The Pitman’s Pay – 1826

Gateshead C19
Thomas  Wilson’s   ‘PITMAN’S PAY’

Thomas Wilson, born in Low Fell 1773, began work as a youngster in the coalmines, but after some spare-time education, moved to teaching, and then became a clerk and eventually a partner in the firm Losh, wilson & Bell.

His long poem ‘The Pitman’s Pay’ was published in three parts in the journal The Newcastle Magazine in 1826, 1828, 1830. A ‘collected’ edition, with glossary, was issued with an introduction by the author, in 1843.
Here he says the poem is “a tale of some five-and-forty years ago” i.e. ca.1800 but part 3 mentions war with the Yankees, which ought to refer to yet earlier decades. This is of interest only as far the language might be that of the time of writing, or the time of the original action.
The list below is an extract from this glossary, mostly omitting words that are basically variations in pronunciation from ‘standard’ English, but retaining some words that seems ‘ephemeral’ (slang of the time). A few quotations are added from the text itself.

abuin – above
afore – before
aglee – awry: “His neet-cap thrawn on a’ aglee” 3
ahint – behind
aiblins – perhaps
[aix – axe: “aix and saw” 2]
anklets – ankles
atwee – in two: “Eneugh to rive atwee the heart” 2
atween – between
Aw – I
ax – ask
ayont – beyond

back or knowe – partings in the coal
bairn – child: “a heap o’ hungry bairns” 3
bait-poke – a bag in which a pit-lad carries his provisions: “Aw put the bait-poke on at eight” 2
bang – rush; surpass, excel
gangin’ -large and full
barn-styen – roof of the mine at the entrance of the workings
barrow-way – tram-way
[bed-stock: “ower the bedStock” 2]
begock – a term of exclamation
belly-timmer – food
bicker – to hasten
biel – a place of shelter
bits and brats – food and raiment
blair’d – cried
blashy – thin, poor: “blashey tea” 2
blaytness – shyness (3)
blether – bladder, purse
[blithe: “Wor lasses then were blythe and bonny” 3]
bogie – a low carriage with four wheels
bogle – a ghost
bonny – pretty
bord – the space allotted generally to one man to work in, in a colliery
[brat: “Their bits and brats are varra scant” 1]
[bray: “Aw’ve bray’d for hours at woody coal” 2]
breeks – breeches: “Ma breeks o’ bonny velveteen” 3
brig – bridge
brock – a badger: “Jack’s brock, That all the Chowden dogs can bang; ” 1
[brunt – burned: “Not brunt” 2]
buffin’ – labouring
bummed – hurried: “bumm’d us round about…like a tetotum” 2
bummer – a carriage that sounds from a distance on the road
bummin’ – a whirring noise arising from quick motion
buss – to dress
byet – work not finished
byre – a cowhouse
byson – a shame, scandal: “It’s…quite a byson”

caff – chaff
caller – fresh, cool; [as noun] a person who goes round at a certain hour in the night, to let the pitmen know it is time to go to work: “when the caller call’d at yen” 2
canny – good, kind, mild, affectionate: “Ma canny bairns luik pale and wan” 1
cantrip – a charm or incantatin
canty – lively, cheerful: “Half cock’d and canty hyem we gat” 3
cassen – cast off: “Like ony chicken efter moot, / when its awd coat it fairly casses” 3
cawdpies – any accident happening to the tram or carriage
cawdrife – a shivering sensation
chare – a narrow lane or alley
[cheps: “Some cheps ” 2]
chow – a uqid of tobacco
clapt – to set upon; to pat: “clapt and stroakt ma little [dog]” 1
claverin’ – climbing
clay – a substance used by pitmen as a substitute for candlesticks
cleed – to clothe
click – to snatch hastily: “Aw’ve seen him…Click up his chalk” 2
clootie – an old name for the Devil, derived from the clute, the half of the hoof of any cloven-footed animal
clubby-shaw – a youthful game …with a globular piece of wood and a stick…
cobby – hearty, brisk
cock’d – tipsy
coffin-kist – a hearse
cooen – disheartening: “a cooen seet” 3
corf – a basket for bringing coals out of the pit: “lensda hand on wi’ ma corf” 2
cottrils – cash, money: “And when wark’s flush, for time o’ want, / Lay by some cottrils” 3
cowpin – the last word: “Thou’ll ha’e the cowpin word thysell, / Or talk for everlastin twang” 3
cowpt – overturned: “cowpt corves i’ the barrow way” 2
crack – the chief, the most celebrated; chat, conversation: “To drink and crack, and get their pay” 1
creep – a state of the mine produced by an insufficiency of coal left to support the roof, and which often forces the top and bottom of the mine together, and renders the pit unfit for further use
cribb’d – lined
crouse – brisk, lively: “crouse to learn” 2
crowdy – oatmeal and hot water mixed together: “The crowdy is wor daily dish” 1
cruick thy hough – sit down
cuddy – donkey; Cuthbert… [“Cuddy’s swine” 2 (pig)]
cull – a stupid fellow
cutter’d – fondled
cuttie – a short tobacco pipe

danderin – sauntering
darg – a say;s work
de – to: “de mair ” 2
deddy – father
dee – die
deed – dead
dimond – coal
dinnet – do not: “Aw dinnet mean te brag o’ this” 2
dirdum – noise, confusion
dirl – to vibrate: “dirls my lug like wor smith’s hammer” 1
dizn’t – does not
[“risk the last remaining doit” 1]
dominie – schoolmaster
doot or doubt – doubt [sic]
double-chuckers – twins
dowly – miserable: “ma dowly cavel” 1
dozzen’d – spiritless, withered
driver – a boy who has charge of a horse in the pit
[drop: “the drop tea’s ma main support” 3]
douthy – thirsty: “drouthy Tommy ” 2
[drubby: “yon dark and drubby river” 3] duds – working clothes: “The duds thrawn on” 2
[dulberts – non-scholars: “A feat that dulberts cudent de” 3]
dummy – a tram

een – eyes: “Aw see thy een begin to blink” 1; “i’ the twinklen of an e’e” 2
eneugh – enough
ettle – to contrive: “Their ways and means with frugal care, For marketing next day to ettle” 1; “ettl’d reet” (arranged, reckoned up) 2

faither – father: “faither ” 2
fash – to trouble, to tease: “what myeks th’ fash me here?” 1; “And if thou say the tap’s the bung, / Aw wadent fash ma thoom about it.” 3
faw – an itinerant ticker, a travelling besom-maker, mugger, etc.
feckless – weak, feeble
fend – a livelihood: “we’ll make a decent fend” 3
fended – being able to ear a subsistence
fettle – to order, to get ready: “It tuik some time to fettle them” 2; “Gat fettl’d up a set of geer — and bun’ to hew.” 2; “The house aw’ll fettle up masell” 3
fitter – the vendor or loader
flay -a fright; to frighten: “flaid to deeth” 1
flee – to fly
[flit: “And when we flit, the landlord stops Ma sticks till a’ the rent be paid.” 1]
fouth – abundance, plenty
frae – from
frev – from

[gan: “Gan wi’ me, like a canny lad” 1]
ganders – gamblers gar – to make: “Steam gars wor boats and packets sail” 2
gawin or gaun – going
geer, set o’ geer – pitmen’s working tools: “te get his geer sharp’d at the smiddy” 2
geer – knives and forks; wealth
Geordy – George
geysen’d – parched with thirst
gie – give
gied – give it
girn – grin
gissy – a pig: “a bit o’ gissy’s tripe” 1
gizen – parched: “With parched tongues and gyzen’d throats ” 1
glent – a glance
gleg – quick clever: “not se gleg” 2
gliff – a glimpse: “A gliff o’ me ” 3
glumpin’ – sulking
glymin’ – looking slily
gob – the mouth
gowd -i’-gowpens – gold by handsful
gree – agrees
grey hen – stone bottle

ha’d – hold
ha’e – have
haffit – the side of the head
half marrow – one of two boys who manage a team, of about equal age
hlaf-nowt – half-price[?] : “half nought cheese”
half-shoon – old shoes with the toes cut of
hallion – a term of reproach
hame – home
haud – stop
heedwis-end – headway, passages that lead to the crane or shaft
hettle – hasty: “he was hettle” 2
hewer – a person who works coals
hewing – the pitman’s occupation of working the coal, with a tool called a pick
hick’ry – ill-tempered
high main – the best seam of coal on the Tyen
hingin’ on – hanging on, the time the pit begins to draw: “the…pit hung on” 2; “Frae hingen on till howdy ma” 2
hinny – a favourite term of endearment, a corruption of honey: “hinny maisters” 2
hirpled – walking lamely: “hirplen cross the floor” 2
hoggers – stockings with the feet cut off
[hoolet – owl: “Jack’s hoolet e’en” 2]
[hough “the warst o’ meat, Bad bullock’s liver – houghs and knees ” 1; “Draw in a seat and crook thy hoff” 3] hout – an exclamation of disappointment of dissent
howdy – a midwife
howdy-maw – the conclusion of the day’s labour, the last corf: “Frae hingen on till howdy ma” 2
how way – come away
hyem – home: “hyem affairs” 3; “the reckoning they / Get thrimmel’d out, and toddle hyem” 3

inte, intiv – into
iv, ive – in: “ne imp iv a’ his hell” 2

jenkin’ – driving a ‘board’ within a pillar of coal
jouk – to stoop down to avoid a blow: “jouken down” 2
jud – a piece of coal ready for taking down, either by wedges or powder

[kail – soup: “She blaws the kail wi’ stinking breeth” 1]
kelter – riches
ken – know
keek – to peep, to look slily, pry
kirsten’d – christened
kirve – to undermine the coal
kirvens and nickens – the preparatoru operatins for bringing down the jud or top, and which produce only small coal: “what he gat…frae out the kirvens and the nickens” 2
kittle – ticklish or difficult: “At sic a kittle time, ye knaw, Yen tells ye ony thing to please” 1; “kittle maiters” 2
kittlens – kittens
kitty – a lock-up, a house of correction
kizzen’d – parched
knawn – known
kye – cows
kyel – broth: “Splash gan the spuins amang the kyell” 3
kyevel – lot

laid-in – when a pit ceases working; death
lang-heeded – long-headed, clever
lap – jumped: “Aw lap up nimmel as a flea” 2
lare – learning: “aw’d pick’d up some bits o’ lare” 3
leather-plaiter – a kind of sorry hack horse
leein’ – lying
leet-ship – a ship not loaded
leeve – live
linties – linnets
lippen – to depend upon
lonnin – a lane
lop – a flea: “nimmel as a flea – Or lop” 2
lots o’ brass – large sums of money
loup – to leap, to jump: “fit to loup a yett or stile” 1
lours – looks gloomily
low – light or flame: “haud about a low” 2
low-rope – a piece of rope lighted at one end: “Wor low rope” 2
lowse – loose
lugs – ears: “dirls my lug like wor smith’s hammer” 1; “in his lug for ever bawlen” 2
#leein’ – lying

mare – more
maister – master
Mally – Mary
mammy – mother
mang – among
marrow – a partner, a companion: “gat a marrow gruff and sour” (putting a tram) 2
mawks – maggots: “Shanks full o’ mawks ” 1
mebby – maybe, perhaps
meet – might
meetin’s – midway down the pit; or where the sull and empty corves or baskets pass each other
mell – mall#: “mell-and-wedge wark” 2
mense – to grace, to decorate
mickle – much
mill’d – tipsy
mind – remind, remember
minny – mother
moungin’ – grumbling, complaining
muds – small nails used by cobblers
muzzy – half stupid with drink
myek – make: “to myek me happy” 1

na, nae – not
nappy – ale: “seldom seen the warse o’ nappy” 2
narrow-working – headway in a coal-pit
narvish – nervous
ne – no
nebs – mouths [sic]
neist – next
nell-kneed – in-kneed
nick – to cut the coal at each end, preparatory fo taking the jud down
nick-nacks – trifles
nick-sticks – a mode of reckoning which ladies well understand
nobbut – only
nonskyep – a longing or hankering after change
nowse, nowt – nothing
nut – not
nyen – none

o’ – of
off the way – off the boards on which the tram ought to run
on’t – of it
ot-bye – at the shaft or bottom of the pit
ower – over
owt – anything

pant – a public fountain
P.D. – a young lad in a keel
pea jacket – the outer holiday dress of a keelman
peg – a step; to move quickly… [?leg: “scarce could move a peg” 2
pick – a tool used by pitmen in hewing coal
picklin’ – providing
pin – humour
[pitch and toss] 1
place the wark – arrange each man’s labour for the day
plack – a small coin: “We’ll spend wor hinmost plack to…” 3; “We cannot spare poor Sall a plack” 3
poppy-pill – opium
posy – flowery
powl’d off – made drunk
[pot -earthenware mug] “They push the pot more briskly round” 1; “pots o’erturn’d, and glasses broken ! 2
put – to bring the coals from the workings to the crane or shaft upon a tram: “Aw’ve hew’d and putten twee-and-twenty” 1
putter -a boy who works the tram
puttin’ hewer – a young man bound either to put or hew

rack – reach
rackle – violent, headstrong
ramstam – thoughtless: “a rackle ram-stam wife” 1
ratten – rat
rax – to stretch
[reek: “been verra nigh The muin, hung at a bag o’ reek” hot air ballon – 3]
rig-and-fur – ridge and furrow
[rive: “Eneugh to rive atwee the heart” 2]
rozin’d – confortably tipsy
runnin’ fitter – a fitter’s deputy

sackless – simple
[sair – sore: “good for sair een” 3]
sark – shirt: “peel her to the varra sark” 1; “Wi’ sark and baggers” 2
scather’d feet – feet injured by water and small coals, in the shoes: “scather’d feet” 2
scrafflin’ – struggling
scrammel – to scramble
scran – food: “rob them o’ scran ” 1
scunner – to notice, observe #?: “He dident scunner me at all” 3
sec, sic – such
[seeven – seven (3)]
sell’d – sold
Setturday – Saturday
shake-cap – a well-known game
shaw’d – injured by friction
sherry-moor – brawl
shifter – a kind of superintendent
shine – a row, a disturbance
shoon – shoes: “Her high-heel’d shoon wi’ buckles breet” 3
shoother – shoulder
siddell – schedule
singin’-hinny – cake with currants and butter in it, and baked over the fire on a girdle: “strang lyac’d tea and singin’ hinnies” 1
sipe – to frain or extract: “sipe all the draff” 1
skaith – danger
skelp – to slap or strike with the open hand: “se skelp and yark” 2
skelp and yark – to move rapidly
skipper – the captain of a keel or coal barge
slush – a person greedy of drink
smiddy – a blacksmith’s shop
smudge – to laugh
snaffle – to obtain anything by unfair means
[“snotter clout and duster” 1]
snotty dog – a blubbering lad
soom – swim: “the kail wi’ stinking breeth, Where mawks and caterpillars soom” 1
sonsy – lucky, pleasant, agreeable: “twee…far frae sonsy things” 2
spangin’ – jumping, leaping: “a flea…amang war blankets spangen” 2
speer – to seek, to inquire
spelk – a small splinter; a slender creature
spicy-fizzer – a currant cake
stans – reckons, counts
steit – as well as: “aw meet steit…” 2
stevil – to stagger, to grope your way: “We stevell’d to the cabin” 2
sticks – furniture
stob – a stump, a post
stook – the remains of the pillar of coal after it has been jenkined
stour – dust floating in the air: “‘midst dust and stour” 2
stravaigin’ – strolling about
in the straw – an accouchement
styth – foul air: “Through smoke and styth” 2
suckshen, suction – ale or beer
sud – should
swang – swamp
[swatch – sample: “Here’s just a swatch of pitmen’s life” 2]
swattlin’ – tippling
sweel – to melt, to waste away
swither – to fear, to tremble, a nervous state
syne – since

tarn – fierce, crabbed: “tarn and snarly” 2
taties – potatoes: “She peels the taties wi’ her teeth” 1
taty – fit, suitable
to – to; the
tee – too
telt – told
tew – to struggle, toil: “we had to tue on wi’ a nasty scabby roof” 2
theaker – a thatcher
thill – the surface upon which a tram runs
thrawn – thrown
threep’d – protested, argued: “Yet still aw cannot help but wonder, / When aw’s threept out o’ what’s se clear.” 3
thrimmel – to draw money reluctantly from the pocket: “He thrimmell’d out what he’d to pay” 1; “”The parish now, wi’ miser’s care, / Mun thrirnmel out some sma’ relief” 3; “the reckoning they / Get thrimmel’d out, and toddle hyem” 3
timmer – provision, fare
titty – sister: “Care…wi’ his blear-e’ed titty, Grief” 3
tiv – to: “fit…tiv a T” 3
top – a pit term for coal, when quite prepared for removal by wedges or powder
tormit – turnip
tother – the other
[“His better half, all fire and tow” 1]
towen – to tame
toyte – to totter like old age
tram – a small carriage upon which a corf or basket is placed; or it sometimes means two boys who have charge of this carriage, the one drawing and the other pushing it
trapper – a lad who the charge of a door in the mine, for preserving the circulation of the air
treacle-wow – treacle beer
trig – a stick [start marker in bowls]
trippet and coit – a game well known in the north
tuimmin’ – ebbing, emptying
tume – empty: “his bottle’s nearly tume” 1; “SALL and Aw are byeth fast tuimmim’ / The cup of life…” 3
twang: “Thou’ll ha’e the cowpin word thysell, / Or talk for everlastin twang” (3) for ever
twee – two: “twe bonny een” 1
twilted – quilted: “Her twilted petticoat” 3
tyek – take
tyen – taken
tyup – the last basket or corf sent up out of the pit at the end of the year. The name is got from a tup’s horn accompanying it. ‘Bussin’ the tyup’ is covering the coals with lighted candles, which the lads beg, boroow, or steal, for the occasion. It is an expression of their joy at the gaudy days or holidays which take place generally after this event.

varry – very
vends – a limited sale of coal, as arranged by the ‘trade’: “They were not hamper’d. then wi’ vends” 3

wad – would
waddent – would not
waffler – a person in liquor walking unsteadily
waff o’ cawd – a slight cold: “a waff o’ cawd” [a cold rather than flu or pneumonia] 1
wag – to chatter
wairch – insipid: “Life wad be varra wairch without ’em [lasses]” 3
wannel – the gait of weary person
war – were
wark – to work; to ache
warsel – struggle
weans – children, little ones
wee – little, small
wey – why, well
whe – who
whilk – which
whup-while – at short periods, frequently
wi’ – with
wid – with it
windin’ – talking largely and loudly
wic – with
wor – our
wot – to guess, to know
wowl – to cry or howl
wrought out – worn out
wyem – the stomach: “weary byens and empty wyem” 1

yad – a worn-out horse
yammer – a continual repetition of vexatious expressions: “Yammering on frac morn till neet” 2
yeck – oak: “a twig o’ yeck” 1
yel, yell – ale: “tyest the yell and stop a bit ” 1
yen – one: “”At sic a kittle time, ye knaw, Yen tells ye ony thing to please” 1
yence – once
yep – ape
yett – gate: “”fit to loup a yett or stile” 1
yokens – when two trams or carriages meet, going in different directions
yont – beyond<
[“Is it not, thinks te, time to leave? 1]p>


The above material reproduced by kind permission of Tom Richardson.

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