The speaker talks about casual farm labour.
Mr W. (male)
C1314/11/03 © Survey of Anglo-Welsh Dialects


Transcript for Knighton

Stanley: But all this labour for tying up brush wood, uh, cutting up logs, cutting peat, uhm, what we were saying about binding you’d

Mr W: Hmm.

Stanley: need much more labour on a farm than you do today. How many men would there be on a farm of a couple of hundred acres?

Mr W: Well t, always two in those days. But a lot of casual labour the, these, a lot of these little simple jobs were done with men, by people you’d call them pensioners perhaps in this day and age. People that was only glad to have their food for, uh, and do a few jobs around, perhaps often go from farm to farm – we had a lot of those fellows. The m, you know, muck spreading and such jobs on the farm that the, the ordinary staff never really touched – those sort of jobs, travelling peddlers sometimes would, uh, put down their pack and, and stay a few days to do a bit of ditching or muck spreading. Those were the jobs they, not skilled jobs but jobs they could earn a bit of food and a few bob at and a bit of a change from their peddling. A lot of peddlers round selling laces, bootlaces and safety pins. And travel the, their usual tracks from north to mostly east, aiming out for the English border and round Clun1 that way, they, they’d sort of turn round there. Once they got into England it was a different feeling towards that sort of men whereas they were welcomed in Wales, they were useful, useful people to do these little jobs – tidying up the yard and, uh, perhaps cleaning out sheds, which was, especially this time of the year. And this muck spreading which had been hauled out during the frost in the winter and, and then they’d, uh, they’d get uneasy, they’d go mind you. Some of them would stay and harvest during the harvest time for a few days, then get on their way again. Perhaps in a week’s time you’d have another one. He’d stay and doss in your barn overnight and, and move on again. Some, do a day’s work.

Stanley: And what kind of pay would they get for a day’s work?

Mr W: Well, not a lot. Mostly, uh, plenty of food. Often you see they’d been on the road, these peddling fellows, for a few days and got a bit short and hungry. And now if they could land at a farmhouse where there was always plenty of food – little money but plenty of food – plenty of bacon, plenty of bread. And they’d fill up for a few days on this and, uh, do a bit of work sometimes as little as possible, as little as they, but mostly the farmer being a man of [laughs] industry and he, he’d get on with it, he’d make him earn his keep. And then when he went, he’d give him perhaps a couple of bob, I think, sometimes an ounce of tobacco. You see money was so hard to come by whereas food never seemed, I should say in Radnorshire that there’s never been much poverty in the sense that there wasn’t enough of food to go round. But always a shortage of money and is yet I think.

Stanley: Hmm.

Mr W: [laughs] It applies to me anyway in this day and age.

Stanley: [laughs]

Mr W: But uh, in the, where the small, little farmer was, you see, with his three acres and a cow – he done a lot by barter – his labour was, meant his living. He went to work for a bigger farmer possibly for a sack of wheat, sometimes or, a bit of wool to make a few blankets. There was a lot of that sort of done, e, even in my very young day or what I’d heard of – amongst the little farms, which have all gone now and amalgamated with bigger farms, but that’s how they lived. They only used their farm just to get their milk and butter which was quite an asset. If they could get their sack of wheat by working a few days they were very well off, I should think.

Stanley: You mentioned bacon – how far did the pig come into the economy of the smallholder?

Mr W: Oh, quite a, quite a, a lot. The pig and a, and a, and a few hens, you see, meant eggs and bacon which is quite a luxury even in this day and age.

Stanley: Hmm.


1 Clun is an English village to the north of Knighton.

Commentary for Knighton

Mr W. speaks with an accent that does not sound distinctively Welsh to modern ears, but would be very familiar to speakers in this part of Wales and indeed over the border in the English counties of Shropshire and Hereford and Worcester.

The Radnorshire accent

Mr W. speaks with an accent typical of many speakers of his age from this border area. Listen particularly to the vowel sounds he uses in pronouncing words in the following four sets:

1. days, labour, day and age, change, laces, bootlaces, safety, aiming, Wales, stay, bacon, acres and amalgamated
2. those, go, you know, mostly, road and tobacco
3. by, tidying, time, mind you, overnight, applies and sometimes
4. around, down, out, round, farmhouse, ounce, cow and now

He is, moreover, a rhotic speaker – that is, he pronounces the <r> sound after a vowel. Listen carefully to the way he pronounces the words pensioners, farm, pedlars, earn, north, border, sort of, turn, yard, year, winter, harvest, barn, short, work, farmer, hard, never, acres, barter, heard, bigger, butter, their and working. This combination of pronunciations was at one time characteristic of speech across a large area of the English West Country and the adjacent border areas in Wales. The pronunciation of the <r> sound is, however, no longer part of the accent of younger speakers locally on either side of the border, but some of the vowel sounds identified above remain very much a part of local speech.

Semantic change

Mr W. also uses a couple of expressions that might sound a little unusual to a modern audience. In the statement always a shortage of money and is yet I think he uses yet to mean 'still, now as formerly'. Listen also to the way in which he uses land at to mean 'to arrive at by chance, to come across' in the statement if they could land at a farmhouse there was always plenty of food. Both these expressions were at one time common in a number of English dialects, but are now very much associated with older speakers. The way this speaker uses yet can, however, be traced back to Shakespeare and beyond as is illustrated by Romeo’s lament in the closing scene of Romeo and Juliet when he stumbles on a sleeping Juliet and mistakenly assumes her to be dead: beauty's ensign yet, Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks, […] Ah, dear Juliet, Why art thou yet so fair? – i.e. 'the symbol of beauty is still visible in your red lips and cheeks, […] oh, dear Juliet, why are you still so beautiful?' This illustrates perfectly how any word has a variety of senses and connotations that can expand, reduce, or alter over time – a process known as semantic change.