Forty superb and evocative poems, in a 2 CD release, of country life selected from the Collected works of the Dorset Poet William Barnes [ 1801-1886] and read by local dialect speakers. The musical settings of some of the poems are by Tim Laycock.
William Barnes was born near Sturminster Newton in the North of the county, and spent his working life as a schoolteacher and a priest, mostly in the Dorchester area. In his leisure time he drew on his memories of a rural childhood on the banks of the River Stour, and wrote his poetry in the dialect of The Blackmore Vale. Here you will find beautiful and moving depictions of the passing seasons, lively descriptions of country celebrations, and intriguing stories of local triumphs and tragedies. Barnes’ great gift was the ability to make poetry from the everyday comings and goings of family and friends.
The recordings on this double CD first appeared as Lydlinch Bells [ 1978] and Blackmwore by the Stour [ 1981]. They were combined in 2001 into The Year Clock by WildGoose Records, and the musical settings by Tim Laycock were re-recorded. The album also contains Tim singing Linden Lea, using the tune composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The readers were all local people from North Dorset.
Poetry and Songs Performed by:-
Tim Laycock and The New Scorpion Band
‘To where, vor me, the apple tree
Do lean down low in Linden Lea’
William Barnes [ 1801-1886] was a very remarkable man. Born in Sturminster Newton in North Dorset and very largely self-educated, he became an inspirational schoolteacher and later a compassionate and caring priest. In his leisure time he wrote poems about his early life growing up in the Blackmore Vale, and chose the Dorset dialect as the best means to convey the essence and spirit of his native county. The poems are of such beauty, quality and humour, that they are still loved and performed to this day.
The voices you will hear on these recordings are all of people who lived and worked in the Vale. The initial recording, Lydlinch Bells, was very largely based on Giles Dugdale’s lovely selection ‘Poems Grave and Gay’, and this was the book that many of the local readers around Fontmell Magna used in the 1960’s. Favourites such as John Bloom in Lon’on, The Shepherd o’ the Farm, The Wold Waggon and The Geate a-Vallen To can all be found here. Many people also have cherished copies of ‘Poems of Rural Life in the Dorset Dialect’ [the collected works first published in 1879], where all the other poems in this compilation can be found, with the exception of The Young Rhymer Snubb’d.
In 1801, the year of William Barnes’ birth, at least 90% of the population of the Blackmore Vale would have spoken in a dialect that we would now have difficulty in understanding. It was a language rooted in the countryside, full of specialised terms for the techniques of hand-farming, for the natural flora and fauna, rich with local anecdote and story. It was an entirely oral language, with vowel and consonant sounds passed down over many generations; perhaps, as Barnes maintained, from the time of King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons.
Even in his own time, Barnes was very aware how the dialect was being weakened and diluted. The farmers and tradesmen who sent their sons to his school in Dorchester expected them to be educated out of a Dorset accent; for then, as now, a West country accent was snobbishly regarded as the lazy speech of country bumpkins who were too silly and slow to speak properly. It was to fight against this perception,, and to help his countrymen take pride in their native accent, that Barnes gave lectures on ‘The History of the Western English Folk Speech’, and then entertained his audience with readings of his poems.
We have all become very used to the all-pervading influence of television, with its marked preference for urban accents; but it is good to remind ourselves of the way our forebears spoke and thought, and of the close relationship that they had with the land. We should celebrate the Dorset accent, use it and cherish it as an integral part of the character of the area, just as much as the Jurassic Coast, and Maiden Castle, and all the other spectacular landscape features that make our county so attractive. The language belongs to the landscape, and the poems of William Barnes remind us of what we still have, as well as the life we have lost.
Zoo now let none of us vorget
The pattern our vorefathers set…
This CD is dedicated to the memory of Charlie Andrews, Ethel Gumbleton, Frank Hilliar, Margaret Knott and David Strawbridge, whose voices can be heard on these recordings; and to Tom Fox of Sturminster Newton, who loved these poems, and farmed the land once worked by the family of William Barnes.
Tim Laycock, Littlebredy June 2020
Most of this poetry on this album was originally released on Lydlinch Bells and Blackmwore by the Stour and was recorded by Andy Jackson, Russ Barnes and Chris Hardcastle.
New recordings by Tim Laycock were made and edited by Paul Sartin, Rob Harbron and Doug Bailey at WildGoose Studios.
Cover photograph taken by George Laycock, with kind permission of Dorset County Museum.
Originally Produced by Tim Laycock for Forest Tracks c 2001.