Sunday 11 November 2018

The Real Harriet Agnes McDougall

This blog has been published on 11 November 2018 in order to coincide with the 100-year commemorations of the Armistice and the publication of my latest historical novel, Ghost Swifts, Blue Poppies and the Red Star. The following contains information from the book, which would reveal plot and certainly spoil your enjoyment!

The image on the front cover of my historical fiction novella, Ghost Swifts, Blue Poppies and the Red Staris how I pictured Harriet Agnes McDougall to have been in the immediate months following the Armistice on 11thNovember 1918. The life which I imagined for her is retold in this book. It is a work of fiction, although it has some basis in fact, which is outlined in this blog.

Harriet Agnes McDougall was a real person, being very distantly related to me (my first cousin, four times removed, to be precise). She was born Harriet Agnes Dengate in 1853 to James and Harriet Dengate (née Catt) and was baptised on the 8thMay 1853 in the parish church of Sedlescombe, East Sussex. 

St John's Church, Sedlescombe 

The 1861 census shows Harriet as an eight-year-old scholar, living with her parents and five siblings in Sedlescombe. Her father, James, having left the milling trade for which he (alongside all of his brothers) had been trained, was working as a ‘painter journeyman’.

Sedlescombe village

Harriet Agnes Dengate

This wonderful photograph (the only in existence, as far as I am aware) of Harriet was taken around 1867. On the reverse of the photo is written ‘Harriet Dengate, Uncle James’s eldest daughter.’ The photo was sent out to Pennsylvania, USA to Harriet’s cousins, Christopher and James Dengate, who had emigrated with their mother in 1856 following the death of their father, John Dengate. This, alongside several other pieces of documentation seems to show that Harriet was a well-regarded member of the Dengate family, appearing on several official documents over the years with a variety of different family members.

In 1881, twenty-seven-year-old Harriet is recorded living with her aunt, Sarah Jarvis (née Dengate), Sarah’s husband, Edward and another aunt, Elizabeth Dengate in Station Road, Etchingham, Sussex. Two years later, Harriet was witness to her brother, George William Dengate’s marriage to Sarah Isabella Hunt in Lewisham parish church and in 1901, when her second cousin, Harriet Elgar died, she was bequeathed her entire estate, totalling £799.

On the 6th September 1887, Harriet married John McDougall, a civil engineer. They married in St Mary’s Church, West Malling, Kent and witnesses to the occasion were Harriet’s sister, Naomi Dengate and her uncle by marriage, Edward Jarvis. Four years later, the couple were recorded as living in Woodland Cottage, Belle Grove in Welling, Kent with their two elder children, John Fraser (known as Fraser) and Malcolm. Also living with the family was a female servant, Louisa Perfect.

By 1901 the family had grown to include a third son, Edward Cecil and they were now living in a larger house at 98 Lee Road in Lewisham, on the outskirts of London. Harriet’s sister, Susannah Dengate was also with the family at the time of the census. The three McDougall boys attended Blackheath Proprietary School in London. A history of the school notes that Fraser was ‘one of the most prominent members’ of the 1901-1902 football team.

Ten years later the McDougalls are living in a larger still detached house named ‘Arlington’ (number 19) in Bromley Common, Kent. Fifty-seven-year-old John McDougall was employed as a Civil Engineer for London County Council and the three boys were all at university. Fraser was twenty-two-years-old and studying Civil Engineering at Goldsmith’s Institute, as was his youngest brother, eighteen-year-old Edward Cecil. Malcolm, twenty-one was attending Bromley School of Art studying chemistry, something which would have a significant and devastating bearing on his service in the First World War.

This snapshot of Harriet’s family in 1911, living in a decent house with her husband earning a good wage and her three boys all at university with bright futures in front of them, must have been everything, which she had ever desired. The far-away political alliances quietly forming around the world, which would ultimately lead to the First World War must have seemed inconsequential to Harriet in her comfortable life in Kent.

But then war did come. And the three brothers answered their country’s call, each joining a different regiment in the British Army. Malcolm signed up with the Royal West Kents; Edward enlisted with the London Regiment of the Queen’s Westminster Rifles and Fraser joined the Middlesex Regiment. Unfortunately, only Fraser’s military records exist among the ‘burnt’ files. These records state that he was living at 19 Bromley Common when he enlisted on the 4thDecember 1915, that he was aged 27 years and 8 months, and that he was five foot five inches with a chest measuring 35 inches.

At some point around the early months of the First World War, Harriet and John returned to Sedlescombe. Perhaps, at the age of sixty, John had retired from his job in London. The couple moved into Linton House, a spacious home overlooking the village green. Also living in the village were Harriet’s brother, John and his family and their siblings, Naomi and Herbert, both of whom had married a brother and sister also called Dengate (only very distantly related!). Given what was about to happen to Harriet, having three of her siblings living close by must have been a great comfort to her.

Linton House, Sedlescombe

Little is known about Harriet during the early years of the war, but from 1917 life became very difficult for her. Edward, her youngest son, had, since April 1916 been stationed in Macroom, County Cork, Ireland following the Easter Rising in and around Dublin, but was sent briefly to France and then on to Salonika, Greece in December 1916. Nine days after arriving in Salonika, on the 3rdJanuary 1917, Edward died. His cause of death is currently unknown, although around this time in Salonika, a large number of soldiers were succumbing to malaria. 

Having received the telegram that their youngest son had died, six months later Harriet and John received more devastating news: Malcolm had also been killed.

Although he had initially signed up as a private in the Royal West Kents, Malcolm was transferred to the Royal Engineer Brigade, specifically to P Company of the 4th Battalion, a gas cylinder company responsible for releasing poisonous gasses from the trenches against the German lines. They were appallingly nicknamed ‘The Suicide Company’. These Special Brigades had been created in March 1916, attracting both new recruits and, as in Malcolm’s case, transfers from other regiments where there was previous experience or knowledge of chemistry.

The newly formed Brigades were sent to Helfaut, France for their training. According to Donald Richter’s book, Chemical Soldiers, ‘Each day began with a half hour of quick-time marching, followed by a full day of drills, lectures, and practice, varied throughout the week…The pioneers endured the obligatory exposure to gas-filled chambers, long practice sessions with gas masks, physical drill, helmet drill, revolver drill, meteorological practice, frequent kit and arms inspections, trench digging, emplacement construction…’ Following their rudimentary training, the Special Brigades were sent to the front in mid-June 1916.

Richter provides an insightful account of the weeks leading up to the end of Malcolm’s life in P Company: ‘Under severe time constraints, [Major] Pollitt sent for P and G Companies from their Third Army fronts where the retreating enemy had just deprived them of targets. P Company, following its gas discharge at Arras, had just been withdrawn from the line for much needed rest but, on 4thApril, began a three-day route march southward to the area of Croisilles and Ecoust. Both companies spent most of three days slogging through snow and heavy rain. On the night of 6th April, wet and exhausted, they rushed up the line to support the short-notice Bullecourt operation of V Corps and I Anzac Corps… Having thus overcome the first-stage transport problems, Pollitt learned during the evening of 8th April that the promised infantry carrying parties were a hundred men short. Under these circumstances both G and P Companies, after a night of unloading and storing the drums and charges, negotiated three successive round-trips up the line, wrestling 320 of the 450 projectors into firing position. The next morning, the two companies, working under cover of the houses, carried the bombs from the crater to the centre of the village, and later that night, the rest of the way to the front. The projector shoot of 9/10th April was mechanically flawless and the wind a perfect west-southwest at five to ten mph. When the infantry went over the top, however, they encountered severe gunfire and were repulsed with heavy casualties. From the 7th to the 14th, both P and G Companies worked at the front, resetting and firing projectors and marching twelve miles to and from billets every night.’

Despite all of this arduous and highly dangerous work, Malcolm continued with P Company, also surviving a deadly attack on the 5th/6th May 1917, when G and P Companies were tasked with carrying projectors 250 yards from a drop-off point where wagons full of explosives were being emptied, to the firing point close to the frontline at Bullecourt. It was during this unloading that a chance shell landed close to the drop-off point, hitting the wagon containing propellant charges, which all exploded, causing many casualties. As soon as the initial explosion had occurred, the enemy began to launch a tirade of artillery at the area, sending the survivors running for cover in holes in the ground nearby. The Special Companies suffered heavy losses in this attack: 14 soldiers were killed from Z Company, 21 soldiers were killed from P Company and 9 men from G Company were killed. Many more were seriously injured and some of the dead were buried alive under tons of exploded earth. Malcolm survived this attack, but two months later he was not so fortunate.

On the 3rd July 1917, Malcolm had been working with his colleagues from P Company in the trenches in the area close to Hill Top Farm, when he retired to Hill Top Farm Trench, a short way behind the frontline. The precise location of the frontline can be seen in the photograph below.

Nathan Dylan Goodwin standing on the frontline

The trench suffered a direct shell hit, seriously wounding Malcolm and two others. Malcolm was taken by stretcher to the Essex Farm Advanced Dressing Station, where he died from his wounds the following day. He was buried in Essex Farm Cemetery, alongside his two comrades, James Bruce Kelso and J.W. Bennett. 

Malcolm McDougall's grave, Essex Farm Cemetery, 2018

The Essex Farm Advanced Dressing Station still stands in its original location and is where the Canadian war poet, John McCrae later wrote the famous poem, ‘In Flanders Fields.’

Essex Farm Dressing Station, 2018

The following month, Harriet’s sister, Naomi also received a telegram from the War Office to say that her son, James ‘Jim’ Dengate had been killed in Karachi, Pakistan.

Jim Dengate

The end of the war on the 11thNovember 1918 must have come as a great relief to Harriet and John McDougall, with their eldest son still serving in the army. Although the war was over, Fraser was still serving, being transferred in April 1919 to the Border Regiment. He had not returned home by the time that his father, John died on the 26thJuly 1919 at Linton House, having suffered heart failure. His death was reported three days later by Harriet’s brother, John Dengate and he was buried in St John’s Church, Sedlescombe on the 30thJuly. In the administration of John McDougall’s death, Harriet was bequeathed £650.

Fraser, having seen service in Cape Town, Hong Kong, Calcutta and Constantinople, managed to return home to Linton House the following month, as a surviving letter in his military records states: ‘I arrived in the UK on leave for 21 days on the 31stAug 19. Will you please let me know where to report on the expiry of my leave and’ [the rest of the letter is burnt].

The reply, enclosing a travel warrant for his journey was sent, instructing Fraser to go to the Commanding Officer of the Border Regiment in Carlisle. He was examined on the 22ndSeptember in The Castle, Carlisle and deemed to be ‘A1’. He also signed to say that he did not claim ‘to be suffering from a disability’ due to his military service. Two days later, at a dispersal unit in Crystal Palace, Fraser was finally demobilised and allowed to return home for good to Linton House.

At some later stage, Harriet’s brother-in-law, James Dengate and his surviving son, Frank built the war memorial inside St John’s Church, Sedlescombe where his son, Jim and Harriet’s two sons are commemorated alongside the rest of the men from the village killed in the war.

Sedlescombe War Memorial

Harriet and Fraser only continued to reside at Linton House for a short while after his return. It would appear that neither Harriet nor Fraser ever worked, being recorded on official documents without employment or as having ‘private means’. There is no evidence to suggest that Fraser ever returned to Civil Engineering. It seems that these ‘private means’ were dwindling and the large, decent homes, which they had been used to for many years could no longer be afforded. By 1921 they had left Sedlescombe and taken occupation of a much smaller second-floor flat in 66 Cambridge Road, Hastings, where they remained until 1926. By 1931 mother and son had moved again, this time half-a-mile away, to 111 Bohemia Road, another small and humble abode. Also living with them at this was Harriet’s spinster sister, Susannah Dengate.

111, Bohemia Road, Hastings, 2008

It was at this address that Harriet died at the age of 78 years, on the 2ndMarch 1933. She died of myocardial degeneration and mitral incompetence. Fraser reported her death the following day and she was buried in St John’s Church, Sedlescombe on the 6thMarch. There is unfortunately no memorial in the churchyard to her or to John.

Fraser McDougall continued to reside at 111 Bohemia Road with his aunt, Susannah until 1937 when he moved to 14 Wellington Road, Hastings. On the 1939 Register he is shown living there with three other single people of around his age (one of them a widow, another a widower). His occupation was listed as ‘private means’.

Fraser died on the 3rdMarch 1959 at St Helen’s Hospital, Hastings of ‘Ishemic heart disease’ (coronary heart disease), aged 70 years. His employment was again stated to be ‘no occupation’. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Hastings Cemetery, bringing a sad end to this line of the family.

Take a look at my YouTube channel, which has a video on some aspects of the real and fictional lives of Harriet Agnes McDougall.

Wednesday 20 June 2018

The origins of Mr Morton Farrier!


So, another blog for you. I’ve been meaning to write this one for a long time now and have finally got around to it. Over the years, lots of people have asked me where the main character of my forensic genealogist series, Morton Farrier originated, so that’s going to be the subject of this blog.

First, his name. In 1998, whilst studying for a BTEC in Media Studies at Shena Simon College in Manchester, I wrote a script intended for TV, entitled The Ghosthunter. I gave the eponymous hero the name Morton Farrier. Why? I can’t remember now but I liked it at the time, as it sounded unusual and like something that would potentially stick in a reader’s or viewer’s mind. Maybe I’d just heard the name Morten Harket, the lead singer of the swedish band a-ha… Who knows! Here’s Morton’s first appearance in the parallel-universe-guise of my Ghosthunter.

So, you see, I don’t know now where the name came from but I liked it anyway and it stuck in my mind. Fast-forward ten years to 2008 when I was part-way through a two-year Master’s Degree in Creative Writing at Canterbury Christ Church University and was required to write a story. At the time, genealogy as a hobby was on the rise, with Who Do You Think You Are? a popular television program helping to promote genealogy as a pastime. I came up with the idea of a genealogist who has to solve a crime in the past, using genealogical research methodology, but who ironically knows little about his own past. So, Morton Farrier, ghost-hunter turned into Morton Farrier, forensic genealogist. I presented the first two chapters tentatively to my fellow postgrad creative writers, who received the story well, which encouraged me to continue writing the story for my final 18,000-word submission. Hiding the Past, with its leading character, Morton Farrier was born.

Yes, Morton was ‘born’ on that MA course and, in fact, he almost died on it, too! My original plan for Hiding the Past was that it would be a one-off, stand-alone story and that Morton would be killed at the end in pursuit of his case. I had just read a book which ended with a ‘in the event of my death…’ kind of letter and thought this would work well with this book. However, based on the feedback from my friends and fellow-writers on the MA course, I re-evaluated this decision and Morton was, thankfully, reprieved to live to take on another case another day!

Lots of people also have asked me over the years if Morton is based on me. When writing the very early drafts of the book, the answer was a tentative ‘sort of’. He drives my favourite car, a Mini and likes a good coffee (or three), just like me. He lives in Rye in a house, which I would love, and spends a lot of time, as do I, relaxing in the abundance of tearooms, cafes and hot-chocolate shops which Rye has to offer. However, when marking my final MA submission, my lecturer suggested that I make a clear distinction and consciously not base Morton on myself or give him my opinions. He felt that writers, who do base a character on themselves, exhibited a tendency to be overly self-critical and self-deprecating, leaving the character devoid of ‘nice’ personality traits. We English tend not to be very good at ‘bigging ourselves up’, even when actually perhaps we really should. I agreed with my lecturer and, from that moment, Morton became like an old friend whom I have known a very long time and whose opinions and views I know well, understand and respect, but might not always actually share.

In my early drafts of Hiding the Past, I featured Morton living with his girlfriend, Juliette but that theirs was a rocky relationship, destined to be over by the end of the book. Then, I read somewhere that leading detective men in books are nearly always single and I was determined that Morton wouldn’t be one of those men! I toned down the animosity between the two of them, but some reviewers have said that they found Morton unsympathetic towards her. I understand why a reader might think that in the earlier storyline but also think that knowing their relationship would last means that the connection between them develops and comes across far better in the subsequent books, as their relationship matures and evolves, as we all know relationships do.

Another question, which I get asked from time to time, is whether I would like to see the series on screen and whom I would like to play Morton and Juliette. The answer to the first question is an unequivocal, yes. I think it would make for an excellent Sunday-night television programme. As to who might play the two main characters… I had always thought that British actors, Julian Ovenden and Keeley Hawes would be excellent in the title roles. However, they were both, like me, born in 1976, so unless the series goes into production very soon, they will be too old, unfortunately. Other actors, whom I would consider as appropriate in the roles are Aiden Turner (he of Poldark fame) with short hair for Morton and Welsh actress, Catherine Ayers for Juliette. If ever it were made into a television series, I doubt that I would have much sway over the casting, anyway!

Julian Ovenden and Keeley Hawes

Aiden Turner and Catherine Ayers

I won’t divulge any spoilers about Morton and Juliette’s relationship to those of you in the earlier parts of the series but, suffice it to say, it develops steadily over the series of books and shows no signing of ending any time soon!

Thursday 22 September 2016

The story behind The Spyglass File

Not exactly prolific at these blog things, am I...? You’d think that I’d be better at it, what with being a writer and all! Anyway, here's blog number three. It's about the inspiration behind my latest book, TheSpyglass File. You might want to stop reading if a) what you've already read here is too exciting for you or b) you've yet to read The Spyglass File – and, if that's the case, then what are you waiting for—go ahead and read it, then come back here!

So, The Spyglass File... I've been fascinated by WW2 since I was very young. I'm not quite sure where this interest came from, but it led to my writing two non-fiction books—Hastings at War (2005) and Hastings Wartime Memories and Photographs (2008) - both available from Amazon. These books looked at the minutiae of life in a Sussex seaside town and how it affected the lives of normal citizens. Part of the research process for these two books involved interviewing dozens of men and women who had lived through this period and who shared with me such varied memories: happy events, funny anecdotes, strange stories and many recollections of the death and destruction brought into their lives. This gave me a good insight into the realities of living through the Second World War; I knew whilst writing The America Ground (the prequel to The Spyglass File) that I wanted the next book to be set during this period.

What happened next was rather strange…just as a potential story thread that I had been pursuing fell apart, so another was dropped into my lap. On the 10th July 2015 I discovered that I had an aunt — an older sister to my father - who was born in secrecy in the midst of the Second World War. We met fifteen days later; a bewildering and yet wonderful experience. I could, however, have happily kicked myself for not having found her years ago whilst my father was still alive. I started researching my Goodwin tree in 1998, but never thought to run such a basic search in the indexes for children born to my grandparents; there was my dad and two younger sisters—that was the way it had always been as far as the family was concerned, so why would I have bothered to double-check more widely? But actually, sitting in the birth registers for the June quarter of 1943 was another sibling born to my grandmother whilst my grandfather was captive as a prisoner-of-war. This is the basis of the inspiration for The Spyglass File.

Joyce Gingell, a twenty-year-old machinist married my grandfather, Albert Leslie Goodwin on the 22nd December 1940 in St John’s Church, Kensal Green, London. Albert was a twenty-three-year-old soldier, who had enlisted in the Royal Army Service Corps in March of that year.

The marriage of Albert Leslie Goodwin and Joyce Avis Gingell

Having completed a short period in St Nazaire, on the 12th July 1940 he was posted to 292 company as a driver. On the 29th October 1941, Albert and the rest of 292 Company embarked for services overseas. He was posted to 54 Infantry Brigade on the 6th January 1942 and the Brigade left Singapore the same day, becoming embroiled in the disastrous Fall of Singapore. He, along with 80,000 other men were part of the largest ever surrender in British military history on the 15th February 1942 when the Japanese army conquered Malaya and then Singapore. One month later, Joyce was informed that her husband was missing in action. She received no further information, not even whether or not he was still alive.

At some point around the end of June 1942, Joyce met a man—purportedly named Henry Francis Rowe—an electrician from Burton-upon-Trent at a dance. The result of this liaison was that Joyce became pregnant with this man’s baby. One can only speculate as to the state of her mind during these turbulent years of war, and not knowing whether her husband was dead or alive must only have compounded the matter.

From the records available, it seems that between Joyce and her parents, the decision was made that, as soon as the baby was born, it was to be adopted. Later that year, her father wrote, ‘I am anxious to clear this matter up as soon as possible…’ At some stage during the pregnancy, Joyce was removed far from her home in London to an address in Nottingham. The house was owned by a widow, one Kate Buxton, who intriguingly shares the same surname as Joyce’s grandmother, although I have yet to find a connection between the two women.

Just ten days prior to giving birth, Joyce received official notification that her husband, Albert was indeed alive and was a prisoner-of-war in Japanese hands.

On the 24th March 1943, Joyce gave birth to a healthy baby girl weighing 7 ¾ pounds. Joyce registered the birth of her daughter on 9th April 1943, naming her daughter Valerie. The process of adoption began in Nottingham soon afterwards. However, the process faltered as Joyce had erroneously noted Albert Leslie Goodwin as the father of the baby and, on the 26th August 1943, accompanied by her father, she was forced to return to the register office and have the certificate amended.

The amended birth certificate

With Albert’s details removed from the birth certificate, the adoption process continued. Joyce returned to London with the baby, living in the Salvation Army Eventide Home in Denmark Hill. Finally, in what must have been an agonising eight months for Joyce, the adoption went through and the baby was handed over to a childless couple from Nottingham.

As far as the family is aware, the baby was never spoken of again and it is assumed that Joyce returned home, never telling Albert about the baby. His prisoner of war camp in Thailand was liberated by the allies in 20th September 1945 and he was repatriated back to England on the 12th October—three and a half years after having been captured. He was awarded the 1939-45 Star, the Pacific Star and the War Medal 1939-45.

Albert died in 1971. In 2001, Joyce received compensation on Albert’s behalf for the privations suffered during his internment. She died in April 2006. The long process of Valerie — Pauline under her new name — discovering the circumstances of her birth began less than five months after Joyce’s death in September 2006, when she was unable to locate herself in the birth register indexes; the following year it was confirmed to her that she had been adopted.

If you have already read The Spyglass File you will have noticed the parallels that run between Joyce’s life and those of the main character in the book, Elsie Finch. Although there are similarities between the two women, I deliberately did not want to try and retell Joyce’s story. Elsie and her role in the WAAF were based upon a great deal of research into the vital work that these women undertook listening, transcribing, translating and decoding communications between the Luftwaffe pilots who flew over the south coast of Kent.

Thursday 19 November 2015

Butter my wig! - the Sussex dialect

To my ears as a young boy, the accent of my grandmother's second husband was a strange dialect which resembled that of a farmer from the deep West Country of England. I would not have been surprised to learn that he was born and bred in some tiny rural Cornish parish. However, he had spent his entire life in Sussex and his accent and some of the phrases he used were pure Sussex. Sadly, like many dialects, it is now dying out, having been slowly watered down and changed over time owing largely to greater mobility.

I decided to set my most recent genealogical crime mystery - The America Ground - in and around Hastings, Sussex in the 1820s and very much wanted the characters' dialogue to be as genuine as possible. Inevitably, some compromises had to be made in the writing process and I had to make it so that unfamiliar words could be understood by their context. (Anyone fancy a Huckle-my-buff?)

For my research, I drew on several books that dealt with the Sussex dialect, most notably The Reverend W.D. Parish's A Dictionary of The Sussex Dialect.

First published in 1875, the book's introduction neatly summarises the gradual decline of the dialect: 'In 1924, the rural novelist Sheila Kaye-Smith rather beautifully illustrated her fears for the future of the Sussex dialect. How would three generations from the same Sussex household respond verbally today, she asked, to the question of whether a storm was coming? Well, let's start with 'Grandfather', born perhaps in the 1860s, and accustomed to country ways. 'Surelye, fur de ships' tails is all to wind'ard,' the old man would observe, sagely, in pure bucolic vernacular...representing the next generation would be 'Father,' who had received a state education: 'Well, it may be, for the glass is low.' Finally, and most worryingly, it would be the turn of 'Sonny,' a child reared in a period of unstoppable 'Londonisation'. What do you think, Sonny: is there a storm coming? And in the universal cockney, 'Not half!' would be Sonny's depressingly cheerful reply....The time was fast approaching when a large number of people living in Sussex would be clueless about its traditional words, and deaf to its traditional pronunciations.' 

Parish begins his dictionary with suggestion of the origins of certain Sussex words or phrases, many of which lingered from past invasions. 'What a peter-grievous child you are!' Parish believes this phrase, like many others, to derive from the French, petit grief and 'We're all of a dishabille' from déshabiller. Other languages such as Latin were also drawn on and some Old English terms, such as 'maxon' for manure heap and 'mew' for a seagull were also in use.

Parish noted the 'not unfrequent' use of the reduplicated plural, which I rather like! He states that 'a Sussex man would see nothing absurd in saying, "I saw the ghostessess, sitting on postesses, eating of their toastesses, and fighting with their fistesses."'

A large number of the words in the dictionary derive from the particular coastal landscape and nature found in Sussex. Apparently there are at least 30 words to describe mud. Some nature descriptions which I particularly enjoyed reading were 'A naughty man's play thing' for stinging nettle, 'shog' for the core of an apple and 'storm cock' for a mistle thrush.

Among the other works I consulted for as part of my research process were David Arscott's We Won't be Druv. The title comes from a once-renowned Sussex saying, meaning 'We won't be driven (to do what we don't wish to do!).' Fiction work included Stella Gibbon's amusing parody of Sussex life, Cold Comfort Farm. Another book, written entirely in dialect is Tom Clapdpole's Jurney to Lunnun...told by himself and written in pure Sussex doggerel by his Uncle Tim.

This is one of my favourite scenes using Sussex dialect in The America Ground:

Harriet set the food and drinks onto a tea tray and made her way upstairs, this time ensuring that her feet fell on each and every noisy board, so as to be sure to alert the woman of her arrival.
‘Butter-my-wig, if it ain’t the newest of draggle-tails come into my room,’ Widow Elphick chided. She was sitting up in bed wearing a cream petticoat. ‘Miss Rutherford be sparing you the day, has she?’
Harriet bit down on her lip and placed the tray beside the bed. ‘Beer, water, bread and cheese for you,’ she said warmly, hastening towards the door.
‘I be a-talking to you, you filthy little wretch. You be thick of hearing?’ Widow Elphick shouted, making Harriet stop dead. ‘Least you could do is a-look at me.’

I will close this blog with some of my all-time words and phrases, which I am trying to resurrect (at least in my household!) - maybe you could casually drop some into your conversations at home?!
  • Butter-my-wig - a strong assertion
  • Chuckle-headed - stupid
  • Concerned in liquor - drunk
  • Dead alive - stupid
  • Dish of tongues - a scolding
  • Draggle-tail - slut
  • Fluttergrub - someone who likes working in the dirt
  • Gape seed - something to stare at - what are you sowing gape seed at?
  • Huckle-my-buff - a beverage composed of beer, eggs and brandy (admittedly not a great call for that in my house...)
  • Muck-grubber - a sordid miser
  • Dabbler - a gossip
  • Romney Marsh - there is a saying in Sussex that the world is divided into five parts: Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Romney Marsh. Love it!
  • Swallocky - appearance of clouds in hot weather, before a thunderstorm
  • Thick-of-hearing - deaf