Shropshire dialect: Ted recalls driving and ploughing with four horses in line



This recording is an example of a Shropshire dialect.

Ted’s speech is a wonderful mix of the traditional and the contemporary. He uses a small number of words that we would nowadays consider a little old-fashioned, such as motor, aside of and afore, for ‘car’, ‘next to’ and ‘before’. On the other hand, the handful of non-standard grammatical constructions he uses are mostly still available in a number of present-day regional dialects. Listen, for instance, to how he uses the determinerthem, in the phrase all them big townspast tense come in the statement then it come as they stopped us, and plural was in the statements we was to have three and they was took off the road altogether, where Standard English would require those, came and were respectively. In fact this use of the word come is much older than modern Standard English came; the fact that it is extremely common across the whole of the UK illustrates how older forms continue to survive in popular speech long after they have been replaced in the prestige standard language.

Continuity and change

Listening to Ted’s accent, we can identify the same combination of continuity and change. The vast majority of vowel sounds he uses would be recognised in that area of the West Midlands today. He is, however, a rhotic speaker – he pronounces the <r> sound after a vowel, which is no longer the case for younger speakers in the area. Listen carefully to the way he pronounces the words farmers, four, first, tother, horse, here, ever, mark, certain, yards, higher, water, longer, towards and afore. In fact this was at one time a feature of speech throughout the UK and it remains characteristic of the English spoken in Scotland and Ireland.

Fifty years ago it would have been very much a feature of speech in rural Shropshire, Hereford and Worcester, parts of Warwickshire and across much of southern England. In present-day England, however, it is increasingly restricted to the West Country, the extreme South West and a rapidly shrinking area of Lancashire to the north of Manchester.

About this speaker

Ted Snead (b.1881; male, retired farm labourer)

Ted Snead (b.1881; male, retired farm labourer)



Ted: You remember them stopping, uh, stopping the farmers from a-sending the four up, unless you had a lad, see, to lead the first. You see, a place like Wolverhampton and all them big towns, you, you could drive four in length: one in front of the tother, nobody with you, see.[1] Then they could, uh, they could, uh, then it come as they stopped us. We was to have three and puts the two first double, as we got them more under control, if you can understand, cause you could put a line, you can get a gee-ho-line, fasten it onto that horse at that side and one at this side, see. Well, you could have it in your hand and lead your shaft, see. Well, you see, when you'd got four in the length, you couldn't have a line on every one.

Stanley: Hmm.

Ted: And then, of course, these motors brewed up. And they'd to, had to come down to two, then, apiece – two as much as we could manage.

Stanley: Hmm.

Ted: Then, of course, after the, uh, the, you know, they got these big motors to do it and then, of course, they was took off the road altogether.

Stanley: Hmm, and you

Ted: Well, sometimes in the summer months you might see somebody going through here, nice and, in a nice little tub, nice pony. In the summer, like, anybody, I suppose some people just keeps one for a bit of hobby. Oh ah.

Stanley: And you, you'd plough with four, did you?

Ted: Oh yes.

Stanley: Did you?

Ted: Yes.

Stanley: Oh, I've never seen them plough with four.

Ted: Plough with four double: two in front, two behind; double plough.

Stanley: How much in a day?

Ted: Uh, if you got a double plough, that's, like, two furrows, that was two acres a day. If you got one furrow, that's an acre a day. You see what I mean?

Stanley: Hmm.

Ted: So you ploughed one acre.

Stanley: You'd walk some distance, then?

Ted: Well, mind you, I don't know whether there was any truth in it, because I never seen it measured. And I couldn't tell you whether anybody had measured it, but they reckon if you ploughed, like, well, say we have two horses, that'll do, single plough, see, that's one furrow. Well then, uh, they used to reckon you used to do ten miles when you ploughed this acre a day.

Stanley: Hmm. Really?

Ted: Mind you, I don't know whether there'd be any truth in it, to tell you the truth, because I've never, nobody ever took interest to, you know. Course, I suppose anybody with a good head could reckon a field up, how long it is, and what it'd go, how many times you'd want to go round for a mile. Then you could tell, see, you couldn't tell with they.

Stanley: But you didn't just go round a field, did you, when you were starting to plough?

Ted: Oh no, you, you'd, uhm, make a mark up the field, certain distance from the, from the one edge, see. You'd leave a headland's width, see, you'd count five yards from the edge: that's your headland. Then you'd say, you could go fifteen yards wide, then you can make a cop. And you'd plough round that, see, up to your headland. Then you'd go on down the field again and make another cop, see, plough round that. Then you would have a rean up the middle of the field, up the field, do you see. Course, other side Bridgnorth they used to reckon to plough what we, they used to call a five butt, see, on that stiff land.[2]

Stanley: Hmm.

Ted: That's about, oh, about seven times, seven or eight times round the cop, that's round and round. Then you would turn round and a slit seven yards wide, seven furrows wide, see. There'd be a rean here by the side and there'd be another just tother side of that – higher for the water, you know, to drain off. Course out here you can go twenty yards wide and thirty yards wide if you like, out on this land, you see, it makes no difference on this light land.

Stanley: Hmm.

Ted: Well I ploughed a field with three abreast once. And it was nineteen acres and I ploughed the lot and I only had one rean in it, you know. And uh, that was when the binder wasn't on the go, he's saying, the boss said to me, he says, uh, “I think we'll plough that big leasow." He said, “It'll take a bit longer," he said, “and we can have one rean just from here towards the middle," you see. Well you made a cop, sort of distance from this hedge across here, see. And then, uh, oh, you might plough two days, two days and a half on this gathering. You'd be going up there aside of that headland, like, just, at the ends of your furrows, almost as far as from here to the public afore you would turn round and set in again.

Stanley: Hmm.


[1] Wolverhampton is a large town to the east of Hilton.

[2] Bridgnorth is a town to west of Hilton.

Shropshire dialect: Ted recalls driving and ploughing with four horses in line
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