The Westmorland Dialogues

Date: Tuesday 20th March 2012

AROUND 40 people attended the Lakeland Dialect Society’s first meeting of the year at Leasgill, near Heversham, where they enjoyed a bring and share lunch before being welcomed by the chairman, Tommy Coulthard, who announced the death of former committee member Keith Balmer, of Penrith.

He paid tribute to Keith by playing a recording of two of his tales.

The secretary asked for volunteers to act as judges for the Young Farmers’ Club field days in May. President Ted Relph then read a tale from an early journal, A Cure for Lumbago, by Mildred Edwards.

The speaker for the afternoon was Dr. Leonard Smith, of Arnside, who spoke about the 18th Century Westmorland Dialogues, published by Ann Wheeler, of Arnside Tower.

Mrs. Wheeler was a native of Cartmel, baptised Agnes Coward at Cartmel Priory in 1734. She was educated in Cartmel before moving to London where she lived for 18 years, working latterly as a housekeeper for gentry. She then married a sea captain, but following his death she returned north to live as companion to her brother who was the tenant of Arnside Tower.

The Westmorland Dialect in three familiar dialogues was first published in 1790, and as far as can be ascertained she is the earliest female writer and publisher of Westmorland dialect. In the first edition, the author is “A. W.”, but in the second edition, which included a fourth dialogue, she is “A. Wheeler”. In reprinted editions following her death she is acknowledged as Ann Wheeler.

The dialogues take the form of conversations in dialect between local women, and cover several topics such as christenings, courting, weddings, merry neets, superstitions, bereavements, army recruitment, cock fights, fashions and hair styles, spinning, cockling, fairs, and a visit to London.

They also contain references to national news such as the illness of King George III and the threat of war with France.

Ann Wheeler also wrote articles in standard English for publication in the local press. Mrs. Wheeler died in 1804 aged 69 years and was interred in the chancel of Beetham Church.

In his research, Dr. Smith had concluded that Mrs. Wheeler had been greatly influenced by a local clergyman, the Rev. William Hutton, who was rector of Beetham, had himself published dialect writings, and encouraged her in her endeavours.

Dr. Smith had studied and worked on the dialogues, publishing a book last year that contains the original text accompanied by translations. He kindly gave everyone present a copy of his book Westmorland Dialogues. Dr. Smith was thanked by Mr. Coulthard and a raffle was drawn.

The next meeting will be the annual meeting on Saturday, 5th May at Lowther parish hall, Hackthorpe. A business meeting will be followed by a members’ day when anyone can share a bit of dialect with the gathering.