Our staff and invited guests introduce their favourite documents from the Bristol Archives collections. For this edition, Alison Brown, our former Archives Officer, has selected a rare written example of ‘Bristolese’.
At Bristol Archives, we’re often asked for evidence of the Bristol dialect amongst the archives, but this usually proves elusive.
People who wrote down information usually paraphrased what was said into standard English and, although examples of reported speech and colloquialisms of the time occasionally occur, instances of the local dialect are hard to find.
Here is one example of the Bristol dialect, however, and it’s a classic. A distinctive part of the dialect is the notorious Bristol ‘L’ – the habit of adding an ‘L’ to the end of words finishing in a vowel, such as in “a good ideal” rather than “a good idea”.
This entry in the marriage register of St Mary Redcliffe is for William Rogers and Lavinia Boyd, who were married on 24 July 1871.
The bride couldn’t write, which was not unusual at that time and, of course, she would not have known how her name was spelt. She signed the register with an X and the words ‘her mark’ were added next to her name.
It’s possible that the curate who filled in the register had no idea how to spell the name either and just wrote what he heard. It’s much nicer though to think of the bride insisting on having her name written as she pronounced it herself and heard it from her friends and family.
Whatever the reason, the result is that Lavinia’s name is recorded for posterity as ‘Leveniel’, with a glorious Bristol ‘L’ at the end!
The reference number for this document is: P/St MR/R/3/17