England’s North Country: Words Apart

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Writing on the English North Country in 1985, Frank Entwisle wrote, “When we were lads and wore long shorts and wiped our noses on our jersey sleeves, we lived in Sunderland, a bleak northeast coast borough of 180,000 souls which called itself the greatest shipbuilding town on earth. . .

“Six miles north was another industrial river, the Tyne. The nearest Tyneside town was Shields. And between Sunderland and Shields, among the colliery winding towers and black pit villages, there was swamp to which we went with ha’penny fishing nets on bamboo sticks to dredge for sticklebacks and tadpoles.

“It was there we met the boys of Shields, who spoke with so different an accent that we pitched them in the ponds on the reasonable grounds that they must be Scotchies. . .

“The point of this joyful reminiscence is to show how two northern English populations, sharing the same industrial culture, the same everyday experiences—separated by but six grubby miles—could have different vowels and even a varying fund of words.

“A lane can be a lonnen in Northumberland, a snicket in Yorkshire, a vennel in Durham, and a loaning in Cumbria.”

One wonders today with the explosion of global media if such regionalism could still exist, if boys living a mere six miles apart could still speak so distinctly different. I think not.

Entwisle’s essay (in the National Geographic book Discovering Britain & Ireland) goes on to elaborate on what constitutes Norhumbria. Today, he says, it’s comprised of the old counties of Northumberland and Durham and the new metropolitan counties of Cleveland and Tyne & Wear. It is one of the largest English counties and one of the most sparsely populated.—Cheryl Bolen, whose last releases were the Christmas novellas His Lady Deceived and One Room at the Inn, both set in Regency England.

Next Blog: Surnames Found in Yorkshire

Photo caption: I visited Northumbria in 2017, the village of Haworth, home of the Bronte sisters on the Yorkshire Moors.

 

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