Nottingham accent: 80-year-old Frances describes St. Ann's in the early part of the 20th century
This recording is an example of a Nottingham accent.
Contrary to popular belief very few individual dialect features, such as the use of a particular word or a localised pronunciation pattern, are peculiar to a single location. In fact the unique combination of a variety of aspects of speech make the dialect of a town or area different from elsewhere.
The Nottingham accent
Frances speaks with an accent typical of many speakers from Nottingham. Listen particularly to the vowel sounds she uses in pronouncing words in the following four sets:
- pubs, lovely, some, rough, stuff, up, struggling, front, outher, young, done, sculleries, ovens, come, bus, Lunn’s, such, London, Strutt, haunches, twopence, us, couple and wondered
- down, south, about, round, house, out, now, Southampton, how and downstairs
- side, right, my, mind you, Fridays, either, whiten, I, died, whitewashed, miner, nice, five, Woodbines and by
- those, road, below, well-known, oh, you know, most, only, ochre, coal, so many, over and close
None of these vowel sounds individually are restricted to Nottingham itself. The vowel sound used for words in the first set, for instance, can be heard across the whole of the northern half of England as far south as places such as Birmingham, Coventry and Northampton. However, the vowel sound Frances uses for words in the second set is used by speakers in a much smaller area stretching from as far north as Leeds, but not much further south than Leicester. The vowel sound she uses in the third set can be heard in pretty much this same area, although in Nottinghamshire it is more likely to used by women and girls as many males here use a slightly different, local pronunciation that appears to be avoided by most female speakers.
Finally, the vowel sound she uses for words in the fourth set is characteristic of speakers in the cities of Nottingham and Derby and the immediate surrounding area. Therefore it is this combination of features that makes the speech of Nottingham distinctive: it demonstrates perfectly that there are no absolute accent boundaries, rather that sounds change gradually as one moves from place to place.
About the speaker
Frances Edna Conway (b.1918/11/08; female, retired caterer)
Jeremy: You were born in St. Ann's, yeah?
Jeremy: Yeah. Can you remember what it was like?
Frances: Oh yes, all those streets. All those hilly streets all up there, I can near, I could tell you nearly everyone what was there. The, down at the bottom of here was, uh, what they used to call, uhm, where Union Road was, just below the Cavendish – it was called, uhm, The Square. We used to call it The Square and it was, uh, all roads going all ways, but St. Ann's went straight through it. There was Alfred Street North, Alfred Street South, Alfred Street Central. And there was the, about four pubs round there. There was The Cromwell, The Bay Horse and, uh, oh, we were talking about this one the other day, on, uhm, on the other side. Anyway, there was the, uhm, Boots; I remember a Boots being on there and the big bank was there. That was there till the last, it was a lovely bank. And, uh, when I went, moved into my first new house, I reme, I went to live right where this square was. And there used to be some of the famous shops and, what we knew as famous, you know, well-known shops. And, uh, it was grand. My doctor had a, he had his surgery there and he moved to the new St. Ann's Health Centre when he moved and he was sixty-odd then.
Jeremy: What were the houses like?
Frances: Oh, rough. But you, there's, but, mind you, people were clean them days. Oh, you were, you were looked down the nose if you didn't sweep your front and scrub your steps.
Frances: You'd scrub your step and scrub your windowsill and clean your windows every Fridays or Saturdays and, you know, put either, some on them used to do them up with these red stuff, you know, what they do them up, or whiten them. But they was very clean people, most on them miners and hard-working people and very friendly. I think so and I missed it when I went away and that's why I came back.
Jeremy: Can you describe what your house was like?
Frances: Our house? Well, we'd got two bedrooms and an attic up top. The attic had one of them push-up win, skylights they used to call them, skylights. And the two bed, and the stairs was so narrow, both g, in depth and in width. I remember struggling with furniture, beds and things, trying to get them up them stairs. And, uh, and the, we'd just have a little scullery, a kitchen and a front room. I remember my mam letting the front room off – I was thinking about it the other day – to a Liberal candidate. It was, uhm, oh I was only very young. My dad died when I was seven. I remember I'd got measles: I couldn't go to the funeral. Lucky enough [inaudible]. And, uh, she used, she used to let the front room off, but we used to have to all sleep in one bedroom. We didn't very often go up the top stairs and walls was done in this here red ochre stuff or yellow or whitewashed, whichever.
Frances: And walls, and it was, the kitchen sculleries was just black, them black ovens, black ovens, the fireplace was the black ovens with a oven one side and a, where you put water, boiler-water we used to call it, the water-boiler. And you get water out with a, with a ladle. And you could cook in them ovens, cause you got coal, you see, when you, your dad was a miner. My, and, all the miners, I remember them: a lot of miners. And they all, all nice good, hard-working people and my dad. And they, and they, the few, about four on them and, tell you what, uh, come on, what's that, uhm, uh, green bus, it's Lunn, Lunn's, Lunns, uh, what name is it?
Jeremy: Green bus?
Frances: Yeah, in, the bus service started up then and they used to pick the miners up, go up the road with, about twenty past one, and they'd come back down, pick so many miners up and it was, went on from there. Now it's a well-known bus service, it's over Sandiacre way. It's a green, greeny bus. Still going strong now and it's built up well, too.
Jeremy: I can't think for the life of me.
Frances: And you know it's ever such a good one, cause I'll tell you why, we went to London when I was in, uhm,
Jeremy: Oh, Skill's!
Frances: Skill's – that's the one, yeah.
Frances: And, uhm, my, my dad used to say to me, “Go fetch a packet of Woodbines from Miss Strutt's." Miss Strutt, there was a pub and there was this second-hand shop next door and there was Miss Strutt's, there was two Miss Strutts. And they used to hae a little, this little sweet shop next to the school where I went. Dad'd be, all on them'd be sitting, you know on their haunches, sitting there waiting for the bus coming down, he'd say, “Go and fetch me a pennyworth of them Fox's Mints”, get about a-five for a penny, I'd get one and, uh, a packet of Woodbines. Got five for twopence them days, I can remember it ever so well.
Frances: And, uh,
Jeremy: Yeah, go on!
Frances: uh, he died anyway and Miss Strutt's was there for some years, the second-hand shop was there and there was a beer-off on the other, there was Southampton Street dead straight facing us and it's there now.
Frances: No, nearly facing us, sorry, because the, we'd got a, there was Northampton Street, Southampton Street and then you went up to Livingston Street, Livingston Street. That was on that side, close by me. On our side there was, uh, Cathcart Street and then we, there was the church and the school and then there was The Chase where it is now. So I was only two minutes.
Frances: And, uh, didn't bother, used to bother going round to the school gate, we used to climb over the wall.
Jeremy: Hmm. You know the houses – were they very close together?
Frances: Oh, back-to-back some of them. We weren't, they was down in The Bottoms, in what we called The Bottoms where the rough, well it wasn't rough, it was, they, how they was built. There used to be one, one, I remember going in somebody's house once: there was one floor and then there was one bedroom up and they was back-to-back, the next-door street, ave, like little entries there were. The houses was that close and back-to-back and there were just perhaps one room with a scullery downstairs, two bedrooms up. And there, it was, uh, I knew a couple of girls what lived in them and went to work with them. Oh and I wondered where they used to sleep and how they could live in such a tiny place, cause ours was big at the side of theirs.
 St Ann's is an area just to the east of the city centre of Nottingham.
 Boots refers to a chain of chemists and healthcare shops that can trace its origins back to John Boot’s herbalist shop in Goose Gate, Nottingham.
 [inaudible] indicates a passage or phrase where the speaker’s exact words are unclear.
 Sandiacre is a town just to the south-west of Nottingham.
 Skill's refers to a Nottingham-based coach operator.
 Woodbines refers to a brand of cheap cigarettes popular in the first half of the twentieth century.
 Fox's Glacier Mints refers to a traditional sweet popular since production started in 1918.
- Nottingham accent: 80-year-old Frances describes St. Ann's in the early part of the 20th century
- Sound recording
- © BBC
- Usage terms
- Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.
- Held by
- British Library
- Article by:
- Jonnie Robinson
- Changing voices: English over time
Do you use ‘wireless’ to mean ‘radio’ or ‘a form of internet connection without cables’? Discover how words change their meanings across generations.
- Article by:
- Jonnie Robinson
- Regional voices: English across the UK, Your Voices: contemporary accents of the UK
Do you pronounce words like ‘bath’, ‘grass’ and ‘dance’, with a short vowel, as in cat, or with a long vowel, like the sound you make when a doctor examines your throat? Discover the origins of this important distinction in British accents and explore how differences in pronunciation can reveal our local and regional identities.
- Article by:
- Jonnie Robinson
- Changing voices: English over time
Should a language be fixed in time or should it adapt and evolve to reflect social and political change? Discover how and why spoken English changes and explore attitudes to language change.