British Accents

Can’t get your fix from the Archers? Do not despair, because The British Library has put online recordings of people from all over England and Wales speaking in their respective dialects about their upbringing, from outwitting the pit pony in Yorkshire, to poaching in Dorset. There is an amazing amount to be learned for the scholar, but there is also an amazing to be learned for the layperson.

Most of the subjects in the project were born between the late 1800s and the 1920s, and these people have observed first-hand the enormous changes in farming practice and agriculture which swept through the 20th Century: the advent of the tractor, the advent of the supermarket, all these important memories have been recorded down and are now available online, in snippets of between three and eight minutes.

It is fascinating to be able to listen to these characters reminiscing about the days ‘when they were a lad’. Most people worked outside on the land: ‘If you had a job you had that job because you liked it,’ one man points out. Of course things are very different now and most of the clips tend to encourage debate about whether things are very much worse than they used to be, to which the answer seems to be, it depends on who you are and what your attitude to life is.

Jonathan Robinson, Curator of English Accents and Dialects at the British Library Sound Archive, said on the launch of the archive: ‘The way people speak in England has changed over the last half a century. Contrary to popular belief, there is still an incredible amount of regional diversity and the recordings on this website illustrate elements of both continuity and change.

‘It has all been made possible by the fact that the British Library’s oral history holdings include two wonderful collections – the Survey of English Dialects, recorded by Leeds University in the 1950s and the Millennium Memory Bank, recorded by the BBC in 1998/9.’

The archive holds an enormous amount of data – Over 90,000 images and 250 hours of sound recordings – amounting to a trove of aural and visual treasure for anybody with an interest in accents and dialects. It can be found at

Below are some examples of different regional accents, all telling wonderful tales about their past working with and on the land.

  • Swinstead, Lincolnshire, talking about the old dances in the 1950s:click here to listen
  • Swinstead, Lincolnshire, talking about good old times:click here to listen
  • Poaching in Dorset, circa 1956:click here to listen
  • Changes in Farming in Essex over the years:click here to listen
  • Recommended videos for you

  • Sussex: a gardener from an estate talks about maintaining the gardens, and the changing of farming practise in Sussex:click here to listen
  • Dry stone dyking and marking sheep in Yorkshire: ‘You see a space, you look around, and you see a stone’click here to listen
  • Derbyshire, lamenting the breakdown in the food chain, and the way food doesn’t taste the same: ‘there is no need for supermarkets today,’:click here to listen
  • Quarry Bank, Dudley. Protecting sandwiches from mice down the pit, but also from the from the ponies!click here to listen
  • An impoverished upbringing in Swindon:click here to listen
  • Cornwall – the difference between rural and urban people:click here to listen

    To top