Belford and District Local History Society

HIPPEN HOISTED: Belford and District Local History Society’s new chairman Ray Wright took charge of his first meeting.

The society agreed that it would contribute a tree to the new Diamond Jubilee Wood being created at the south end of the village, and the secretary asked if members knew whether any descendants of the Charles McDonald who had been landlord of the Blue Bell still remained in the village.

The good turnout at our rearranged meeting was well rewarded when Kim Bibby-Wilson gave her talk about the Northumbrian language.

She hoisted the hippen by explaining that what we think of as Northumbrian is in fact the closest surviving language to that which the ancient Angles had brought with them to England in the fifth century; not careless talk as many of us had been taught at school, but the venerable grandmother of the English tongue.

This fact had been recognised as early as the 17th century by Daniel Defoe.

Although its words, pronunciation and grammar survive most strongly within Northumberland, aspects can be found from the Forth to the Humber, the original geographic area of the Anglian kingdom.

Many were reminded of words familiar from our childhood – oxter (armpit), spuggy (sparrow), spelk (splinter). For others, our vocabulary widened in leaps and bounds.

Almost all of us, however, were defeated by the meaning of ‘camstary’ which proved to be ‘wild and unmanageable’ – like the Chillingham cattle on a bad day.

We discovered that the verbal past used in ‘forgotten’ was once a standard ending, thus explaining the occurrence of ‘putten’ and ‘gotten’.

Long ‘o’s and short ‘a’s were a feature of our language well before standard English came to reign and it is thought that the Northumbrian ‘r’ derives from Anglian words which began ‘hr’.

We were then read instructions on how best to produce it, though by the time we had twisted our tonsils, gargled and coughed all at once, we were not quite so sure.

Kim illustrated this fascinating talk both with her own singing and reading, and by recordings of other Northumbrian speakers.

There were memorable poems describing the countryside, a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story, and a wonderful account of the sowing of grain by the corn fiddler. It was a champion night.

Our next meeting is on Wednesday, March 28, at 7.30 pm in the Community Club, when Chris Burgess, the county archaeologist will speak on Flodden. Visitors welcome.