Where’s Our Spake Gone? The Oldbury Tattles
Bursary Artist for Where’s Our Spake Gone?
A Heritage Lottery Funded Project
To me the most striking aspect of Black Country Dialect has always been the plethora of tiny tales within it, and through my researches it became apparent that this was very much an oral tradition much in the same way as Celtic and Cornish mythologies The tales are there, a rich tapestry of mankind living alongside industry. However, these tales are not woeful Dickensian moral fables (albeit containing hardships enough for such fare) but are infused with the pride and spirit of the region..
The most consistent theme running through all aspects of my research for WOSG? has been the garrulous nature of the people of the area. From shopkeepers to elderly gents looking up their family history, there has always been an enthusiastic discussion of… anything. And everything. These ‘canting sessions’ (traditionally hosted by matriarchs) generally begin “How bist?” and continue as a combination of catch up, counselling service and news bulletin. This led to the development of a performance called ‘The Cantess’, a figure who encourages all comers to engage in such group discussion.
I have also sought to include a Medieval element to some of the embroidered work to celebrate the dialect’s status as the oldest form of spoken English in existence. The fame of the areas industrial heritage is being explored by creating hangings in the style of Union Banners, the first of which is titled ‘The Town of Four Moons’ (based on a nickname given to Oldbury whose blast furnaces gave off light enough to avoid the need for gas illumination at night for many years).
The survival and evolution of the dialect continues through the joy of its use.