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In her booklet 'Talking about Leicestershire' (1979), Marie Forsyth remarks that...


"the people of Sileby... feel that not only is there a Leicestershire dialect but one that is peculiar to Sileby." (p7) 


Sileby dialect is a very recognisable and unique brogue, with its own vowel sounds, pronunciation and bywords. There are fewer and fewer true speakers of the dialect these days due to the influx of new residents from Leicester, Leicestershire and beyond. Even so, Leicestershire and Midland words and phrases like "mi duck", "mardy" and "it's black over Bill's mothers" are still widely used in local parlance. 

​Tudor Dialect

Tudor documents often refer to Sileby as "Sylbe" or "Sylby" which may reflect the pronunciation at the time. Other 16th century Sileby dialect comes to light in wills. They were written or dictated by villagers who often used phonetic spellings or dialect words. Their word use and spelling reveal a different intonation.

Terms mentioning family relationships show these changes well. For instance, Richard Walter (1521) mentions his "sun" and "dowter." John Jayks (1542) has a number of bequests for his "dowghters" and his wife Alice also mentioned these "doghtt[e]r"s in 1546-7. In his will of 1531 Richard Osborne refers to his sons Thomas and Richard as his "chylders." Parental words appear to show older English and Germanic aspects. In 1520-1 Thomas Turlington mentions "modyr" when alluding to the mother church at Lincoln, as does William Bretell in 1533. 


Conveying personal items in wills can often reveal a local pronunciation. Isabel Osborne (1531) gives her "nekkerchew" to Agnes Oswin upon her decease, and Thomas Gibson (1531) leaves a "chyst" situated at his bedside to his daughter. Amongst her possessions Margaret Preston (1554) had 3 yards of "reyd cloythe" to dispose of along with a towel incorporating "blew threyd" and her "best gowyn". Early 16th century Sileby farmers in their probate inventories list "peysse", "oytts" and "weyt" amongst their crops and also their animals : "Kye", "oggs", "pygs", "shoyp" and "weydr" (wethers).

The Sileby Evidence

Dating the development of any dialect is notoriously difficult. Following the progress from the Tudor language above to that used in the 19th century is an almost impossible task. Luckily there were collectors of bywords and sayings before they became unused and forgotten. To some extent 19th and early 20th century Sileby speech patterns have been documented. The most important author in this field was the Rev. Ray Hunting. He recorded the memories of elderly residents in the parish and made reference to how the local dialect was used and sounded. His results were set down in his 'Bygone Sileby' series of booklets (produced in the 1960s and 70s). They include long lists of village sayings and offer the reader the chance to discover local words and phrases along with an explanation of their meanings. 


Hunting's main observation was of the transposition of vowels in words, so 'nails' became "neels" and 'heels' became "ails," and so on. He also found that words and phrases were shortened to allow quicker conversation. Hence we have "Cowlus" for 'coal house' and "Ayeerd" for 'have you heard.'


Some of Ray Hunting's other recorded examples include :

                              Boko - Nose                                      Kekish - Squeamish                                   Meagrum - Grimace

                              Bletherheads - Blackheads               Starvled - Huddled by the fire                    Jaw - Reprimand                      
                              Cure - Amusing                                 Skin - Disposition, humour                         Brack - Damage or worn

                              Strymin' - Walking quickly                 Macklin' - Constructing                               Faggit - Tiresome

                              Hantle - Great amount                      Shack - Idle                                                Chip - Brother

Alongside Rev. Hunting's researches can be added the important work of comedy duo Florrie and Ada, played by Elsie Dakin and Popsy Gilbert. Born and raised in Sileby, the pair had extensive experience of both the working and social life of the village. They started as a local Women's Institute act performing comedy sketches in the local Sileby accent. The duo became a hit and by the 1960s they were staging their act on local radio and to larger audiences in Leicester theatres. They performed to many groups, societies and organisations until they were well into their eighties.


                                                    Florrie and Ada                                                               Elsie Dakin and Popsy Gilbert
                                                Source : Philip Gilbert                                                               Source : Philip Gilbert        


Popsy also provided examples of Sileby expressions and words for Marie Forsyth's booklet (above). She was born in the village in 1920 and says "When I was a little girl, if I fell over and bumped my head my mother would always say 'that's a rare old popenole' (bruise)... The word 'beek' meant trousers... If we were hungry we used to say that we were 'fair clammed' and if I came home looking a bit of a mess my mother used to say 'Well, you do look a troll !' "

The Oral Evidence

Oral histories now provide the best source for dialects. Some memories have been recorded in this way, and probably the best reference resource is the East Midlands Oral History Archive (EMOHA) based in the Centre for Urban History at the University of Leicester. They hold a number of recordings relating to Sileby residents recalling their memories about various (mainly work) topics. In doing this they also recorded the local dialect.


Here's a list of the Sileby related recordings that they hold :

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