Category: Dialect Essay

The Cullercoats Fish-Wife and the Census Man

Fishwives were a popular sight in Northeast fishing communities during the days of herring-fishing. Many would follow the fishing fleet from Aberdeen to Lowestoft, skillfully wielding their razor-sharp knives to gut and fillet the small fish with lightning speed. Others would sell fish on the streets, carrying them on their backs in creels.
This light-hearted essay was written by Fred M. Gascoigne and published in “Tyneside Songs, Volume Two (Third Edition)” by J.G Windows Ltd in 1929.

A chep come knockin’ at wor front door the tother day, so Aa puts me heed oot o’ the window to see whe it waas, an’ it wes a cockeyed chep wi’ ginger hair an’ a clooty hat an’ sum papors iv he’s hand.
“Good mornin’, Mrs. Salmon,” he sez.
“What d’ye want,” Aa sez, for Aa thowt he wes one o’ the “bums” wiv a summons.
“Hoot’s hinny,” he sez, “Aa divvent mean that. “Aa want the census papor Aa left heor tother day.”
“Wey,” Aa sez, “What for cuddn’t ye a’telt us that afore ’isteed of axin’ a body for thor senses.”
So he sez, “Howay doon an’ Aa’ll fill’d up fer ye.”
So Aa gans doon an’ he sets hes’sel doon at wor kitchen tyebble an’ bless yor sowl ye nivver hare sec questions as he axed us.
He sez, “Noo Aa want te knaa, whe’s the heed o’ the hoose?”
Aa sez, “Whe’s the heed o’ the hoose? Wey the chimley’s the heed o’ the hoose.”
“No, no,” he sez. “Are ye married?”
“Is Aa whaat?” Aa sez. “Aa’ll gie ye a skelp i’ the gob the-recklies. Ye’ll just unnorstand Aa’s a respectible married wummin, -and mind that,” Aa sez.
“Varry good,” he sez. “Then yor husband’s the heed o’ the hoose.”
“Wey,” Aa sez, “If he’s the heed Aa’s the neck an’ the heed’s ne use wivoot the neck onyway.”
“Well,” he sez, “Noo Aa want the nyems an’ the full prescriptions of aall yor bairns.”
“Aye, wey,” Aa sez. “Well thor’s wor Bobby poor sowl, he’s a bit bowlegged, but he cuddent help that, poor bairn, he wes put doon when he wes soft. An’ then thor’s wor little Tommy – a canny bit lad – but he’s the tother way, poor thing – he’s nackneed – but it’s not he’s fault – it’s weakness – he wes browt up on the bottle, ye knaa. An’ then thor’s wor Lizzie Ann, she’s …”
“Stop, stop,” he sez. “What Aa want te knaa is what sex they are.”
“Oh!” Aa sez, “Wey some’s Roman Candles, an’ some’s Chorch ov Ingland, an’ the rest gans te the Bord Skeul.”
“Hoots wummin,” he sez, “That’s not it at aall – what Aa want to knaa is – Are they males or females?”
“Oh!” Aa sez, “That’s easy eneuf – the lads’ is males an’ the lasses is females.”
“Varry well,” he sez and he put that doon. “Noo,” he sez, “Aa want to knaa yor age.”
“Wey hinny,” Aa sez, “Aa divvent knaa mesel, but wor Nanny wes fowerty fower last Race Wednesda’, an’ Aa’s ‘ite yeer aader nor hor com next Pancake Tuesday, so mevvies ye can reckon it up yorsel.”
“Noo,” he sez, “Aa hev a varry importent questin’ te ax ye. What’s yor husband?”
“Wey,” Aa sez, “He’s a nowt.”
“But what dis he de for a livin?” he sez.
“Nowt ,” sez Aa.
“Wey, then we’ll caall ‘im independent,” he sez, “That is, he leeves on he’s aan means!”
“No, hinny, he dissent,” Aa sez, “He leeves on he’s freends.”
“Varry well,” he sez. “That’s aall the syem – that’s independent.”
“De ye say se,” sez Aa, “Wey Aa divvent call that independent.”
“Aye,” he sez, “An what de ye call it?”
“Wey, hinny,” Aa sez, “Aa call that ‘spongin’!”
An’ then he sez, “Noo Aa’ve on’y one more questin te axe ye.”
“Aye,” Aa sez, “An’ what’s that?”
“What de ye de for a livin’?”

“Ma hinny,” Aa sez, “De ye not knaa Aad Mary, the fish wife, ivverybody knaa’s me – (shouts) “Caller harn fresh harn. Caller harn. Will ye buy ony Fi……….ssh.”

Notes:
To make the essay easier to read, the original publication was modified by using the commonly accepted practice of separating the dialogue with a new line as the speaker changes. Otherwise it is entirely as originally published.
The lexicon contains translations of dialectical vocabulary. Words such as knaa (know), syem (same), and leeves (leaves) for example, are phonetic spellings of the dialectical pronunciation and are not included.

A High Level View

I might be showing me age, but I’m still gannen strong.  I mean, I was a hundred and sixty-nine yors old last month.  Noo that’s a canny age and I’m proud to say, I’m the owldest of the bunch roond here.  That modern winky-wonky thing down by the Spillers wharf calls me an ‘old relic’, but I divvent care.  I’d like to see him carry two trains and a couple of double-decker buses ower the river at the same time!    

I was designed by Robert Stephenson, an outstanding engineer who did a champion job with me.  Mind you, he got his brains from his dad, George.  Noo there was a clever bloke.  Invented the forst miner’s safety lamp he did, although most people will tell you that it was invented by some gadgie called Sor Humphrey Davy.  Whey, I’ve never come across a pitman by the name of Humphrey, let alone one that was a “Sor”!  Wor George on the other hand, worked at a pit up in Northumberland for a canny while, though he was originally from Wylam.  So, he knew what was gannen on underground.  If it hadn’t been for some toffee-nosed MP’s in London, who complained that he wasn’t clever enough to make such an important invention, speaking in Northumbrian as he did like, he would have won the two thoosand-poond prize they was offering and not Sor Humphrey.  But for George, it was nowt but a minor setback.  Of course, wor man would gan on to bigger and better things, and eventually outshine his rival.   

I’m very proud of the fact that Queen Victoria horself came to christen me.  She was on her way up to Balmoral in Scotland when they stopped hor train on me upper deck, halfway across the river.  It was raining, and someone opened a window so she could do the official opening.  I was told afterwards that the mayors of Newcastle and Gateshead were expecting hor for a slice of ‘Singin’ Hinny’ and a cup of tea. 

But she didn’t stop, and more than a few people were very upset by Her Majesty’s seemingly bad manners.  (Well, having gan to all that trouble to bake a cake for hor, you would be, wouldn’t you?)  Anyway, the coonsil sent Buckingham Palace a bill for the party.  They never paid it of course but as a token of hor esteem, Hor Royal Highness did bequeath the City of Newcastle a fine gift in hor will.  A pair of hor best knickers!

People, carriages and horse-carts would cross back and forth all day long, preferring my nice level roadway instead of having to struggle up and down the steep lonnens on either bank.  And then they took the owld stone bridge away and I was the only one left.  For a while at least, until they started building more and more bridges and spoiled my view.  Well, I didn’t mind the little Swing Bridge, he wasn’t nay bother and I used to love watching him swing open and close as the ships went by.  And there used to be some ships, let me tell you.  There were colliers, coming and going all day long to the big staithes at Derwenthaugh.  And then there were the warships from Armstrong’s yard at Elswick, with muckle big guns and their sailors, smartly dressed in white uniforms, lined up along the decks.  Eee, that was a sight to see.

Of course, it’s all very quiet noo and though I sometimes miss the hustle and bustle of the owld days, I think I like the peace and quiet.  I certainly don’t miss all the black smoke and soot that was belched out of the trains and ships.  Whey man, it’d get all ower me bonny painted girders.  And as for me beautiful arches, whey they’d end up looking like the walls of a midden.      

 I’m a lot cleaner noo and I’ve had a bit of work done over the last couple of yors: replacement beams and more than a few timbers, you knaa, the usual things that have to be seen to as we get owlder.  Aye, and they’ve also lightened me load by putting in what they call, a ‘one-way system’.  I’ve got to tell you, hinny, it feels much better, but don’t say nowt to that googly-eyed, little gob down-river.  I’ll never hear the last of it!

Andy Bogle
2019