Wiltshire accent: George and Brian reminisce about growing up in Melksham in the 1930s



This recording is an example of a West Country dialect and Wiltshire accent.

West Country dialect

A very traditional feature of West Country dialect is the use of the second person pronoun, ye. Listen to the way George says woe betide ye if you didn’t turn up properly dressed. The history of the second person pronoun in English is fascinating, with forms such as thou, thee, you and ye jockeying for different functions at different times and in different parts of the UK. In the earliest recorded versions of English ye was used exclusively as a plural form. It later served as a respectful form (like modern French ‘vous’), contrasting with the familiar form thou (modern French ‘tu’), although in West Country dialect it took the role of object pronoun.

In most English dialects, you has proved all-conquering and now stands for the second person in all contexts. You might, however, still encounter thou and thee among older speakers in northern England and ye is occasionally still heard in the West Country –  again, only among older speakers and nowadays usually in question forms or, as here, in commands. Elsewhere in the UK – in Scotland and Ireland, for instance – ye survives, although its exact function varies from place to place. You might also have encountered a relatively ‘new’ plural form, youse, that has emerged in places like Liverpool, Newcastle and Middlesbrough, possibly under the influence of Scottish and Irish usage.

Listen also to the way George and Brian use the verb do in the following statements: if we’d ever spoke to the teachers like they do speak to the teachers today and mother did come and get us out of bed. This again is a traditional feature of speech in parts of the West Country and Wales, although it is perhaps no longer as common among younger speakers. It rather accurately expresses the idea of repeated or habitual action – something someone does on a regular basis.

West Country accent

Finally, both speakers share a number of pronunciations that are characteristic of a West Country accent. Above all, they are both rhotic speakers – they pronounce the <r> sound after a vowel, at one time a feature of speech throughout the UK and until relatively recently still widely heard across much of southern England. Today it is increasingly restricted to the West Country and the far South West a small area of Lancashire and most of Scotland and Ireland. There are numerous instances here, but you will hear good examples if you listen carefully to the way George and Brian pronounce the words farm, work, here, there, where, uniform, turn up, father, mother, first, harvest, carthorses, grinder and Air Force.

About the speakers

George Gregory (b.1927; male)

Brian Hunt (b.1934; male)



George: Well, it was, it, the, it were totally different to what it is today. I mean, for a start, there was more industry in the town and the Avon was going full bolt.[1] We had Spencer’s, an internationally known engineering firm here in the town. We had the Wiltshire Farmers, provender millers, we had what local people always called the Ar, Ark, which was Earne Brothers, that done all timber work, trellis and so like. We had, uh, Maggs’s, the rope factory. We had, uh, the feather factory, which was Sawtell’s and, uh, there was a lot more working farms when I was a, a, a, a boy. And we also had the market here. We had our market every Tuesday. Uh, course, there was no George Ward school here then. The big school then in the t, area was Lowbourne, which is now the, what is it, Infants School now, isn’t it? Uh, and, uh, we didn’t get lifts to school like they do today. No matter where in the area you lived, you had to walk to school. And you had to be there on time. And you had to be there in the uniform laid down by the headmaster. And woe betide ye if you didn’t turn up properly dressed. Uhm.

Chris: What do you remember of school?

George: Oh, I hated school. Mind, I regretted it many times afterwards, but I hated school. I absolutely hated school. My love as a boy were the horses and if I could go, get up where there were some horses being worked and that. And I was lucky enough to have members of the family that were horse people and that. Uh, and I used to run into quite a lot of trouble, uh, through absenteeing myself from school, if there were a new colt being broken in or anything like that, Georgie were missing [laughs], but they always knew where to find me. Ah. And in the end they, they put a stop to it, they sent, uh, the, uh s, the school attendance officer. Mr Lucas his name were, he was a tall fellah, he used to ride a bike. And he came to visit father and mother and Mr Bryce at the farm. And he laid the law down and if Georgie didn’t behave hisself and they didn’t make sure I went to school, I were going to get put in a naughty boys’ home. But, uh, mind, I were silly, because I realised years later that I missed out a lot through not getting a proper schooling and that. And I have regretted it since. But that was me, that was, uh, but, uh, schooling in them days was totally different. Totally different. Uh, and I’m afraid, uh, there have been occasions just recently when I’ve, uh, been in school at, uh, uh, uh, schoolyards and that. I’m afraid if we’d ever spoke to the teachers like they do speak to the teachers today or wandered about and act like they do today, I’m afraid we’d’ve been in all kinds of trouble. There ain’t no doubt about that, no doubt about it at all.

Chris: Does that ring any bells with you?

Brian: Yes, well, my, my earliest rec, recollections really, is, I started school in April nineteen-thirty-nine and I think one thing that I, I remember vividly the day I started school was having my own peg with your name on. And I think I had a little rabbit by the side. But, of course, that was, the war broke out in September, so I started school just before the war broke out and then, my next recollections really, I suppose’d be the air raid sirens going and mother did come and get us out of bed and we’d have to sit downstairs and just wait and wait until every, till we, the all clear and then we’d go back to bed. But, uh, I liked school, I enjoyed my schooldays very much. I went to Lowbourne School and, uh, I did, I, I enjoyed my, my time at school. But, uh, there’s, uh, there is a lot of things that, uh, I suppose we had to go without. I mean you realise it now, when you see what the, what the youngsters’ve got now, what we had to go without then. We, uh, I don’t suppose we missed some of these things because we, we didn’t, we didn’t experience them in the first place. I mean, such as, uhm, sweets and chocolates and that sort of thing. Whereas, uhm, nowadays they just take it all for granted and, uh, and then again we had to make our own entertainment. Same as George said that, uhm, o, o, opposite us, uh, we lived over Church Lane and just opposite the pub there, there was a farm. It was run by, uhm, Farmer …

George: Ingram.

Brian: … Ingram. That’s right. And us, us, uhm, youngsters, we, we spent a lot of time playing on the farm and, and then we’d help out on the farm, come especially times like, uhm, harvest time and that, we would, we’d perhaps three or four, maybe half a dozen of us kids, we’d take the carthorses up the road and, uh, and help hitch them up and, uh, do the harvesting and all that sort of thing and then I can remember, I can remember, oh, sitting in the barn sorting out all the potatoes. For pig food. And then put them in the big grinder and mash them all up, I, uh, I assume that’s what we were doing, mashing them all up, but, uh, ah, ‘twas just, ‘twas happy days, I think.

Chris: Even though there was a war on.

Brian: Even though there was a war on. I don’t think at the time that we realised the seriousness of a war. I mean, when you, when you think now. You think back at parents, they must’ve been probably worried to death, because I had an elder brother and I, I can remember he joined, he joined the Air Force as a pilot. You didn’t realise it at the time, but I’m sure that parents must’ve been worried to death. All the time. But there again, he surv, he survived it. And, uhm, no, but I, I did, I, I enjoyed childhood anyway.


[1] 1 The Avon is the river that flows through Melksham.

Wiltshire accent: George and Brian reminisce about growing up in Melksham in the 1930s
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