The crop farming that is so compatible with East Anglia’s landscape is reflected in its dialect. For example, the East Anglian word for a flail – a tool used for threshing grain – is a dick-and-daniel or alternatively a stick-and-a-half. The latter refers to the shape of the flail, which was made of two wooden sticks loosely attached with a metal chain. Before mechanisation, the threshing of wheat and other grains was done by hand, with the swingle or swivel of the flail being beaten against the sheaf to separate the grain from the chaff or screenings.

The Survey of English Dialects, conducted between 1950 and 1961, was mostly concerned with rural speech and therefore included a dedicated section on threshing in its dialect questionnaire. This yielded rich dialect variation all over England for words relating to this standard agricultural practice, as well as fascinating discussions about the effects of mechanisation on farming.

Listen here

In this extract, recorded in 1959, you can listen to Bert Jarvis, aged 79, from Kersey in Suffolk discussing threshing corn with a stick-and-a-half.

( LAVC/SRE/D/2/D220)
A transcription for this audio can be found (here)

A flail

Flail made from green ash and hazel, the hinge is eel-skin reinforced with leather.

(STMEA:A.1000) Source: Museum of East Anglian Life (cc-by-nc)

Handwritten notes in SED book

Survey of English Dialects response book picture from Pulham St Mary in South Norfolk showing the fieldworker’s notes for ‘dick and daniel – the sticks of a flail’ in the bottom corner.

‘Book IV: Nature [Pulham St Mary Response Book]’ (LAVC/SED/2/2/21/12/4) by W. Nelson Francis.

A building

Alton Water Mill at the Food Museum, Suffolk. After threshing, grain would be processed at a mill like this one.

Source: Food Museum (cc-by-nc)

The word flail is occasionally pronounced and spelled as frail in East Anglia, which confusingly, is also a local word for a dinner-bag taken into the fields by farm workers. Another East Anglian name for a packed meal is dockey, while a snack enjoyed during a break from work is known as beevers.

People sitting in a group

Photograph of a party of farm workers and their families having ’beevers’ in c.1908.

Source: Food Museum (STMEA:A.2348 cc-by-nc)

The fruits of labour

East Anglia’s mild climate and low, flat land is ideal for farming fruit as well as grain, and you can be sure that where there’s fruit, there is also jam, jelly and crumble. The Food Museum has a fascinating collection of items relating to fruit products and their preparation, including this flour sack repurposed as a fruit straining bag and a recipe for fruit crumble. Both are examples of wartime resourcefulness.

Cloth bag

A Colman’s flour bag made of muslin, repurposed as a fruit straining bag.

Source: Food Museum (STMEA:78.A.28.2 cc-by-nc)

Handwritten notes on a page

A handwritten recipe for fruit crumble – a traditional English dessert with a fruit filling and sweet crumb topping. It is thought that fruit crumbles first became popular in Britain during the Second World War as an economical alternative to pie. To further reduce usage of certain ingredients because of rationing, oats or breadcrumbs were also often added to the crumble mix.

Source: Food Museum (STMEA:2008-198.13 cc-by-nc)

Fruit and jam also appear in the Survey of English Dialects, especially in descriptions of the production of fruit-based foods. In the following recording, you can hear dialect informant Ted Hull talking about fruit growing and the jam-making industry in Tiptree.

Listen here

Ted Hull, Tiptree (1950-60s) talks about fruit growing and the jam making industry

‘Sound Recordings, West Yorkshire and Essex’ ( LAVC/SRE/A778r) by Stanley Ellis and Howard N. Berntsen.
A transcription for this audio can be found (here)