Traditional Cleveland Dialect
An example of traditional Cleveland Dialect
T’was nigh on Kessamus, tha knaws
When Vessel Cup cam tiv oor door
Sang God Bless Master o’this hoose
As she’d sung mony a year afore
Mah little Robert, honey bairn
He toddled out (he’s nobbut three)
And listened hid behind mah skirts
That neet he clambers on my knee
And says ‘What’s kessamus , oor mam?
Why did yon awd dame come
Ti say God bless you and oor dad
An’ all of us at home?
An’ then Ah knawed it were the time
Mah bairn mun hear the tale
Just as my mother telt it me
One Kessamus in oor dale
This verse is so different from my basically Teesside speech that I would not dare read it aloud as I could not hope to do it justice. Note the use of ‘honey’ as an endearment. Reverend Morris , in his book ‘Yorkshire Folk Talk’ (1) comments on the widespread use of ‘honey’ in the North and East Riding dialects. Today in East Cleveland and the eastern end of Teesside it is often abbreviated to 'hon'. (In Durham and Northumberland ‘hinney’ is the classic endearment.)
'Cleveland' has not been the speech of Middlesbrough for generations but it is worth noting that Middlesbrough has an area known as Whinney Banks , and whinney or whinney-bush is the Cleveland dialect word for gorze-bush. Presence of dialect in a place-name is not necessarily evidence that the dialect was used within recent times, but, in this case, it is interesting that, in every day speech , many Middlesbrough people say ‘The Whinney Banks’ and going ‘up the Whinney Banks’ even though this has been a thoroughly urban area for generations. This leads me to believe that as recently as Victorian times, Middlesbrough people knew what a whinney bush was.
A verse remembered from Redcar also suggests the dialect was common there.
Stand back thoo bits o’bairns
Thi faither’s at the Ship
He mun hev the bacon
Thoo can hev the dip (2)
(The ship in question being a wrecked ship….. which were godsends to the Redcar economy)
When I showed this to a Redcar native she thought it looked more like ‘Geordie’
Maurice Wilson (3) wrote a history of Eston and its neighbouring village, Normanby. He was born almost at the beginning of the 20c and could still remember some Eston speakers of ‘Cleveland’ including his own mother. I met Mr Wilson a few times when I was teaching in South Bank,Eston. He was a wonderfully knowledgeable man with a fund of entertaining anecdotes. One of his stories was of an iron miner, Tommy Dale , tunneling so close to the surface near Ormesby that he broke out into a field being ploughed. The miner shouted over to the ploughman “Hey up, mate! Has tha gotten ‘t‘time?” The miner was covered with white dust so the ploughman saw what looked like a spectre rising from the ground. He let go of his horses and ran off screaming. For me the interesting bit of the story is that Tommy Dale asked his question in the Cleveland Dialect.
It is worth noting the past tense ‘gotten’ . In Teesside we say ‘got’ as in Standard English. Durham and Northumberland dialect still uses ‘gotten’ as the past tense (as, of course, does American English)
I do not know when it was completely replaced by ‘Teesside’ in the Eston area but I should imagine ‘Cleveland’ did not last long into the 20th century . I surmise the Teesside accent being created, or rather rapidly evolving from traditional Cleveland adapting to other varieties of English in the immediate Middlesbrough/Stockton area from about 1860 onwards and spreading south and east to the detriment of traditional Cleveland ever since.
The boundary between Teesside speech and modern Cleveland speech is not exact. In places like Guisborough and Skelton you can hear both. It may be a generational thing. Younger people ,even when born in Guisborough and Skelton often sound more Teesside. However as you travel further out towards Loftus, the Cleveland speech seems to be still the dominant. In August 2002 I was looking for an address in Loftus. "Is this all St Hilda's Terrace ?" I asked a young woman walking a dog. "Only down t'snicket," she answered. snicket being the Cleveland word for alleyway. 'Supply teaching' in a primary school in Lingdale in 1998 I was pleased to note Cleveland speech was still alive and healthy in the playground.
Amongst the native born in the Eskdale villages it is still quite common but these villages are being affected by ‘incomers’ . To the west you can still hear some Cleveland speech from Great Ayton outwards but, even more so than in Eskdale , in the North Hambleton villages it is under pressure. It appears to me that the North Yorkshire villages are changing in character. A combination of ‘affluent’ incomers, both from Teesside and other areas seem to be creating ‘Middle Englands’. Still a strong regional accent and dialect are perceived as denoting low social status and if you aspire to a ‘Middle England’ life style perhaps you will also aspire to a Middle England speech.
1. Yorkshire Folk Talk: Reverend M.Morris 1911 : available in local reference libraries
2. Stand Back Thoo Bits o'Bairns: Hazel Mulgrew: Luffway Publications:Saltburn isbn 0 9524407 4 1
3. The Story of Eston: Maurice Wilson: A.A. Sotheran: Redcar isbn 905032 24 1