King George on Blackthorn

The flowers of the Blackthorn are, I think, past their prime by now, but this Peacock, one of the aristocrat butterflies according to early entomologists, is feeding on any remaining nectar1Field Guide to the Butterflies and other Insects of Britain is finding food  Page 56. Readers Digest Association. 1984.. In keeping with this blue-blooded theme, the fenmen of Norfolk called the butterfly ‘King George2“The English Dialect Dictionary, Being the Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect Words Still in Use, or Known to Have Been in Use during the Last Two Hundred Years; Founded on the Publications of the English Dialect Society and on a Large Amount of Material Never before Printed”. In six volumes edited by Joseph Wright, 1898. Volume III. Page 444. Internet Archive, 2014, https://archive.org/details/englishdialectdi03wriguoft. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.. On the other hand, another long-lost dialect name for the Peacock is ‘hobowchins‘, much more down-to-earth3Ibid. Page 187.

In a list of the number of insect species associated with British shrubs and trees, Blackthorn is fifth with 109 species behind Oak (284 species), Willow (266), Birch (229), and Hawthorn (149)4Wildlife Rangers Handbook. Forestry Commission. Handbook 10. 1994..

The shrub has had a somewhat violent association in the past. One dialect name of ‘Heg-peg bushes‘ is innocent enough5“The English Dialect Dictionary, Being the Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect Words Still in Use, or Known to Have Been in Use during the Last Two Hundred Years; Founded on the Publications of the English Dialect Society and on a Large Amount of Material Never before Printed”. In six volumes edited by Joseph Wright, 1898. Volume III. Page 133. Internet Archive, 2014, https://archive.org/details/englishdialectdi03wriguoft. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021., but the expression ‘to rub down with a blackthorn towel‘ means to beat up or cudgel6“The English Dialect Dictionary, Being the Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect Words Still in Use, or Known to Have Been in Use during the Last Two Hundred Years; Founded on the Publications of the English Dialect Society and on a Large Amount of Material Never before Printed”. In six volumes edited by Joseph Wright, 1898. Volume IV. Page 209. Internet Archive, 2014, https://archive.org/details/englishdialectdi04wriguoft. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021..

Across the Atlantic, a ‘shillelagh‘ is a cudgel or bludgeon, a name which has Irish origins but which specifically refers to one of oak or blackthorn7“The English Dialect Dictionary, Being the Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect Words Still in Use, or Known to Have Been in Use during the Last Two Hundred Years; Founded on the Publications of the English Dialect Society and on a Large Amount of Material Never before Printed”. In six volumes edited by Joseph Wright, 1898. Volume V. Page 384. Internet Archive, 2014, https://archive.org/details/englishdialectdi05wriguoft. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021..

Medicinally, a decoction of the root of the Blackthorn, grating it into milk or brandy, or baking a biscuit or loaf are all supposed to be a good remedy for diarrhoea8Wright, E.M., “Rustic Speech and Folk-lore”, Page 135. lccn=14004537, H. Milford, 1913, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=deWBAAAAMAAJ.. A loaf baked on Good Friday for this purpose, can be kept throughout the year — but surely it would go mouldy? This Good Friday bread was also used as a cure for the same complaint in calves.

Finally, in Yorkshire, Blackthorn was the name of a traditional boy’s game. Two lines were made across a road at some distance apart. One boy stands on one, the rest on the other. He calls out ‘Blackthorne‘, to which the others reply ‘New milk and barley corn‘. The boy then asks ‘Haa many sheep ha’ yo to-day?‘ On the reply ‘More nor yo can catch and carry away‘, they run to his line, and he tries to catch one of them, who then have to join his side9“The English Dialect Dictionary, Being the Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect Words Still in Use, or Known to Have Been in Use during the Last Two Hundred Years; Founded on the Publications of the English Dialect Society and on a Large Amount of Material Never before Printed”. In six volumes edited by Joseph Wright, 1898. Volume I. Page 284. Internet Archive, 2014, https://archive.org/details/englishdialectdi01wriguoft. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021..

We used to call this, or something similar to it, British Bulldog when I was at school.

  • 1
    Field Guide to the Butterflies and other Insects of Britain is finding food  Page 56. Readers Digest Association. 1984.
  • 2
    “The English Dialect Dictionary, Being the Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect Words Still in Use, or Known to Have Been in Use during the Last Two Hundred Years; Founded on the Publications of the English Dialect Society and on a Large Amount of Material Never before Printed”. In six volumes edited by Joseph Wright, 1898. Volume III. Page 444. Internet Archive, 2014, https://archive.org/details/englishdialectdi03wriguoft. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.
  • 3
    Ibid. Page 187
  • 4
    Wildlife Rangers Handbook. Forestry Commission. Handbook 10. 1994.
  • 5
    “The English Dialect Dictionary, Being the Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect Words Still in Use, or Known to Have Been in Use during the Last Two Hundred Years; Founded on the Publications of the English Dialect Society and on a Large Amount of Material Never before Printed”. In six volumes edited by Joseph Wright, 1898. Volume III. Page 133. Internet Archive, 2014, https://archive.org/details/englishdialectdi03wriguoft. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.
  • 6
    “The English Dialect Dictionary, Being the Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect Words Still in Use, or Known to Have Been in Use during the Last Two Hundred Years; Founded on the Publications of the English Dialect Society and on a Large Amount of Material Never before Printed”. In six volumes edited by Joseph Wright, 1898. Volume IV. Page 209. Internet Archive, 2014, https://archive.org/details/englishdialectdi04wriguoft. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.
  • 7
    “The English Dialect Dictionary, Being the Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect Words Still in Use, or Known to Have Been in Use during the Last Two Hundred Years; Founded on the Publications of the English Dialect Society and on a Large Amount of Material Never before Printed”. In six volumes edited by Joseph Wright, 1898. Volume V. Page 384. Internet Archive, 2014, https://archive.org/details/englishdialectdi05wriguoft. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.
  • 8
    Wright, E.M., “Rustic Speech and Folk-lore”, Page 135. lccn=14004537, H. Milford, 1913, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=deWBAAAAMAAJ.
  • 9
    “The English Dialect Dictionary, Being the Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect Words Still in Use, or Known to Have Been in Use during the Last Two Hundred Years; Founded on the Publications of the English Dialect Society and on a Large Amount of Material Never before Printed”. In six volumes edited by Joseph Wright, 1898. Volume I. Page 284. Internet Archive, 2014, https://archive.org/details/englishdialectdi01wriguoft. Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.

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