Last week after Christmas I was walking around the graveyard in Haworth with my daughter. We stopped by the gravestone of Tabitha Ackroyd, housekeeper to the Bronte children for 30 years.
She was apparently much loved by the family, a great storyteller and was the source for the narrating character of Nellie Dean in Wuthering Heights.
Here is an example of one of Tabby’s stories, showing how chiding children has evolved. According to some commentators, children have moved from ‘seen and not heard’ to being ‘the new sacred’. As a mother and grandmother, I empathised with Tabitha’s creative way of getting around determined children. The following is in the old Yorkshire dialect with a translation following.
Tabby: Nah sithee, me barns, tha’s nur ‘aving a candle, so tha mun do wi’art. If I can see ter fettle this ‘ere pair o’ Branwell’s britches, tha can all see well enough to mek up thi daft tales. If tha wants more leet, shuv yon cat on’t’ fireback, ‘e’s fat enou’ to gi’ a reight gradely blaze!
Translation: Now look here, my children, you’re not having a candle, so you must do without. If I can see to mend this here pair of Branwell’s breeches, you can all see well enough to make up your silly tales. If you want more light, shove that cat on the back of the fire, he’s fat enough to give a right good blaze!