I have always been addicted to books and despite running out of shelf space long ago I am unable to stop buying more. A volume I couldn’t resist came my way in the summer which is a modern reprint of an 1882 “Glossary of West Worcestershire Words” by Edith L Chamberlain. Many of the words were familiar, thanks to my Tenbury-descended mother-in-law, and some I know to still be in use. I thought it would be of interest to share a few nature-related words and to see if they are commonly understood today.
Some local bird names that I had come across before were mumruffin, a word for a long-tailed tit, quice for a wood pigeon and eacle for a woodpecker. However, maggot for magpie, jacky-wobstraw for a blackcap and throstle for a thrush were all new to me. Likewise I was familiar with coppy, meaning a small coppice, sally-bed for bed of willow and bannuts for walnuts, butan ellern turns out to be an elder tree, a witty-tree a mountain ash and an oller an alder.
I particularly liked the old names for insects. Humbuzz instead of cockchafer I thought very apt, but I also liked erriwig which I’m sure you can guess and black-bat which was a black beetle, though not to be confused with an actual bat, also known as a leatherun-bat.Plants in the list included cuckoo’s bread and cheese, as a name for wood-sorrel, bloody butchers for early purple orchids (shown above) and oxberries for the bright red berries of Lords-and-Ladies. The juice of oxberries could apparently be used as a cure for warts. An even more unlikely remedy was the use of something called dodment to treat shingles. This was an ointment made from grease mixed with some dust from a church bell – surely now obsolete!
For animals, hardishrew for a fieldmouse seems a nice name and the word fitchet was given to the pole-cat. Fitchet-pie, I was relieved to read, did not involve any wild creature but was a pie made with chopped fat bacon, onions and apples. A want or oont was a mole who pushed up hills or tumps, but these were not to be confused with anti-tumps, which were made by ants.
I would also like to share some old West Worcestershire country sayings. Then as now the weather featured large in conversation so “Much February snow a fine summer doth show”, “Mist in May and heat in June will bring the harvest very soon” and “a good year of kidney beans, a good year of hops” are probably true today. I shall commit to memory this old saying, too, “Twenty young, thirty strong, forty wise or never none”.
Finally, a word about food, or should I say fittle? My mother-in-law would have been horrified at this observation by Mrs Chambers with respect to the local delicacy known as “faggits”. “A very unappetising kind of rissole, sold at small provision shops” she condescended. Or made at home to a proud family recipe and adored by all, according to those who know better.