Friday, 2 August 2013

Voices from the Past

A few days across I discovered the British Library's website of accents and dialects. This is a wonderful find for me as it has added a whole new level of insight into my long ago ancestors. (Visit the British Library's website here.)

I was particularly charmed by the recording of an old gentleman, Mr Simons, from Great Barford in Bedfordshire. This lovely piece of audio immediately evoked the images and sounds of my ancestors who also came from this part of the world. Great Barford is, as the crow flies, about three miles from Tempsford, the small village where my paternal grandmother was born and where her father, and his father, and his father before him lived, married, worked, played and died. It's quite difficult to understand what he's saying as the dialect is so strong, but his tale of a runaway bull and mention of cobs (horses), calves, fields and 'cow-hovels' conjures up visions of life on the land and in the farmyard.

My family in Tempsford were predominantly agricultural labourers and would have been familiar with the villages Mr Simons mentions and the life he describes. I immediately imagined I could hear the voice of my 2 x Great Grandfather, Thomas Cullip, who was born in 1827 in Blunham, the next village down the Great North Road from Tempsford. Blunham is one of the villages that Mr Simon's mentions in his anecdote. Thomas' father, Joseph, was born in 1803, most likely in Roxton, just two miles up the Bedford Road from Great Barford. All these villages were within a few miles of each other and I've found in my research that the lives of my ancestors took them from one village to the next. For instance Thomas was born in Blunham, lived for a time in Roxton, yet married, lived and died in Tempsford. For this reason I can only conclude that the dialect spoken by Mr Simons in Great Barford would have been shared by my ancestors in this small knot of villages.

Map of Bedfordshire showing Great Barford, Tempsford, Blunham and Roxton.
1898-1901  (scale 1:50,000)

Of course it's entirely possible that Mr Simons did not come from this part of Bedfordshire at all. However, this recording, made in 1958, forms part of the Survey of English Dialects, a project undertaken in the 1950s by the University of Leeds to capture, as the website states, "traditional dialect... best preserved in isolated areas". It is unlikely the researchers would have travelled to this village to record someone who came from another place entirely.

Being able to hear Mr Simons' voice speaking of life in rural Bedfordshire has helped to bring my Tempsford ancestors to life and added a whole new dimension to my perception of their lives. I heartily recommend that everyone should take a look at this website and see whether a voice can be heard that helps to bring their ancestors just that little bit closer.

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