We commissioned five practitioners (writers, poets, artists and performers) to develop a range of responses to the Where’s Our Spake Gone? project. They worked with communities and groups across the four project towns in the Black Country, inviting participants to share and contribute their memories, thoughts, and experiences around dialect and everyday life. Each of the practitioners distilled and interpreted this material in their own unique way and presented it at the town events. We have documented some their work here and also incorporate it into the Our Spake project book.
Emma Purshouse is a freelance performance poet, writer, stand-up comedienne and workshop facilitator. She lives in the City of Wolverhampton a few miles north of Birmingham. Emma performs her work nationally, is a published author and winner of poetry slams.
Emma’s starting point for the Where’s Our Spake Gone? project is to investigate how Gornal children might be using dialect (or not). She is running a couple of sessions with library groups and school groups to find out, with a view to creating work with the youngsters, before creating some of her own dialect poetry for children.
The Black Country has always drawn migrants to it, from its very beginnings: former agricultural workers from the shire counties on all sides, displaced by mechanisation and drawn to the new kinds of work offered by the factories of the Industrial Revolution; French Huguenot refugees, escaping religious persecution, who brought their enamelling enterprise here; Irish labourers who came to dig the canals and later work the railways; glass workers from the Low Countries, whose industry had collapsed in the European revolutions of 1830 and whose skills were in demand by English entrepreneurs. Later, in the post-war world of 1945, there is the migration story of people from the Commonwealth countries of the then British Empire, whose labour was required – and duly solicited – to rebuild the country. Again at the beginning of this century, new migrants from Central and Eastern Europe, Poland in particular.
Please click below to download a copy of Brendan’s newspaper publication that he produced as part of this project.
Writer Mandy Ross is gathering Oldbury stories and memories sparked by Black Country dialect words for food. There’s some fine fittle emerging!
Mandy is exploring how flavours, food traditions and language are changing from one generation to the next. She’s working with children and adults’ groups to gather food memories, and turning conversations…
You can see some of her songs in development here.
We made a short interview with Mandy Ross, asking her about her work on the project with various groups around Oldbury that included Young at Heart, Langley Lodge; Year 4 pupils at George Betts School; The Cancer Support Group at Jack Judge House; and St Huberts Infant and Junior School.
Recorded and edited by Geoff Broadway.
Brendan hails from the Black Country in the industrial heartland of England, which has forged his attitude to writing and performing poetry. Sometimes hard-hitting, sometimes delicate and poignant, his work examines the range of human experience from factory gates via 1970’s tower blocks to the survival of humour in modern times either in standard English or his beloved Black Country dialect. He is currently the Poet Laureate of Wednesbury.
Brendan is now working in Oldbury to develop a develop new creative writing to be performed at the town event in April. He conducted a series of workshops and interviews with Oldburyoneons to get a sense of spirit, history, tradition and place.
Read his final piece Nanna Owdbree Towd Me Brendan Hawthorne
Singer, keyboard/accordion player, songwriter, oral historian and poet Heather Wastie lived as a child in Holly Bush Street, Cradley Heath, which was demolished in the 1970s. She has edited 2 books of Black Country reminiscences, Any Road Up and The Bit Between the Lanes. In 2006 she moved from the Black Country to Kidderminster where she is currently The Worcestershire Poet Laureate. In 2015 she published a book of poems and songs telling the stories of people who worked in the carpet industry, Weaving Yarns (Black Pear Press). Her performances include a comedy character called Black Country Pat.
Heather is searched for the ‘old spake’ and chatted to people of all ages born and raised in Cradley Heath, particularly those who use local dialect. As well as collecting words and phrases to add to the ones she grew up with, she investigated whether Black Country dialect is dying out or still going strong. Inspired by this research, Heather produced poems and songs to share what she has learned, entertain and help to keep a record of this rich local ‘spake’.