“…but ony buddi e Rachde knone us it is so…” Oliver Ormerod and Dialect Writing

The following blog post is an extension of a poster presentation given at the Manchester Metropolitan University’s 8th Postgraduate Research Conference held on the 5th November at the Manchester Metropolitan University. Please click this link to view: poster for MMU Innovation 2015. And follow the hyperlinks in the text below for more information.

The Grave of Tim Bobbin
The Grave of Tim Bobbin

Dialect is the characteristic sounds and construction of the spoken language of a particular place. For example, the construction of the Lancashire dialect, with its idiosyncracies depicting flattened vowels and shortened words, differs from Standard English.

Dialect writing in Rochdale – a brief history
In the graveyard of St Chad’s Church, protected by tall ironwork and a rusting lock, is the last resting place of John Collier. Collier, who was also known as “Tim Bobbin”, was born in 1708, moved to Milnrow in the 1720s, and worked as a teacher and an artist – working in the satirical style of William Hogarth. Collier is more known for his satirical dialect writing (see: Horgan, 1997; and Lodge, 2010) and his political influence can be seen in the parody and polemic of Robert Walker who was writing in the late 18th Century (Navickas, 2012). Dialect writing can be seen as an attempt to capture an authentic representation of the spoken language you would hear in a specific place, and a way of capturing the language of a predominantly working-class population who speak it (see: Lodge, 2010; Ruano-García, 2012; and Navickas, 2012).

After Collier’s death in 1786 there was still a strong interest in Lancashire dialect writing (Hollingworth, 1977) particularly in Rochdale with writers including James “Paul Bobbin” Butterworth, Edwin Waugh, Margaret Lahee, James Clegg, and Oliver Ormerod.

Oliver Ormerod's image on the memorial to Rochdale dialect writers.
Oliver Ormerod’s image on the memorial to Rochdale dialect writers.

Who was Oliver Ormerod?

Oliver Ormerod was born in 1811, during his life he edited local journals The Vicar’s Lantern and The Rochdale Spectator and was a member of the Rochdale Literary and Philosophical Society taking part in Radical politics (Inkster, 1988). He was also a prolific dialect writer, writing using a variation in order to best mirror the Rochdale dialect writing.

In 1901, Dr Henry Colley March, a surgeon at Rochdale Infirmary and one of the founders of the Rochdale Literary and Scientific Society (anon, 1916), published Ormerod’s recollections of the 1851 Great Exhibition held at the Crystal Palace in London. The first Great Exhibition – an international manufacturing and cultural trade fair – was described by writer William Thackeray as being a “peaceful place” where:

“A multitude of nations meets;
A countless throng…
…Gaul and German, Russ and Turk,
Each with his native handiwork
And busy tongue.”
William Thackeray – ‘May Day Ode’

Oliver Ormerod’s “native handiwork” was his attempt capture the “Rochdale tongue” and the first edition of his account was published in 1851 in a book entitled: O Ful, Tru, un Pertikler Okeaawnt o bwoth wat aw seed un wat aw yerd, we gooin too Th’ Greyt Eggshibishun, e Lundun, an a greyt deyle of Hinfurmashun besoide (A full, true, and particular account of both what I saw and heard when going to the Great Exhibition, and London, and a great deal of information beside.) In 1856, he published the third edition of his memoir writing as the “Rachde Felley” (Rochdale fellow), Ormerod intended to sell this dialect work at the Exhibition of 1862 (March, 1901) as a curio to demonstrate the Lancashire dialect to a different audience. An excerpt from the book reads as follows:

“Wel, us aw wor gooin hinto won uth reawms, whoo shud aw see but Sam o’Jacks fro Owdum. E wor us gloppent up seein me us aw wor ut seein im. Sam’s o reglur rufyed, fur they koen Owdum foke rufyeds oppo sum keawnt, aw dunnut eggsaktly kno wat fur but ony buddi e Rachde knone us it is so.” (p. 51)

(Well, as we were going into one of the [Great Exhibition] rooms, who should I see but Sam O’Jacks from Oldham. He was as stunned to see me as I were at seeing him. Sam is a regular rough head [ruffian], for they call Oldham folk rough heads upon some count, I don’t exactly know what for but any body in Rochdale knows that it is so.)

This thick block of seemingly unintelligible text has multiple functions: it demonstrates a subjective representation of the Rochdale dialect; the vernacular – and joke about Oldham – creates what academic Sue Edney calls “a sense of community-in-place” with a strong sense of identity and place loyalty for “Rachde foke”. Another function of this text is to show the lexical variations of Rochdale dialect from a wider Lancashire dialect (Ruano-García, 2012) which again builds this idea of place-specific identity (Edney, 2011).

Ormerod’s humorous recollections of his adventures in London view the city and the exhibition through a Rochdalian lens – the city is made alien but the familiarity of Sam from Oldham, and encounters with other people from “Rachde” offers the narrator a sense of grounding while feeling “out of place” (Cresswell, 1996), and depicts a longing where Rochdale is synonymous with “home”.

Owt or nowt?
There’s nowt wrong wi’ writin’ in Lanky twang. Not so common us afore, yet aw’m of t’ opinion it’ll be of interest fer a little while yet.

Further Reading

  • Colley March, H.Y (1901) The Writings of Oliver Ormerod with a Memoir of the Author. Rochdale: The Aldine Press.
  • Cresswell, T. (1996) In Place / Out of Place: geography, ideology, and transgression. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Edney, S. (2011) ‘Printed Voices: Dialect and Diversity in Mid-Nineteenth Century Lancashire’ in Shelley Trower (ed) Place, Writing and Oral History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp 59 – 86.
  • Hollingworth, B. (Ed.)(1977) Songs of the People. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • Horgan, D.M. (1997) ‘Popular protest in the eighteenth century: John Collier (Tim Bobbin), 1708-1786’ The Review of English Studies. 48 (191). Aug 1997. 310.
  • Inkster, I (1988) ‘Cultural Enterprise: Science, Steam Intellect and Social Class in Rochdale circa 1833-1900’. Social Studies of Science. 18 (2). May 1988. 291 – 330.
  • Lodge, K. (2010) ‘Th’interpretation of t’definite article in t’North of England’. English Language and Linguistics. 14 (1). 111 – 127.
  • Navickas, K. (2012) ‘Theaw Kon Ekspect No Mooar Eawt ov a Pig thin a Grunt’: Searching for the Radical Dialect Voice in Industrial Lancashire and the West Riding, 1798–1819′ in J. Kirk, A. Noble & M. Brown (eds) United Islands? The Languages of Resistance. Poetry and Song in the Age of Revolution. London: Picking & Chatto. pp 181 – 194
  • Ruano-García, J. (2012)_’Late Modern Lancashire English in lexicographical context: representations of Lancashire speech and the English Dialect Dictionary.’ English Studies. 28 (4). Dec 2012. 60-68.
  • Thackeray, W. M. (1851) ‘May Day Ode’ The Times. Wednesday 30th April, 1851. p.5.

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