"The Old Eel that Come Up through Breydon Water":
Arthur Ransome's Work as a Key to Folklife and Folk Speech

J.B. Smith

The son of a Professor of History at the Yorkshire College in Leeds, Arthur Ransome (1884-1967) was not only a writer of fiction, but also a chronicler, meticulous no less than lively, of scenes and events past and present. His own memory reached back to Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887 and a little beyond, but through the people he met it extended much farther. In his autobiography he tells how as a child he was taken by his father to see an old man who had been born in 1798, could recall Trafalgar, had been seventeen at the time of the Battle of Waterloo, and had spoken with persons who could remember the Highlanders coming into England in 1745.(1) The events witnessed by Ransome himself were no less momentous. From 1913 to 1919 he experienced war and revolution in Russia, where he had gone with the investigation and translation of folklore as one of his objectives, and had ended up working as a correspondent for the Daily News. Later he reported for the Manchester Guardian in Egypt, then China.

Distant places are the setting for some of the children's stories that Ransome started to write in 1929, but the momentous events he had experienced vicariously and at first hand hardly reverberate there. On the other hand, the observant reader will find, skillfully woven into the fabric of the narrative, patterns of folklife and folk speech that have otherwise been overlooked or forgotten, and will repay careful study. Much can for instance be gleaned about the lore and language of the Lake District, which he had known since earliest childhood, but East Anglia, which he came to know rather later, is no less well represented. Perhaps the fact that his father's family originated from that part of the country had something to do with his feeling for people, tradition and vernacular. This is especially striking in his portrayal of a Norfolk eelman in The Big Six. From a discussion of this I shall go on to deal with a feature of East Anglian folk speech as it is reflected in Ransome's work and elsewhere. But first I shall consider the way he depicts the Lakeland charcoal-burners and one of their customs.

Ransome came to know the charcoal-burners of Nibthwaite during his childhood visits to the Lakes, and the acquaintanceship lasted at least into his early manhood. In his autobiography he describes how, when he was in his twenties, they would leave clay pipes for him at the Red Lion at Lowick. These had been matured in the great heat of the pitstead, so that when the mound was opened they would be "glossy and coal-black, ready to give a cool sweet smoke from the first pipeful of tobacco”.(2) Doubtless the charcoal-burners we meet in Swallows and Amazons and Swallowdale are modelled on his Nibthwaite friends. Certainly the accounts given in the two books tally with each other and give the impression of being entirely true to life. The father-and-son team consists of Old Billy, now well into his nineties, and Young Billy, still in his seventies. In Swallowdale we learn that the latter is skilled as a "medicine man". He treats a sprained foot by wrapping it in dead bracken leaves that he binds round with a voluminous handkerchief damped in hot tea. He then provides the patient with an excellent crutch.

In Swallowdale we are reminded also that Young Billy keeps an adder in the wigwam of larch poles he and his father inhabit when they are tending their smouldering mound.(3) Swallows and Amazons contains a rather more detailed description of the "serpent". Readers of that book will recall that the creature is very understandably not allowed the freedom of the hut, but is kept on a bed of moss in a cigar-box,(4) and one wonders whether such captives were actually pets in the conventional sense, or whether there was some superstition, perhaps only partially remembered, at the back of the custom. The charcoal-burners, as a group apart, were nothing if not conservative, and it may be that we have here a reflex of the Scandinavian spirit beliefs recorded, for instance, by the Swedish folklorist Norlind. In southern Sweden, Norlind tells us, the "spirit" was a white snake kept in a box. Instead of a snake an insect or spider could be kept, or "a strange creature hatched from a 'cock's egg”'.(5) This familiar was fed on fasting spittle, that is, saliva ejected before the first meal of the day. The place of a living creature could also be taken by a wooden image of a lizard or insect. Norlind does not tell us explicitly why such spirits were kept, but he repeats an account of how, in 1706, two soldiers were sentenced by the magistrate of Karlshamn to eight days in prison on bread and water "because, through Satan's inspiration, they had each tried in that town to acquire a spirit which would gain them great riches". From this we see not only that such spirits were bought and sold, but also that they seem to have been kept as a magical means of obtaining good fortune. However, they were dangerous allies, and could bring misfortune in the long run. For this reason their owners would try and get rid of them in due course, and thus free themselves of possible evil influences.(6) What Ransome tells us about the "serpent" in Swallows and Amazons is not incompatible with all this. Note also the hint that the adder is linked in the charcoal-burners' minds with their fire, which must likewise be kept constantly under control:

'What do you keep him for?' asked John. 'Luck,' said Young Billy. 'Always had one in the hut, ever since I can remember, and dad, that's Old Billy here, can remember longer than me.’ 'Aye, we've always had an adder,' said Old Billy, 'and so had my dad, when he was at the burning, and he was burning on these fells a hundred years ago.’

Young Billy neatly dropped the snake in its box and shut the lid of it. He held the box for the children to listen. They could hear the snake hissing inside. Then he gave the box back to Old Billy, who went off with it back into the hut.

A big puff of smoke rolled from the burning mound. 'Look there,' said Young Billy, 'Can't leave him a minute but he's out. Like the adder is fire. Just a bit of a hole and out he comes.’(7)

It will be clear from all this that Ransome's charcoal-burners are more than a mere narrative ploy. For him they represent the continuity of folklife, now threatened by progress. He portrays the outward aspects of this life clearly and sympathetically, but the custom of keeping an adder is fraught with a meaning he can only surmise. When he sees the adder and the fire as symbolic of each other, he is trying to express some of that meaning: both are dangerous, both must be kept in check but not allowed to expire. This is a view of things that sounds quite natural on Young Billy's lips.

But Ransome went a stage further in his attempt at interpretation. In referring, in his autobiography, to one of Lascelles Abercrombie's Four Short Plays called "The Adder”,(8) he reveals that it is "based on a piece of 'folklore' wickedly invented by myself, though, as Lascelles said, if it was not folklore it ought to be.”(9) In "The Adder" there is much that will sound entirely familiar to readers of Ransome's autobiography, such as references to "a black pipe and good tap" and a pub called the "Hark to Melody", while the scene of the play, a hut in the woods and its neighbouring mound, is reminiscent of the scenes in Swallows and Amazons and Swallowdale in which we meet Young Billy and Old Billy. However, the play transforms these into Seth and Newby, the latter a bent old man, the former, about whom the action revolves, a man in his prime. After years of dissolute living, this Seth has turned to religion and, with the uneasy zeal of the converted, he shields his illegitimate daughter from the world he has now renounced. But still tortured by the knowledge of his misdeeds, he projects his feelings of guilt on to the adder, and he likewise sees the smouldering mound as a symbol of his own past and the passions that can still consume his daughter: "Watch now, while I kick a hole in the stack./ Do you mark the glowing danger, the red lust/ Biding within? … “(10) These are among his words to the girl when she happens upon him in the wood at night. Eventually, full of despair at the thought that she too will succumb in the end to the flesh and the devil, he gives her the adder to play with so that this vehicle of his guilt shall bring about her death, thus, paradoxically preserving at least her innocence. In this way "folklore" is extrapolated from folklife, and imagination fills in the outline that Ransome later came to use in his stories.

Whereas the stories referred to so far are set in the Lake District, the scene of The Big Six is the Norfolk Broads, and in its third chapter, "Eel Sett at Night", we find a detailed account of an old-time eelman and his work.(11) Old Harry Bangate lives in a hulk on the Bure, north-east of Norwich, where he mends his nets, baits his eel lines and makes his babs. But his serious business is the eel sett, a net stretching from one side of the river to the other, lowered to the bottom when the boats are going by and lifted when the eels are running, or "working”.

When the ebb begins to run, and the eels with it, he raised the sett with a windlass. Later, at dead of night, he pulls his boat along silently by the rope of the sett to the place above where the pods have been laid. These are long tubes of netting, kept in shape by rings of osier fastened inside them and attached to openings in the main net of the sett. They are now alive with eels, and are raised by means of a pole with a hook on the end.(12) The end of each pod is then untied, so that a stream of eels is released into the keep, a huge black box that also serves as a rowing thwart for the boat and is half filled with water. Later, the fish are expertly “scotched”(13) after they have been stunned by a blow on the tail, a knife is thrust into the backbone close behind the head. Now, after being skinned and cleaned, they can be stewed or souped or fried, or hung in the chimney, to be smoked over a close fire.

Old Harry learnt his craft from his uncle at Potter Heigham, a few miles down the river, seventy years before. "You know Potter, you do? But there been changes since then. There weren't no houses at Potter then, saving the wind pumps. And there weren't no yachts, hardly. Reed-boats and such, and the wherries loading by the bridge. And there were plenty of netting then, and jiggering for pike, and plenty of fowl ... " He remembers the regattas on Barton, punt-gunning and smelt-catching, great floods, and fights over the closing of some of the smaller Broads. As for more momentous events in the outside world, such as Queen Victoria's Jubilee and the Coronation of Edward the Seventh, these are commemorated in newspaper pictures pinned to the walls of his cabin. But later events seem to have passed him by; of them he has preserved no such record. His attitudes to his prey are pre-conservationist, indeed archaic, harking back to a time when nature amply provided. In discussing the bitterns, or "buttles", he contends: "What was them birds put there for? Why, for shooting ... When we was shooting there were always a plenty." His beliefs are similarly innocent of modern scientific explanation. Of tales about eels spawning in the Sargasso he will have none. He thinks they are born in the mud and go down the rivers to get a taste of salt water: "Smell the tide, they do and follow that down." And even his stories about the one that got away are not like anything we hear today, but likewise merge into the prior culture, where stories of sea-serpents and crowned eels(14) are entirely acceptable:

"What's the biggest eel you've ever caught?' said Tom. 'I didn't catch him,' said the old man. 'Not to keep him. But we were a big 'un, that warmint. I dart for him with my old spear and catch his tail, and he shake his tail and throw my old spear into the reeds, and he near upset my boat before he go off fierce downstream with a wash after him bringing the banks down like them motor cruisers. Did you never hear tell of the old eel that come up through Breydon Water to Reedham to swop crowns with the king? That were a rare old eel. And did you never hear tell of the sea-serpent that very near stick between banks going down between Yarmouth and Gorleston? Sea serpent? That weren't no sea serpent. Great old eel. That's what he were.”

Previous, shorter, quotations will already have conveyed something of old Harry's idiom, or Ransome's representation of it, but this longer passage will illustrate a specific linguistic feature I would now like to focus on. So far we have dealt, implicitly, with items of vocabulary such as eel sett, pod, buttle and work, but what will strike an outsider most in this sample is a grammatical peculiarity, not just the well-attested dialectal absence of -s in the third person singular,(15) but what appears to be the use of the present for the past: "I dart for him with my old spear and catch his tail, and he shake his tail ... “

Of course it might be argued that we have the historic present here, a use of the present tense that "describes the past as if it is happening now" and "conveys something of the dramatic immediacy of an eye-witness account”.(16) Such a use of the present would, however, hardly be conceivable in a sentence such as " Did you never hear tell of the sea-serpent that very near stick between banks ... " Nor is this an isolated example. There are numerous other instances where a historic present would scarcely be possible, as when old Harry says: "You ain't never seen pods lifted? ... Seventy year tomorrow I see 'em first." In such examples the suggestion at the beginning of the sentence that an established truth or reference to an event remote from the present is about to follow would appear to preclude the use of the historic present. It will therefore be appropriate to assume for the moment that stick and see as used above are present in form but genuinely past in meaning.

In response to all this one could contend that Ransome, who was after all not a Broadsman, has got his Norfolk dialect wrong here, that he is "making it up". So what do scholars say on the subject of present for past in East Anglian dialects, and what first-hand evidence can be submitted of such a usage? In his study of Norwich English, Peter Trudgill mentions it, or something like it, more or less in passing. He observes that "several verbs, for example come, give, see, have past tense forms that are identical with non-past forms: 'You give it to me yesterday', 'I see him last week.”’(17) Another authority, Martyn Wakelin, sees a general tendency towards a reduction of forms in dialectal verbs, perhaps by analogy with cut and put and the like, which do not vary in the past and past participle. Thus begin and ride will sometimes show the past-tense forms begin and ride in the south of England, and see and come will be similarly invariant over a still wider area.(18) Wright does not mention such a feature in his English Dialect Grammar, but he does provide some supporting evidence in the body of his dictionary. Thus we find give as a past tense form for quite a large part of eastern and southern England, and see for "saw" has a still wider distribution, though Norfolk is not mentioned here.(19) However, the following rendering by Camilla Gurdon of lat e nineteenth-century south-east Suffolk speech would suggest that, far from being a recent development, as Wakelin seems to imply it is, the feature was already common in East Anglia in Wright's day:

"My wife she live at the Weir Farm when she were a young woman. I never come to see her there, for there weren't any followers allowed. One night, when she and a fellow-servant were brewing in that long room they used to call the Cheese-room, they hear someone walking to-and-fro overhead. My wife, who never was afraid of anyone, she say she would go and see what it was, and she go up the stairs … “(20)

In the context, verbs such as live or come or say, though they are identical with the present in form , strongly suggest past meaning. Presumably live must be "true" past since the signs are that no account can begin with a historic present: the fact that the events referred to actually took place in the past must first of all be established beyond doubt by use of the past tense.(21) In any case, like the next verb, come, it can hardly qualify as a historic present since there is nothing "anecdotal" about it: reference is not to a clearly delineated completed action.(22) And say must likewise be past since a present tense would be incompatible with the following "she would”.

A further point worth noting is that two of the verbs under discussion, live and say, are weak, although all the authorities cited seem to refer only to strong verbs as admitting of such present tense forms in the past. The testimony of Ransome and our East Suffolk source thus strongly suggests, not only that uninflected past tenses are well established in East Anglian dialects, but also that a wider range of verbs is affected than has so far been recognised.

What we now need, to clinch the matter, is the first-hand evidence referred to above. A near approximation to this can be obtained by sifting through the relevant parts of George Ewart Evans's The Days that We Have Seen.(23) This resembles many of his earlier works on oral history in that the informants were older East Anglian country people, but is unusual in that his conversations with them were taperecorded. The transcripts were carefully done, without over-editing, partly with the student of language in mind, and we have the added advantage of naturally flowing, uninterrupted texts, rather than the short, disjointed and unrepresentative responses so often produced by interviews and questionnaires.(24)

One of the most striking grammatical features of these texts is the high incidence of uninflected past tenses. Admittedly, as with Ransome and Godden, many of these could conceivably be interpreted as instances of the historic present or, occasionally, of the ordinary present. In my survey I have therefore restricted myself to examples which cannot, in the context, be other than preterite in meaning. One of the things that strike us here is that, apart perhaps from be, apparently any full verb, whether strong or weak, can form its past tense without modification of the infinitive form. Some examples, in order of occurrence, are come, run, want, yowl ("and this old dog he started—he yelled, he barked arid yowl"), blow, goo ( = "go"), pour, see, live, happen, take, rattle, think.(25) Quite often an uninflected will alternate with an inflected form of the same verb in the same speech, thus go with went, run with ran, happen with happened.

The following excerpt will illustrate these points and some others:

"Well, she *went round that there yard two or three times there with the tumbril on one wheel; and then the other owd cows, they were going about there, you know, with their pump-handles up. Well there! you talk about going and—all I was afraid she was going to do—she was coming on to the road so she would run into me! **Do, [if she did] she'd ha' made a mess of me! 'Stead of that, she *went round the comer of the stable and she **hit the comer of the bam and *turned the tumbril right over, that *did! And that *laid there bottoms up when Mr Collyer **come up with his throshing tackle at night, and he ***say: 'Hullo!' he ***say, 'what-you have a horse run away here?’ And they *told him this here cow **run away. Of course it was right: this poor owd cow, she *ran right across these fields there, what they ****call Brookey's Wood; and they *had to go and fetch her. Dear, or dear! Heart alive! You talk about-didn't I laugh! I never forget it till the day I die. I shan't. No!’ “(26)

Beside the periphrastic past tense forms and such forms of the present as unambiguously signal present tense, this short text contains eight instances of an inflected simple past (marked*), four uninflected forms of the same tense (marked **)—though one of these, hit, corresponds to the standard form—and two uninflected forms of say (marked ***) which could be seen as representing the historic present. Call (marked * * * *) could be past or true present. With this high incidence of uninflected forms, context obviously plays an important part in signalling tense, and potential ambiguity is quite common.

In passing, we also note that the simple form forget in the last line corresponds to standard "shall forget" and recall that, in Ransome at least, uninflected past participles, as in "Have you touch any of them boats?" or "I ain't walk under a ladder”(27) occur from time to time. These are features which deserve further investigation, but I shall restrict myself to another, more relevant, observation. This is that do (the first form above with two asterisks) is, as Evans indicates in the text, equivalent to standard "if she did", or perhaps rather "if she had done". This type of construction is used by other speakers in the same book. Examples are: "Do [if you do] you will lose all power"; "He hid under the bulwarks so nobody could see him. Do, they'd ha' summonsed him"; "Some of them had chains round their boats, fore and aft, do they'd ha' sunk; busted right open from the swelling of the wood with too much water.”(28) It will be seen that, apart from if, the subject is elided, and this has to be predicted from the context. The context also supplies tense/mood and positive/negative polarity. Thus, in the last example do stands for "if they had not done so”.(29)

Wright has entirely analogous examples for Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, for instance: "Did you leave that gate open? Do, go back and shut it" (Cambs.); "I have to put it close agin m' eyes, do I can't see at all" (Essex). Here do stands, respectively, for "if you did" and “if l don't". However, it appears that do is, or was, replaceable by don't where there might otherwise be doubt about polarity, as in: "Shet that gaate, bor, don't yar old sow'll girr out" (Norfolk) and "Wrop up well, don't you'll git cowld" (Suffolk).(30)

There are signs that verbs other than do can be used in this way. Compare another example from The Days that We Have Seen: "Anybody else come they could ha' shook the house down they wouldn't have woke me”,(31) in which the subject is not elided and the verb is come. Elsewhere we find "Crack she bear, bend she break", a formulaic piece of advice given to children testing the ice on a pond to ascertain whether it was strong enough to skate on.(32) And, returning to Ransome, we find be used in an apparently similar way: '"There'll have to be an east wind tomorrow.', said Bill ... 'Isn't, we'll be rowing all day.’ “(33) Note also his: "Natural he don't want you nonnacking round under the old cruiser come they let her drop." It is also interesting that Ransome used did where one might, from what has gone before, have expected do: "Good thing birds don't nest in August ... Did, they wouldn't have a chance.”(34)

Here, then we come full circle. We started with literary representations of dialect, where we identified a recurring grammatical feature that we attempted to verify by referring to transcripts of spoken language. In the process, further features emerged which, if we again consult the literary representations, would appear to be more wide-ranging than the transcripts alone might have led us to suppose. The next step would be to explore and map out the full range of actual usage by examining a representative selection of spoken-language texts.

When we investigate dialectal forms, written and spoken texts thus supplement and complement each other. In the study of dialect, but also of folklore and folklife, work in the field, aided by such devices as the taperecorder, has over the past few decades been rightly regarded as indispensable. But perhaps the pendulum has swung a little too far. Literary representations by themselves can of course be highly deceptive. But, used with care, they are a vital source of clues and supporting information. Moreover, when we are studying the past, even the recent past, they are as often as not the only source of information. Thus the above-mentioned grammatical features captured by Ransome in his work can no doubt still be checked against contemporary spoken-language texts, and perhaps there are people still to be found who can verify what he says about the Norfolk eelmen, but his account of the Lakeland charcoal-burners' custom of keeping an adder is probably unique in British tradition, unlikely as it is to have any counterpart left in living memory.(35)


1. Rupert Hart-Davis, ed., The Autobiography of Arthur Ransome (London and Toronto, 1985), pp.15-16.
2. Ibid., p.112. See also p.139.
3. Arthur Ransome, Swallowdale (1931; rpt. Harmondsworth, 1986), chaps. 30 and 34.
4. Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons (1930; rpt. Harmondsworth, 1985), chap. 13.
5. Folk-belief had it that at the age of seven or nine or ten years black or red cocks were capable of laying eggs which, if incubated in dung, could produce a snake or basilisk. One theory is that such "cocks' eggs" were in fact the eggs of grass snakes. See Hanns Bächtold-Stäubli, Handworterbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens, 3 (Berlin and Leipzig, 1930-1931), 1337-38.
6. Tobias Norlind, Svenska Allmogens Lif (Stockholm, 1912), 1, 639-640.
7. Ransome, Swallows and Amazons, pp.l46-147.
8. The Poems of Lascelles Abercrombie (London, 1930), pp.363-382. The play was produced in Liverpool and Birmingham in 1913.
9. Hart-Davis, p.144. This was in 1911, when Ransome was twenty seven.
10. Abercrombie, p.380.
11. Arthur Ransome, The Big Six (1940; rpt. Harmnondsworth, 1986), pp.38-51. In what follows, page numbers are indicated only for such quotations from The Big Six as are not from Chapter 3.
12. The signs are that this hooked pole could be called the "crook". See Joseph Wright, The English Dialect Dictionary (London, 1898-1905), 4, 564-565 under pod, 5. Ransome's description is entirely in tune with Wright's citations here and under eel-set, 2, 237, from which I have, however, added one or two details.
13. Far from being pseudo-dialect echoing Macbeth's "We have scotch'd the snake, not kill'd it", this expression of old Harry Bargate's (p.53) is apparently a genuine angling and culinary term meaning "to make an incision or incisions in", though here it seems to carry the additional sense of "to dispatch". See OED, 9, 249, scotch, v.1, 1.
14. Cp. Stith Thompson, Motif-Index of Folk-Literature, revised and enlarged edn. (Bloomington and London, 1955), 1, 406, B 243 "King of fishes" and B 243.2.2 "King of eels”.
15. See for instance Martyn Wakelin, English Dialects: An Introduction, revised edn. (London, 1977), pp.119-120, and Peter Trudgill, The Social Differentiation of English in Norwich (London, 197 4 ), p.56, note.
16. Randolph Quirk et al., A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (London, 1985), p.181. This is of course scarcely an adequate description of the historic present for our purposes. For one thing it refers to standard English, and for another it does not tell us under what conditions the historic present may be used, even in that variety. It will be clear that in the circumstances my judgement of what in East Anglian English cannot be a historic present is largely intuitive, though I have indicated below what might reasonably be seen as some restrictions on its use.
17. Trudgill, p.56. Cp. A.O.D. Claxton, The Suffolk Dialect of the 20th Century, third edn., (Ipswich, 1968), p.12: "In a few instances the present tense is used for the past tense." Examples cited are come, see, run.
18. Wakelin, p.124.
19. Wright, 2, 626 and 5, 313.
20. Camilla Gurdon, "Folk-Lore from South-East Suffolk", Folklore, 3, 4 (1892), 558-560.
21. Cp. Ossi Ihalainen, "Periphrastic Do in Affirmative Sentences in the Dialect of East Somerset", Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, 4, 77 (1976), 608-622: "The so-called historic present cannot occur at the beginning of a discourse: it can only occur after the time reference of a discourse unit has been specified" (p.614). Admittedly the remarks apply to the dialect of East Somerset, but their inherent logic would suggest that they have wider validity. Different conventions seem to apply in fictional narrative, however. Thus a joke might begin: "Well, there's this chap who lives in a tumbledown house ... " Here the verb is neither past nor refers to a "completed action”.
22. Cp. David Kilby, Descriptive Syntax and the English Verb (1984; rpt. London, Sydney and Dover, New Hampshire, 1985), p.22.
23. George Ewart Evans, The Days that We Have Seen (London, 1975).
24. For Evans's views on interviewing, editing etc., see pp.25-26, 66, 82, 219.
25. See Evans, pp. 32, 66, 93, 108, 109, 112, 129, 172, 189 respectively.
26. Evans, p.117.
27. Ransome, The Big Six, pp.61 and 156.
28. See Evans, p p .30, 168 and 169 respectively.
29. Examples of the construction, some of them presumably quite recent, also for instance occur in Jonathan Mardle, Broad Norfolk (Norwich, 1973), pp.18, 25, 34. See also the story on p.53, in which the driver of a Jaguar skids into a field to avoid a tractor just emerging from it. The tractor-driver says to his mate: "Blast, bor! Tha's a good job we come out o' that there field, du he'd a' had us.”
30. Wright, 2, 98. Not all authorities have, like Wright, seen this construction as elliptical. In such Essex examples as "Don't come here again; do, I'll thrash you", Wilhelm Horn for instance saw do as originally imperative and hence the construction as a whole as a product of parataxis. Such a hypothesis will, however, not explain the fact that do can express negative meaning: in such cases we have to assume ellipsis at least of a negative particle. See Wilhelm Horn's review of Gepp's Essex Dialect Dictionary, reprinted in Edward Gepp, An Essex Dialect Dictionary, 2nd edn., (London, 1923), pp.189-194, and see Gepp's own examples and comments there, pp.137-138 and 189. Note also the view, expressed in Claxton, op. cit., p.13, that in sentences such as "Dew yow hurry up don't you'll miss the bus” don't etc. is "used as a conjunction meaning 'or', 'otherwise', or 'if"'. This may indeed be true of the meaning, but grammatically don't, because of the variety of forms and constructions by which it can apparently be replaced in such contexts (see examples below), is best regarded as a reduced if-clause represented by the verb of that clause.
31. Evans, p.98.
32. Claxton, p.106.
33. Ransome, The Big Six, p.82.
34. Arthur Ransome, Coots in the North and Other Stories, ed. Hugh Brogan (London, 1988), pp.106 and 103. In the posthumous fragment "Coots in the North", from which these two examples are taken, the Norfolk dialect is, if anything, more marked than elsewhere in Ransome's works.
35. The account given above is an expanded version of J.B. Smith, "Charcoal-Burners" Adders', letter to the Editor, Folk Life, 26, 1987-88, 109-110.
School of Modern Languages
University of Bath

This article is ©1989 by J.B.B. Smith and was originally published in Lore & Language 8/2, the Journal of the Centre for English Cultural Tradition and Language. Despite our best efforts, All Things Ransome has been unable to contact Professor Smith regarding our reproducing the article, and would appreciate assistance.

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