their writings articulated the voices of cotton weavers and mill workers in Victorian industrial Lancashire, with a mixture of humour and pathos. Edwin Waugh (1817–1890) was regarded as "the Lancashire Burns" – his Com Whoam to Thi Childer an’ Me was so in tune with the changing times brought about by the Industrial Revolution that it was read from pulpits and recited in market squares. Benjamin Brierly (1825–1896) was a self-educated textile factory worker who went on to be widely published as a writer in dialect. And Welcome, Bonny Brid by weaver Samuel Laycock (1826–1893) reflected the effects on mill workers of the "cotton famine" of the 1860s, caused by the American Civil War.

From Com Whoam to Thi Childer an’ Me

by Edwin Waugh

Aw’ve just mended th’ fire wi’ a cob;
Owd Swaddle has brought thi new shoon;
There’s some nice bacon-collops o’ th’ hob,
An’ a quart o’ ale posset i’ th’ oon;
Aw’ve brought thi top-cwot, doesta know,
For th’ rain’s comin’ deawn very dree;
An’ th’ har-stone’s as white as new snow; -
Come whoam to thi childer an’ me.

Aw – I ● Cob – a lump of coal ● Owd – old ● Shoon - shoes ● Bacon collops – slices of bacon ● Hob – cooker ● Ale posset – a drink made of hot milk and ale, often containing spices ● Th’oon – the oven ● Cwot – coat ● Doesta – do you ● Dree – drearily ● Har-stone – hearth ● Whoam – home ● Childer – children

From The Wayver of Wellbrook

By Benjamin Brierley

Yo’ gentlemen o with yo’r heawnds an’ yor parks, –
Yo’ may gamble an’ sport till yo dee;
Bo a quiet heawse nook, – a good wife an’ a book,
Is mooar to the likins o’ me–e.

Wi’ mi pickers an’ pins,
An’ mi wellers to th’ shins;
Mi linderins, shuttle, and yealdhook; –
Mi treddles an’ sticks;
Mi weight-ropes an’ bricks; –
What a life! – said the wayver o’ Wellbrook.

Yo – you ● Heawnds – hounds ● Dee – die ● Heawse – house ● Is mooar to the likins o’ me – is more to my taste ● Pickers – used to cast the shuttle ● Wellers – footless stockings ● Linderins – ropes put round the beams when the fabric is nearly finished ● Yealdhook – hooks that keep the warp threads separated ● Wayver – weaver

From Welcome, Bonny Brid

By Samuel Laycock

Tha’rt welcome, little bonny brid,
But shouldn’t ha’ come just when tha did;
Toimes are bad.
We’re short o’ pobbies for eawr Joe,
But that, of course, tha didn’t know,
Did ta, lad?

Aw’ve often yeard mi feyther tell,
'At when aw coom i’th’ world misel’
Trade wur slack;
And neaw it’s hard wark pooin’ throo-
But aw munno fear thee, – iv aw do
Tha’ll go back.

Tha’rt – you are ● Bonny brid – beautiful bird ● Pobbies – bread soaked in milk ● Did ta – did you
Aw - I ● Yeard – heard ● Feyther – father ● Misel’ – myself ● Pooin’ throo – pulling through ● Aw munno fear thee – I mustn’t frighten you

Listen to Tongue and Talk: The Dialect Poets – North West

East Midlands

The East Midlands is home to a language used almost exclusively by miners – retired pitmen still recite pit talk poetry in pubs and other venues across Nottinghamshire. Bentinck Colliery began production in 1896 - it was the second biggest pit in Britain – with 600-foot shafts, it was the first British colliery to produce one million tons in seven months; its only major accident, in 1911, resulted in the deaths of 11 men. The father of Nottinghamshire-born writer D H Lawrence (1885-1930) was a miner: his poem The Collier's Wife evokes the everyday impact of a mining accident on a pit worker's family. And in Mardy, spoken word poet Bridie Squires (b.1992) evokes a grandfather's memory of working with a pit pony.

Ode to Bentinck Pit

Author unknown. Donated to David Amos

Hip, hip, hip, am’ off ter pit,
Wi a cobble in me shoe,
Rip n’ Tear, cos’ n’ swear
Me ‘oss it winna goo.

Gangers one and sixpence,
Corporals hae’f a crown,
Deputies five and a tanner,
For walk’in up and down.

O’er boot tops in watter,
Up ter neck in sludge
Nobody ud wok at Bentinck Pit,
On’y such fools as us!

Gob it – Throw something away ● Owd up! – Be careful ● Dadled – Carried ● Dot’ill – Colliery Spoil Heap or Pit ● Tip “Pur’ a bluddy bluft on thi leyt”! – Eastwood mining dialect which means "Put a shade on your light to avoid dazzle"

The Collier's Wife

By D H Lawrence

The Collier's Wife evokes the everyday impact of a mining accident on a pit worker's family.

Somebody's knockin' at th' door
Mother, come down an' see!
– I's think it's nobbut a beggar;
Say I'm busy.

It's not a beggar, mother; hark
How 'ard 'e knocks!
– Eh, tha'rt a mard-arsed kid,
'Ell gie thee socks!

Shout an' ax what 'em wants,
I canna come down.
'E says, is it Arthur Holliday's?
– Say Yes, tha clown.

'E says: Tell your mother as 'er mester's
Got hurt i'th' pit –
What? Oh my Sirs, 'e never says that,
That's not it!

Come out o' th' way an' let me see!
Eh, there's no peace!
An' stop they scraightin' childt,
Do shut thee face!

Your mester's 'ad a accident
An' they ta'ein' 'im i'th'ambulance
Ter Nottingham'. – Eh dear o'me,
If 'e's not a man for mischance!

Wheer's 'e hurt this time, lad?
– I dunna know
They on'y towd me it wor bad –
It would be so!

Out o' my way, childt! dear o'me, wheer
'Ave I put 'is clean stockin's an' shirt?
Goodness knows if they'll be able
To take off 'is pit-dirt!

An' what a moan 'ell make! there niver
Was such a man for a fuss
If anything ailed 'im; at any rate
I shan't 'ave 'im to nuss.

I do 'ope as it's not so very bad!
Eh, what a shame it seems
As some should ha'e hardly a smite o' trouble
An' others 'as reams!

It's a shame as 'e should be knocked about
Like this, I'm sure it is!
'E's 'ad twenty accidents, if 'e's 'ad one;
Owt bad, an' it's his!

There's one thing, we s'll 'ave a peaceful 'house f'r a bit,
Thank heaven for a peaceful house!
An' there's compensation, sin' it's accident,
An' club-money – I won't growse.

An' a fork an'a spoon 'ell want – an' what else?
I s'll never catch that train!
What a traipse it is, if a man gets hurt!
I sh'd think 'ell get right again."

Th’ – the ● Nobbut – nobody but ● Mard – sulky ● Ell gie thee socks – I’ll give you a slap ● Ax – ask
Scraightin – crying/moaning ● Ta’ein – taken him ● Towd – told ● Wor – were ● Growse - complain


By Bridie Squires

Oo-er! Don’t be so bleddy mardeh!

We’ve been tekkin’ the mick
out our mammar for years
cuz once she made a trifle
and all the Maltesers sunk
to the bottom.

Oo-er! Don’t be so bleddy mardeh!

This bloke cut up me dad
and he made him pull over
so he could gi’ ‘im what for.
There were sweat and spit and his tabs
went bright pink.

Oo-er! Don’t be so bleddy mardeh!

Now, me grandad never gets mad but
when he worked down pit, he sez,
there was this ‘oss, and he hated
the bogger cos it always had a cob on.
But the poor sod never saw the sun!

Oo-er! Don’t be so bleddy mardeh!

One summer I gorra piece of gravel stuck
in my knee and, Gawd, did I roar. Every-
one took it in turns to say brave, to try prize
it out with tweezers and dry my peepers.
When it was out, that were it...

Ooh-er! Don't be so bleddy mardeh!

Tekkin – taking ● Mammar – mother ● Gi’ ‘im – give him ● 'Oss – horse ● Bogger – troublesome person ● Cob on – sulky. A cob can also mean a sandwich ● Mardeh – sulky ● Gorra – Got a ● Gawd – goodness

Listen to Tongue and Talk: The Dialect Poets – East Midlands


There is a case to be made for treating Northumbrian as a language, not a dialect: it represents the remainder of Old English and is the grandmother of the Scottish language. But this strong indigenous dialect and culture risks being eroded by the encroachment of urbanisation and the influx of people moving into the area. Featured here are two poems by retired shepherd Allan Wood, and one by poet, musician and composer James Tait, who writes in the dialect of Upper Coquetdale, near Rothbury.

The Plough

By Allan Wood

Ahint a dyke of winblaan thorns
Wrapped through wi nettles as strang as bumbler stings
Lay ma aad plough,
A cooter rusted paper thin and bramle thangs hing wry
Ower whaat had been a gladdenin ti me soul.
Dun wi noo and wi mesel
Them fiery nettles seem ti tell
As aa couped her oot agin the heidland fore
And there atween the twisted stilts
Aa dreamt again of days gone by,
Wings waft the air as seagulls dived ahint me feet
Man aa feel them yit
And mair

Ahint – behind ● Winblaan – windblown ● Strang – strong ● Bumbler – bee ● Aad – old ● Cooter – coulter, a blade ● Bramle – bramble ● Thangs – long shoots ● Hing wry – hang awry ● Couped – tipped ● Heidland – strip at the end of the field ● Fore – furrow ● Stilts – handles ● Mair – more

Autumn Leaves

By Allan Wood

Thin blaa the wunds ootna backend sky
Singein ma leaves inti countless hues
Of reed, gold and broon
Aal whisprin ti thasels
Whe’s turn is’t noo ti blush
As fair as any floowa
Haad his breeth
Then gently flutter doon
Ti rest amang me feet in wreaths of mowld.

Thin – cold ● Blaa – blow ● Wunds – winds ● Backend – end of the year ● Thasels – themselves ● Whe’s – who’s ● Noo – now ● Haad – hold ● Breeth – breath ● Doon – down ● Amang – among

The Mists o’ Barrowlaa’

By James Tait

Aal alang the peatroad
The November wind doth blar
And the ghost o’ Geordie’s whinnying mule
Brings tell o’ the coming snar.

But the folk o’ Barrowborn hae knarn
Far worse afore tup time
When blood was poured at Mordercleugh
And ale at the foot of the Slyme.

I can mind when I was a laddie
With aad Sam alongside the bike,
Up and doon the hillside
Then away for a drink in the sike.

Ower the born at Fairhaugh
Tha’s a gale that doesn’t stop
But here a most peaceful stillness
When yer oot on the very top.

And I wonder what it will be like
A thousand years from now
Will aad Sam be runnin’ up and doon
With an eye on every ewe?
What stories will that be tae tell
‘Mangst Skylark, Deer and Craa’?
What future ghosts are yet to dwell
In the mists of Barrowlaa’?

Barrowlaa’ – Barrowlaw, a hill in the Coquet Valley ● Blar – blow ● Snar – snow ● Hae knarn – have known
Tup time – when the rams are introduced to the fields of ewes, typically end of November-December ●
Mordercleugh – Murdercleugh, top end of a hill named after the murder of Isabella Sudden by local rogue, Thomas Lumsden ● Slyme – the Slyme Foot was the name of an infamous pub in the middle of the hills, a place of ill-repute ● Ower the born – over the river ● Craa’ – crow

Listen to Tongue and Talk: The Dialect Poets – Northumberland

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