Recording of the Month, January 2014: “These New-Fangled Ways” (A Ballad of Protest)

Our  Sound Archivist Martin Astell begins a series for us of monthly highlights from the Essex Sound and Video Archive…

“These New-Fangled Ways” (A Ballad of Protest), SA 24/222/1

To begin this series and to be our first ‘Recording of the Month’ I have chosen one of the oldest recordings held in the Essex Sound and Video Archive. The exact date the recording was made is not known, but it is thought to be around 1905 or 1906. It is taken from one side of a double-sided 78rpm shellac disc on the “Jumbo” label, and consists of a poem written, and in this case spoken, by Charles E. Benham.

These New-Fangled Ways crop white

The poem is subtitled A Ballad of Protest as it satirises the curmudgeonly views of an old country fellow who cannot see the benefits of change and such modern contrivances as parish councils and board schools. Although it relates particularly to the late nineteenth century – which was, indeed, a time of great change – nevertheless, the theme can be seen as more or less universal, reminding us that we all may have a tendency to regard new developments as dangerous, retrograde or, at the very least, unnecessary.

Charles E. Benham published his Essex Ballads and Other Poems in 1895. He took a keen interest in the Essex dialect and the thirteen Essex ballads were written in this manner ‘to perpetuate many archaic and interesting forms of folk speech.’ It was later that he was asked to make sound recordings of a number of these poems, as he explains in the Transactions of the Yorkshire Dialect Society (Part XIX, Volume III, December 1917, p.22):

“Some time before the war a student from Berlin named Theodor Albrecht, came to me in order that I should correct his vocal interpretation of my Essex Ballads. Friends warned me to have nothing to do with him, as even then it was suspected that he was trying to acquire the east coast dialect for sinister purposes. Be that as it may, the country was not endangered by his visit, for the accent with which he solemnly read the book was such that he never could have made himself understood in Essex, much less have passed himself off as a native. However, he appeared satisfied, and he wrote and published an extensive thesis or “inaugural dissertation” on the Essex Ballads which gained him the degree of Doctor at the University, and the University itself commissioned me to have phonograph records made of four of the ballads to be deposited in Berlin.”

You may have to listen to the recording a few times before you are able to discern every word but if you want to cheat, the poem is transcribed on its SoundCloud page. However, you may notice that the author recites some of the verses in a slightly different order than in the published version. And by the way, the word ‘tares’ which appears in the poem is given as “rough grass, weeds” in Edward Gepp’s A Contribution to an Essex Dialect Dictionary (London, 1920) but is defined in James Britten’s Old Country and Farming Words: Gleaned from Agricultural Books (London, 1880) rather more specifically as Vicia Sativa, or the common vetch, which is grown as livestock fodder or as a soil-fertilising plant.

Many more examples of Essex dialect and accents can be heard in recordings held in the Essex Sound and Video Archive, and the ERO library contains dialect dictionaries, plays and novels written in dialect, and numerous papers discussing the subject (particularly in the Essex Review). The Essex Sound and Video Archive has a source list (ESVA Sources on dialect) which will help you to identify some good examples of recordings, or you could purchase a copy of our CD called How to Speak Essex: 20th Century Voices from the Essex Sound and Video Archive; please e-mail or telephone 01245 244644 for more information.

Written examples of dialect speech are a valuable resource for the academic, but nothing can be better than hearing the real thing. As Charles Benham says:

“But to preserve for future generations the distinctive intonation, accent, and inflection, there is still needed the gramophone record, and this important aid should not be overlooked by the devout dialect-philologist.”

(‘The Essex Dialect’ by Charles E. Benham, The Essex Review, Volume XXIX, 1920, p.159)

And perhaps he should have added that there is still needed an accessible sound archive in which these treasures can be preserved, and that should not be overlooked either.

How to Speak Essex: 20th Century Voices from the Essex Sound and Video Archive

Martin Astell, our Sound and Video Archivist, blogs for us about one of the things Essex is most famous for – its accent…

Are you looking for a Christmas gift with a difference? Our CD called How to Speak Essex: 20th Century Voices from the Essex Sound and Video Archive may be just the thing for that awkward relative or friend who seemingly has everything.

How to Speak Essex

The CD includes examples of Essex accents and dialect recorded in the twentieth century. The earliest example dates from 1906, while the majority are recordings of people born between 1900 and 1940. The CD includes both speech and song, with examples from across the county.

I wanted to produce the CD both as a way of promoting the Essex Sound and Video Archive – not everybody is aware that the Essex Record Office collects and preserves sound recordings and videos – and in order to present genuine examples of the way ordinary people in Essex spoke in the twentieth century.

The decline of the Essex dialect and accent, and the seemingly unstoppable spread of theLondonaccent, has been discussed and mourned a great deal in recent times. When people think of the language of Essex they are most likely these days to think of ‘Estuary English’ rather than a soft and lyrical rural accent akin to that heard still in other parts of East Anglia. On the other hand, someEssexresidents can, perhaps, have a nostalgic or exaggerated view of the accents used by former generations. Our CD should provide enough genuine examples to enable a realistic understanding of the language of Essex people born prior to the Second World War.

The recordings should also demonstrate the diversity of accents in Essex. I have split the county into ten geographical areas so that the listener can compare, for instance, the accents of villages in the north of the county borderingSuffolkwith areas of historic Essex now deemed to be part of Greater London. However, even within these relatively small areas a good deal of variety can be heard.

The extracts cover a range of topics and will hopefully provide some insight into life inEssexduring the twentieth century. I have tried to group them in ways which provide a degree of narrative, thus helping to make the CD enjoyable as well as instructive. However, the main effect should be to bring alive the speakers and their use of language.

The CD is available direct from the Essex Record Office priced at £10.20, including postage and packing. You can order your copy by telephoning 01245 244644, or writing to: Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT, enclosing a cheque made payable to Essex County Council.