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Norfolk Tales

Chapter D : The Land

(Paras. 1 to 9)

2. Horses :  3. Structures :  4. Elementary
5. Wet, Wet, Wet
  7. On The Wild Side :  8. Creepy Crawlies
9. The Seasons

1 : Dry Land

Not altogether, of course.
There are rivers, streams  (becks),  ponds etc.
But the really watery areas are the Norfolk
Broads, which deserve a chapter to themselves.
Equally, the open sea is quite unlike the Broads.

We have described these three parts of the
Norfolk environment as the  Holy Trinity!

4 subdivisions can be considered for each part :-
Elements, Wildlife, Crops, Trades.

  • Elements : land, fields, trees, hedges etc.;
          waterways, marshes
  • Wildlife : from birds to rabbits/deer -
          except "livestock"
  • Crops : arable, but also the rearing of
          livestock; and fishing
  • Trades : farmworkers, boatmen and
          "support services" - from blacksmiths
           to sail-menders.
As I am completely out-of-my-depth in all these
matters, what follows is just a resume of
indigenous Norfolk terms, most of them nearly
obsolete since "mechanisation" arrived.

2 : Horses

These are virtually extinct in the
farming community.
They don't fit well into any of the above
categories, but can be considered as former
"tools of the trade" - like the plough or
harvester they used to be attached-to!

Types of horse include :

  • cob  (common or garden  hoss !);
  • hobby  (a pony) : mostly used to pull a
        trap  (a small carriage);
  • nobby  is a young colt; and
  • runcie  is a cart-horse.
"Skewbald" horses (brown and white)
are  shall  [shell] horses.

A shaft-horse, in a team, is a  filler  (or  thiller).
teamer  was defined as a team of 5 horses :
2 for morning work, 2 for afternoon, and one
resting (on a five-day cycle).
Predictably a  team-man   was put in charge.

Confusingly, the horses' harness gear for
attachment to a cart, was  thillers  (plural)
or - more generally - trairces. [traces]
Although the standard term  yoke  was also used,
the bridle or halter was known as a  du(t)fin.
Whippletree  or  swingle-bar   is the term for
the draw-bar (on a plough or harrow) to which
the horses' harness  (trairces)  were attached.

In turn, the fastenings between the whippletree
and the machine were called  hostrees. 
The word  tree  seems to refer back to
the wooden bar (?)

The blaze on a horse's face,
so beloved of "townies" is a  shim.
The ribbons and plaited straw, for decorating
horses at horse-fairs, are other examples of
things  tricolair(t)ed   (up).

Ancient commands given to horses, at work in
the field etc., include  keppier hol(t)  (go left);
cup  (come up?) or  cubbear  to do the same.
To go right required  weesh  [or weesht].

Finally the  hol(t)   (halt) command,
to stop, of course.

3 : Structures

Horses needed stables etc. and their
owners all manner of other buildings.
Many of these had the word  house
included in the title, abbreviated to  us :-
  • Backus - back-house i.e. scullery or
                outhouse, in which the
                backus-booy  slaved away;
  • Nea(t)us - a cattle-shed (why neat??);
    or ne(tt)us;
  • Travus - the trave-house; part of
                the village  "smithy"
                (E.8 - the working yard);
  • Washus - wash-house
                (forerunner of the launderette!)
There were also barns and haystacks etc.,
but the names were those in common use.
The humble, but essential  post
(any kind, except letters) is a  stulp.

Prior to the combine-harvester and tractor
(and ignoring the plough), some larger
pieces of equipment in use were :-

  • The sail-reaper  (horse-drawn and capable
                of cutting 10 acres of corn per day);
  • The  seed-fiddle   (scatterer) i.e. seed from
                a container via a wheel turned by
                the action of a bow, like that of
                a violin, with a leather thong;
  • The  morphrey  (convertible tumbril/wagon).
                From e.g.  anthropomorphic (Gk.).
  • A specialised 4-wheel carriage for moving
                tree-trunks is a  drug   (from  drag?).

  • ^Top^

4 : Elementary

Cultivated (or indeed virgin i.e. undeveloped)
land was not as devoid of trees, hedges and
wildlife in those past years - before intensive farming.

No doubt there were, indeed are, descriptions
of soil-types etc.; but cultivation used to be
a family affair, in stable (no pun!) communities,
perhaps over centuries.
They knew the ground like the back-of-the-hand.

Manuring ( muckspreedin' ) used natural
materials. A  muckup  was a manure-heap,
not a bad mistake.

Chalk or chalky clay  (marl)  was used on
some soils, and dug from a  marlpi(t) -
a name attached to a Norwich pub !.

Working, especially ploughing, the land (aside
from horse-handling) had its own jargon :-
Topographical :

  • Balk (or baulk) - a ridge deliberately
                left unploughed [1];
  • Carnser - a raised road or causeway;
  • Carr - a clump of trees (to be left alone!);
  • Drift - a lane;
  • Look [Loke] - also a lane or alley,
                usually sheltered by hedges etc.;
  • Fowle(t)e - crossroads;
  • Grundle - narrow, sunken trackway;
  • Plantin' - plantation (young trees);
  • Ringes - trees in lines or rows;
  • Scald - the highest part of the field.
N.B. "proper" roads ( of which Norfolk still
has few  enow )  are called  turnpikes
(taanpoikes),  to this very day.
Shades of the new road-pricing??
    [1] Usually marking the boundaries
          between differently-"owned" plots.
Ploughing :
  • Backstroike - to plough the same area
                twice (turning it back);
  • Cooms - ridges formed between
                horse-tracks and wheel-ruts;
  • Hidlan(d)s - (headlands) NOT the highest,
                but the outside edges of the field;
  • Ollan(d)s - old pastures,
                ploughed-up for crops;
  • Ooverwar(t) - ploughing or harrowing
                across (at right angles from before);
  • Pan - crushing the earth with
                heavy vehicles or much rain;
  • Poigh(t)le - small field or enclosure;
  • Riffle - lighter touch than ploughing, by
                breaking-up for shallow cultivation;
  • Rigs - space between furrows (ridges?);
  • Scu(t)es - difficult angular corners of an
                oddly-shaped field.

  • ^Top^

5 : Wet, Wet, Wet

Undoubtedly, the weather provided all the
difficulty, and worse - unpredictability - that
farmers could wish  not  to have.
Even in dry weather, however, some aspects
of the countryside always needed
"working with water", often anticipating
the rains to come - with drainage provision.

Lowlands :

  • Brashy - overgrown with rushes;
  • Pulk (pulk-hole) - a small pond or spring;
  • Slad - flooded land or hollow between 2 hills;
  • Smeath - open area of low-lying land;
  • Spong - narrow strip of marshy ground.
Contrary to the Dutch usage, a dam
is a large stretch of marshes.

Drains :
The term  dyke  was sometimes replaced by
deke, then sometimes used for
the opposite (a bank !).

  • Flee(t) - shallow; &  flee(t)en - to make
                shallow : as in a dyke or pool; 
  • Grip  or gripple - small drain or watercourse;
  • Grup - shallow trench (as  grip ) or a rut
                (potentially water-filled!);
  • Holl - another word for ditch, dry ditch
                or just a hole;
  • Lood [lode] - a man-made watercourse,
                so rather the opposite of a drain!;
  • Pangle - a badly-drained field.
If, despite the above efforts, the ground
remained wet, it might be described as :
slop,  or  slub  (mud) or  dauby  (muddy).
We already know that a stream is a  beck.
ligger  is a plank placed over a ditch,
as a bridge. [ lig = lie ? ]

6 : Management

Other than  constructing  drains.

When there were trees and hedges,
they had to be kept in good order
(hence their wholesale destruction) :-

  • Buck(h)ead - to trim the overgrown
  • Brush - hedge-trimming, again;
                 the residue being  brushin(g)s;
  • Doddle - a pollarded tree;
  • Draw - to clean out a ditch (dyke);
  • Flash - to cut a hedge (overall);
  • Rodin(g) - more dyke clearing.
A divided plot, giving a small piece of land is
lond  (rather confusing?).
Difficult areas of land include untidy
undergrowth called  brumbles  (  brambles ? ).
    A tuft of rough grass is a  flag;
    whilst marsh grass is  fob  or  fog;  and
    twitch-grass is  "early-peep"  ( arly-peep ).
The term  brush   was equally used for cutting
weeds, with a scythe or such.

A genuine, and routine (rural) bonfire, consists
of clumps of grass as well as other vegetable
matter hacked-away earlier.
Hence the term  flagfoire,  instead of  bonfire.
This kind of fire often involves damp or
"green" material, and burns slowly and fitfully :
tha(t) squinder.

Sneakily, under this heading, we will mention
the (once more) numerous rabbits  (cooneys );
which were always a mixed blessing.
Management required the numbers be kept
under control - what better way than eating them?

To skin a rabbit (once caught!) is to  flair  it
(fleer), derived from  flay.
Rabbits are an example, along with poultry,
of  hollow-meat  (i.e. not disjointed, as when
obtained from a butcher).

To  hulk   is to skin and gut the rabbit.
Rabbits would have one leg passed through
the sinews of the other, to facilitate carrying.
Handy if more than one are caught . . .
this practise being to  huddle  the animal.

7 : On The Wild Side

Common lands (under threat through the
centuries) can, even now, provide food for
animals plus human "recreation".
A common right of pasture, over any land,
is a  going,  but pronounced (as ever)  gorn.

Birds are pretty and lovely to "townies"
and can do no wrong.
Perhaps you will think  differen(t)  the next
time a  dow  (wood-pigeon) attacks the vegetable-patch!.

Farmers have always had bother with crows,
and may still use a scarecrow or  mawkin.
Bird-scaring had the perverse name of

There is a separate listing of all the smaller
birds, which are (or were) very varied and
large in number of sub-species.
The smallest bird in a nest is the  nest-gulp
(after the mother's  sea(t),  or sitting)

We have mentioned the rabbit  (coney),  but
the hare seems to have the most nicknames :
Bandy (hind legs), Sally, Sarah, Sukey.

Other animals include :-
Badge(t) (badger); Biddles (young chickens);
Brawn (wild boar); Minifer (stoat or weasel);
Moll (mole); Mouse-(h)unt (stoat, again);
Ranny (shrew-mouse).

In watery locations one might find :

  • Mardlins (ducklings OR duckweed!);
  • flapper, a young wild duck;
  • bay-duck, a brightly-coloured shell-duck;
  • ducklings called  widdles  instead.
When diving for food underwater
the ducks were said to  bibble.
Gloat  (pronounced  gloo(t)  or  gla(t) )
is the word for eel.
Tadpoles rejoiced in various names :
pollywiggle, pot-lairdle, poddle-lairdle [-ladle].
Also common were : stannickles  (sticklebacks);
and  swifts   (newts).

A rough-coated (diseased ?) animal
e.g. a rabbit, is a  shrog.
Rats are, as ever, a menace. If one is cornered,
its terrified noise is called  chi(tt)ering  [chatter].

[ Other common creatures, e.g. frogs & toads,
are mentioned  elsewhere  (J.5) ]

8 : Creepy Crawlies

We have mentioned common insects and
other small creatures : such as ants, wasps,
ladybirds, woodlice and snails, in the main text
"Norfolk Talk".

Other cases include :

  • Bandy-wicke(t) (cricket);
  • Canker (caterpillar, also field poppy!);
  • Choovy (beetle - e.g. the cockchafer);
  • Erriwiggle (earwig);
  • King George (peacock or similar butterfly);
  • Ki(tt)ywitches (cockchafer again);
  • Merrymay (mayfly or dragonfly);
  • Miller (moth);
  • Mingins (gnats and midges);
  • Mitchamador (the ever-popular cockchafer!);
  • Tom-breezer (dragonfly again).

  • ^Top^

9 : The Seasons

Not the Vivaldi version!.
Seasons, not just the standard four, were
pivotal in the rural way of life - still are, except
that (say) the "Growmore  far(t)iloizer  season"
might replace  muckspreedin'  (autumnal application of animal manure).
Then there are regular sprayings of chemicals,
to replace continual backbending weeding . . .

The harvest was described by that standard
term (although post-harvest is  shack-toime );
but many dialect words were employed to
describe the end-products of harvesting and
the methods involved (see below).

The Old English term  sele  (shortened to sel)
was used to unify the seasonal names :

  • Barleysel - (the time for sowing barley);
  • Wheatsel - (for sowing wheat);
  • Haysel - etc. etc.
Hence "I said Good Day" becomes -
Oi give 'im the sele-a the day [ sele of ].

Easter Day etc. and all religious holidays
(holy days) were observed, well, religiously.

Few other days were named, beyond Saints'
days - including  St. Winwaloe,  a local hero;
on 3rd March.
His name was shortened to  Winnol.

The old Michaelmas day was also known as
Packrag Day.  It was a day when many
customarily changed employment.
It was a fortunate man or woman who had
a rise in wages, whether moving or not.
Hained  is the local term for raised
(costs, prices etc.)

Our bin hained !!  (whoopee !!).

A Norfolk expression for the terms of
employment providing NO wages, but
with board and lodging instead, is
mea(t) fer manners.
See the 
Truck Acts  in Section M.5

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