Voices from the past

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The Crediton and North Devon Gazette, which appeared weekly and was widely read in the area, for many years ran a column devoted to material in the Devonshire dialect. The extract below comes from a 1904 edition - the writer says his village is referred to as "darkest Devon" . 

We spend a lot of time and energy finding out facts about our various families but what follows is an attempt to render in print how they spoke as they went about their daily lives. Nor was the use of dialect confined to the working classes. No less a person than Thomas Hardy tells us that this form of speech was used by his friend the Earl of Portsmouth who lived at Eggesford. Not for him, the smart life of London - the Earl stayed where his roots were and had he not used dialect throughout his life, he would have been a very lonely man with no one to talk to. The two places mentioned below are fictitious but in the passage, you can hear echoes of Coldridge, Zeal Monachorum, Morchard Bishop, Sampford Courtenay. 

One of my Great Grandfathers (who ran a mean Cribbage game in his local) had a huge fund of stories. He always enjoyed a junket* at the conclusion of his (substantial)  main meal and while he ate, would regale us with "tellins" in his rich Devon accent with one of my Great Aunts interpreting where necessary and occasionally stopping him in midstream with a gentle "That's 'nuff, Pa - best unsaid."



Tellin' about berryins, mindeth me o' h'old Measter Tallyn as liv'd raytir'd h'up tu Myrtle Cottage yer tu Muddlecombe zum yeres agone. Ee wiz a widderman wiz Tallyn, nor ee 'adn got no childern, zo Lizer Tucker an' 'er man liv'd in tha 'ouse wi' ther liddel maid** Susie. Lizer did the clanin' an' cookin' an' Tucker 'ee wiz gardner.


Wull, tu last h'old Measter wiz took'd wi ees deth-ill an' prapperly pass'd awaay. Tha vrends o' tha carpse cudn git tu Muddlecombe be 'arf arter 2, wich wiz tha taime as Passen ordain'd fer the vuneral tu tek plaace, an' zo Lizer Tucker sent tha liddel maid Susie wi' thic eggstrornary message:

"Plase yer honner, Measter Tallyn zends ees respecks an' zays as ee be turribul zorry fer tu putt'ee h'out, but ee cant manidge tu be berry'd bevore dree o'clock nowadaays."


Yer's annuther stary for 'ee. Our Passen wiz krool bad last winter wi' tha sky-attics, an' ee took'd tha dubble poomonyers pin tap o't; is thote fer zartain as us wiz gwain tu loss tha dear h'old man. Cuse, us wiz aul zorry, fer Passen be vurry well beluv'd be ivverywan.


Wull, tha vokes wiz tellin' about ees illness an' tha rampin' panes as ee'd agot tu putt h'up wi, in tha carrier's van cummin' 'ome vrum Exeter market pin a Friday.  Ther' wiz a Barleycombe woman in tha van, an' 'er shid zay as 'er'd yeered tell as tha pore h'old Passen wiz prapperly dade.


"No sich thing," zes Mary Holland. "I wiz h'up tu tha Rectory thase varry marnin' fer tu git a hape o'itemy arrants for Exeter vrim Missus an' 'er shid say as ee wiz better."


"Aw," zes tha Barleycombe  'ooman, "I' zim 'tes; us wud a giv'd ee a splendid berryin'." Tha h'old Rector did laff zure enuff whane ees Missus told mun thicey stary fer a bit o' a meg-laike.


"'Tes winnervul kind o' mun," zes ee, " but plase the Lard, us'll try an' du wi'out it fer a yere or zo eet."



Darkest Devon

Darkest Devon


*It seems we can't eat junkets anymore. It was an oven-baked  pudding consisting of  sweetened milk which was coagulated with essence of rennet. Rennet is found in the gall bladder of calves and is now deemed to be an unsafe substance to consume. It doesn't sound very appetising but served slightly warm with nutmeg on top, it really was rather nice.

**The local word for a young girl.


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