Gawain and North Staffordshire, ordered by date.
* Richard Morris, Early English Alliterative Poems in the West-Midland Dialect of the Fourteenth Century, Early English Text Society, 1869. Second Edition, the first edition being 1864.
“Formerly, being influenced by these broad forms [meaning “strong provincialism” in dialect], I was led to select Cheshire or Staffordshire as the probable locality where the poems [The Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, all written by the Gawain-poet] were written; but I do not, now, think that either of these counties ever employed a vocabulary containing so many Norse terms as are to be found in the Lancashire dialect. But although we may not be able to fix, with certainty, upon any one county in particular, the fact of the present poems being composed in the West-Midland dialect cannot be denied.”
This ‘Lancashire Norse’ argument was later discounted after an analysis — see Hartley Bateson, Patience, Manchester University Press, 1912, page 38 (page xxxvi in the “Introduction” of the revised second edition of 1918). Had J.R.R. Tolkien known Morris’s comment and Bateson’s rebuttal, that opens the possibility that he was aware of North Staffordshire as a possibility for Gawain as early as 1912.
1. Mabel Day in her “Introduction to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” for Israel Gollancz, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Early English Text Society, 1940.
A pupil of Israel Gollancz, this was her corrected and updated edition of the master’s work. Suggests the famous ‘Green Chapel’ is… the cave “just at the bottom of the valley where the Hoo Brook runs into the Manifold at Wetton Mill, Staffs., there stands, above a weir, a striking cave projecting from the hillside”. This is the cave in a white stone outcrop of rock, directly above the site of the Wetton Mill railway station.
2. Ralph W. V. Elliott, “Sir Gawain in Staffordshire: A Detective Essay in Literary Geography,” London Times, 21st May 1958.
Places Gawain’s Green Chapel at Lud’s Church near Leek. Later developed and widened in a series of essays on the district, collected in 1984.
3. Angus McIntosh, “A New Approach to Middle English Dialectology”, English Studies, 44, 1963.
“Let us suppose that one takes the trouble to plot on maps as much as possible of the dialectal information available in localised documents which come from various parts of S Lancashire, Cheshire, SW Yorkshire, W Derbyshire, N Staffordshire and N Shropshire. If one then examines the language of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, it eventually becomes clear that this text, as it stands in MS Cotton Nero A.X., can only fit with reasonable propriety in a very small area either in SE Cheshire or just over the border in NE Staffordshire.”
4. J.R.R. Tolkien, his second edition of his Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, 1967. Commenting on the statement by McIntosh (1963) of “a very small area either in SE Cheshire or just over the border in NE Staffordshire”…
“it would be widely admitted to be in the right general area.”
5. Charles Jones, An Introduction to Middle English, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972, pages 212-16.
Attempts a similar ‘fit’ to McIntosh (1963), and places the Gawain dialect in North Staffordshire.
6. Robert E. Kaske, “Gawain’s Green Chapel and the Cave at Wetton Mill”, in: Medieval Literature and Folklore Studies: Essays in Honor of Francis Lee Utley, 1972.
Develops and explores Mabel Day’s 1940 suggestion of the cave near Wetton Mill train station.
7. R.W.V. Elliott, The Gawain Country: Essays on the Topography of Middle English Alliterative Poetry, Leeds Texts and Monographs, The University of Leeds, 1984.
Collects 25 years of his scholarly essays on the topic. He places the Gawain country around Leek in the North Staffordshire moorlands. According to a Japanese review the contents are:
1. His 1958 London Times essay.
2. The Rhetoric of Landscape.
3. Landscape of Spiritual Pilgrimage.
4. Romantic Quest in the West Midlands. Staffordshire and Cheshire Landscapes in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
5. The Scandinavian Influence: Some Northern Landscape Features in “Gawain”.
6. Woods and Forests in the “Gawain” Country.
7. Streams and Swamps in the “Gawain” Country.
8. Hills and Valleys in the “Gawain” Country.
8. R.W.V. Elliott, “Holes and Caves in the Gawain Country”, in: Lexicographical and Linguistic Studies: Essays in Honour of G . W. Turner, D. S. Brewer, 1988.
9. R.W.V. Elliott, “Sir Gawain and the wallabies: a mystery in seven scenes”, in: Our Medieval Heritage: Essays in honour of John Tillotson for his 60th birthday, Merton Priory Press, 2002.
Late paper, appears to be a restatement of his previous research with new photographs, and some lighthearted framing. Wallabies is an amusing allusion to the Australian wallabies which escaped into the Staffordshire Moorlands and became established there.
10. A Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English, v. 1.0, presumed 1986, accessed 2018. Angus McIntosh’s record “LP 26” for the Gawain-poet has “Cheshire”. However, its reference of O.S. “Grid 397 364” appears not to have been updated with an errata, which states the new reference as: 393 364. Sadly the “Grid” reference lacks the O.S. sheet number, but may actually refer to Coordinates rather than a Grid reference.
The O.S. map can only put 393 364 at either Derby city centre (SK 393 364) or Ellesmere in Shropshire (SJ 393 364), neither of which has ever been in Cheshire. The map reference seems to be astray, and as such I have to suspect multiple compounding errors on the O.S. reference that go beyond the errata slip.
Putter and Stokes (The “Linguistic Atlas” and the Dialect of the “Gawain” Poems, 2007) recently re-examined the record as part of an AHRC project. They were concerned only with the linguistics of the poet’s dialect as we have it today. On the Linguistic Atlas profile-record, at the end of their re-assessment they have to admit that…
“On balance, however, most of the additions and corrections that we would make to the profile indicate the northerliness of its West Midland dialect, and speak in favor of the old-fashioned wisdom which inferred a region “bordering on the Northern dialect area”: that is, plausibly Cheshire, but less plausibly Staffordshire.”
Most of Elliott’s work is out-of-print and difficult to obtain. It might be collected together with Elliott’s 1988 and 2002 essays + Kaske’s 1972 essay, in a new expanded reprint as print-on-demand / ebook. Good evidence for Elliott that might be included in such a reprint is Section iii (the ‘Earlsway’ west of Leek) of: Burne, “Examples of Folk Memory from Staffordshire”, Folk-lore, Vol. 27, 1916.
See also: my post on Old Hannah’s Cave at Wetton, and Alveton Castle.