Some notes on and interesting extracts from C.S. Burne’s Folklore journal article “Staffordshire Folk and their Lore” (1896)…
1) Male witches:
“Jack Rhodes the bank-ranger, he went to a witch in the Potteries about the mooney as he lost. […] I would draw your attention in passing to the use of the word witch for a male soothsayer. This is customary in that part of the county.” [In] “the Potteries […] The dark practices of magic are known among them; the simpler faith in apparitions [i.e.: ghosts] is comparatively less flourishing.”
This is relevant to the Jimmy Tunnicliffe character in the novel.
2) Trick or treat
Burne’s 1896 article also gives the lie to the modern idea that trick-or-treat at Halloween is an American invention and import…
“In the north [of the Midlands] (and also in Cheshire and North Shropshire), the festival of All Souls, November 2nd, is celebrated by parties of lads and children going round to all the principal houses begging for apples — and formerly for cakes and ale — and droning out:
“Soul soul, for a apple or two If ye’ve got no apples, pears’ll do,
Up wi’ the kettle and down wi’ the pan.
Give us a big ‘un, and we’ll be gone.”
“He speaks puling [whimpering], like a beggar at Hallowmas,” says Shakespeare (Two Gent.),”
…from which we should infer that in his time this was also a Warwickshire custom.
Toffee apples do feature at one point in my novel. Though the time is Sept/Oct, not Oct/Nov, as I wanted to avoid actually setting it at Halloween (since that raises all sorts of unwanted modern connotations in the mind of the contemporary reader).
3) Friendly folk:
The article also notes the cheery and friendly reputation of Staffordshire people, for which they still have a reputation especially in Stoke, and their noted fluency of speech…
The cheery hospitable nature which distinguishes them [Staffordshire people] was noted in [Queen] Elizabeth’s time by Drayton in his Characteristics of Counties. Punning on the name, he says:
“And Staffordshire bids ‘Stay, and I will beet the fire,
And nothing will I ask but goodwill to my hire.’”
The same temper of “goodwill” and friendliness is met with throughout the county; and so is the same racy humour and readiness of speech.
4) Lyrical speech and turns-of-phrase:
Burne also notes the lyrical nature of the people’s speech, another feature of my novel…
“A stranger would suppose the people were continually quoting proverbs, but as often as not their epigrammatic sayings are the coinage of their own brain.” [He gives some examples] “When people naturally talk in this way, it is difficult for the folklorist to distinguish standard proverbs from improvised ones; here, however are two or three specimens. “Merry nights make sorry days.” “He’ll neither be satisfied full nor fasting.” “To get a wooden suit” — to be dead and buried. “To give a pea for a bean” — to give a present with an eye to future profits.”
Shakespeare’s character of Ancient Pistol probably gives a strong flavor of this sort of mellifluousness “speaking in proverbs”.
I also remember reading other accounts of the old “sing-song” nature of the pronunciation of the old North Staffordshire dialect.