Bristol

Virtute et Industrial



Bristol's motto is Virtute et Industria - virtue or valour and industry. There are several emblems that are associated with Bristol, the Unicorn and the ship protected by a castle, both of which feature on our Coat of Arms and which can be seen all over the city. If you've ever heard the Bristol accent you'll realize why this page is called "Virtute et Industrial" not the more proper "Virtute et Industria" - but more on that in a bit.

Bristol City Arms

This picture was taken around 20 years ago - in the early 1980's.
It is of the Bristol Coat of Arms painted on the side of a train at Bristol Industrial Museum

Bristol Arms

This image comes from a set of Raphael Tuck postcards published in the beginning of the twentieth century
"Heraldic" Series 159. This series along with Tuck's "United Kingdom" series was published in 1902 / 1903.

The Accent

The Bristol accent is very distinctive, even just a few miles out of the city the local accents are a lot different to ours. When I was at school, some of our teachers would spend forever trying to get rid of our accents. We were told that Bristolians were lazy speakers. Harsh sounding letters or syllables were usually dropped or substituted for softer ones. Hence the pronunciation of "lissen" for "listen" and the dropping of "th" in favour of "f" as in "fink" for "think". Words that ended in vowels or a "w" invariably had an "l" added to them hence "arial" for "area", "windal" for "window" and even the "Industria" in our own motto becomes "Industrial". This is probably why the original pronunciation of Bristol, Brigstow, ended up the way it is, the lazy speaking Bristolians found it easier to miss off the harsh "w" off and replaced it with the softer "l", and dropping the "g" altogether. Hence Bristol is usually pronounced "Bristle".

Not only is the pronunciation different but we use words not found elsewhere. Words such as "bist", this is usually used as a question, as in "were's bist?" - "where are you?", "how's bist" - "how are you?"

"Weem" means "we are"

"ain't" means "is not"

"tain't" means "it is not"

"gert" means "very", hence "gert big" or "gert small"

An ex-pat, Andy Evans sent me the following from Florida :-

Eva Turner
The Prima Donna
of the Carma Rosa

I saw the beeb [BBC] take this out on a card and asked people to read it aloud, they got... of course

Evil Turnel
The Prime-al Donnel
of the Carmal Rose-al

...and Adge Curler's (later re-recorded by Fred Wedlock)...

"Oh Ah, theze bin an gotten whur thee casn't back'n assn't....still leaves friends thinking we speak a foreign language!

Thanks to Rick Cryer for putting me straight on who recorded the song first! Rick also asked the question about the word "ut" at the end of some exclamations. He writes...

Adge rhymed "shuttup ut"  to rhyme with "warden's foot". My family would also say, to noisy kids, "shut thee rattle up ut!". Can you suggest an origin/derivation for "ut"? I can accept "thee casn't" and "thee  bist" as deriving from "thou can'st not" and "thou beist not" but "ut" has got I stumped!

This had me running for Derek Robinson's "Bristol With Pride - The Krek Waiter's Peak" (Abson Books, 1987) and it's not in there! There's nothing remotely like it in the book. The only thing I could find that comes anywhere close to it is on a website that deals with the accent from Portsmouth. Dr. Bill Thompson wrote...

dount evree mush talk pompey
dare u t' tell me wymrin mates talk posh
an u get yer face dun in

Which looks very much like Bristolian to me. Dr. Thompson goes on to say that the reason for this is that the dockyards of Portsmouth were extensively expanded towards the turn of the nineteenth century and where else would they import dockyard workers from but Bristol and London? The "ut" here is in a completely different context to what Adge wrote but the only explanation I can come up with is that "ut" is a derivation of "you".

Hopefully, someone knows better than I the true meaning of "ut".

Andy Dowden emailed in April 2014, to say that he thought that "ut" is probably derived from wusn't (won’t you).

While in May 2014, Peter Shelton emailed to say that he believes it to be a very truncated form of the expression "wilt thou." If you knock out the second word, elide the l, Bristol fashion, and the w, you end up with something like "ultt," where the l is implied not sounded. And the u in "ut" would sound as in foot. This seems right for the context of the original quote. Eg. "Give us one o' thy fags, ult?"

Peter goes on to say that the ""ust" (u sounds like oo in wood) derived from "would'st." It would work in the example I gave, or more like: "Yer mate, ust get I some fags then?" He also likes 'sknow as in "thee's know."

Daps

Nigel Bath from St. Paul, Minnesota emailed me and asked if I knew the origin of the word dap. Daps are a local term for a kind of rubber soled, canvas topped shoe, what you might know as boating shoes, pumps or plimsolls. Here in Bristol, it is both a noun, ie the shoes or a verb. "To get the dap" at school was to be be hit by a teacher with one, "to dap round the shops" was to go to the shops and "to get your daps on" was to be in a hurry or to be told to hurry up.

The Dictionary of Slang site just gives the word a Welsh origin, but the site on English Dialects (site now gone but a version is available on the Internet Archive), which funnily enough chooses the word for gym-shoes or trainers to trace dialects around England, gives the word a Welsh or SW English origin.

Legend has it that an imaginative shoe salesman in Victorian times named them plimsolls because of the sharp dividing line between the sole and the uppers. That meant dry feet if you walked in the sea no higher than the rubber sole, and wet ones if the water rose over the canvas.

Samuel Plimsoll was the man who invented the Plimsoll load line for ships. A brief article on him appears on the Hotwells pages on this site.

BJ on the ex-pats forum of the Bristol Evening Post (site now gone) replied to my appeal for help ...

My dictionary is quite clear on the subject; it calls the word "dap" a specifically Welsh or SW English word for a plimsoll and refers back to the verb "to dap" which means to tap or bounce. It has a fly-fishing derivation and also refers to a bird dipping its beak into the water.

From the same forum Afrimike replied ...

DAPS is called daps because when you rush around in them they goes..Dap..Dap..Dap on the floor..easy innit !!!

Thanks for that Afrimike.

From the uk.local.bristol newsgroup, Jezza replied ...

Dunlop Athletic Plimsolls  (DAP) - the signs in cobblers windows used to have the initial capitals in a large size, hence the contractions.

That's all I know about daps, if know know a different origin of the word then please email me. My email address can be found on my About Ray page.

I was visiting Patty in America one time and we went to a shop, or should that be store? We only went in to buy a light bulb and soon as I opened my mouth one of the assistants asked if I was from Bristol. It turns out his family had emigrated there from Yate, a town about 7 miles outside Bristol.

In the 1960's Adge Cutler made a song about Bristol, in the 1980's Fred Wedlock re-recorded it. I was hoping to make both versions available on these pages as mp3 files, but as the song is around five minutes in length, and even using low quality recordings I just don't have room on the server for them, so you'll just have to be content with the lyrics.

Virtute et Indusrial

Oh, we be Bristol kiddies
We comes from Bristol City
Where all the blokes is handsome
And all the birds is pretty
Weem proud of our 'ome town
It never gets we down
and we got a little motto
What we sing up Bedminster Down

Virtute et Industrial
Three cheers for Novers Hill
If the City don't win Saturday
P'raps the Rovers will
Virtute et Industrial
Shout it to thee neighbour
Virtute et Industrial
An' see thee down the Labour

Praise the City Fathers
'Cos they know what they'n doin'
Don't listen to they moaners
Who says weem going' to ruin
They talks of Portbury
But I aint kiddin' thee
Who wants docks
When all the locks
On the lavatories be free?

Virtute et Industrial
Long live all the brewers
Build more pubs and bettin' shops
Don't waste the cash on sewers
Virtute et Industrial
Lets have another drink
Virtute et Industrial
An' never mind the stink

Oh we be livin' well
Bad times is in the distance
We lives it up like hell
On National Assistance
It tain't that we do shirk
To do a bit of work
But if you coulst live without it
Well, who'd be such a berk

Virtute et Industrial
We be such sober people
Bristol's like a gert big church
With a thousand foot glass steeple
Virtute et Industrial
No drunks is ever seen (hic)
Virtute et Industrial
Well, thees know what I mean

Let progress be our watch word
Hooray for all the planners
They keeps the traffic flowing
And never minds the tanners
From Lulsgate thees could tear
To Paris, now by air
But the buses down Old Market
Is enough to make thee swear

Virtute et Industrial
Cardiff's now much nearer
They'n gonna print the Evening Post
In Welsh to make things queerer
Virtute et Industrial
Sing "Nostra Yakki Da"
Virtute et Industrial
What fink of 'ee
Oh Ah

With one way streets and flyovers
We knows which way ween facing
Has you seen our brand new bridge
Down at Cumberland Basin?
The cars go by like thunder
Up and round and under
Just where they goes
No bugger knows
And t'aint no bleedin' wonder

Virtute et Industrial
Our town will last for ever
If we can't build the Concorde
We'll buy 'n on the never
Virtute et Industrial
Who got ten million quid
Virtute et Industrial
well, ther thee bist then kid

The best of British luck
To the Mayor and Corporation
They just come back from France
A credit to the Nation
Now, mind you keep it dark
But they reckon the old Town Clerk
Bought back they Follies Bergeres
In exchange for Ashton Park

Virtute et Industrial
Up the Downs on Sundays
We spent the rent on Saturdays
Down Nelson Street on Mondays
Virtute et Industrial
May Bristol never fail
Virtute et Industrial
Till weem all out Arno's Vale

Well, that's the song and now for the explanations, I know I have to do this as I've sent the song to my American friends and had to explain it to them.

Blokes = men
Birds = girls
weem = we are
Bedminster Down - a district in South Bristol
Novers Hill - a district in South Bristol near Knowle
City - Bristol City, one of our two professional football teams
Rovers - Bristol Rovers, the other one
The Labour - the old Labour Exchange in Nelson Street near the old St Johns Gate, noW replaced by "Job Shops".
Portbury - By the 1960's it was obvious the city docks was dying - mostly because it wasn't deep enough for large ships. A huge deep water port was built at Portbury.
Kiddin' = kidding = joking

"Don't waste the cash on sewers" - a reference to the fact that some parts of Bristol were always very badly affected by floods. When I was a boy, and living in Knowle, I can remember my mum taking me to a spot that overlooked Bedminster, it was during a very bad flood and most of "Bemmy" was under 8ft of water. For years after most of the houses bore "tide marks" of this particular flood. Years later, I lived in Bedminster and was chatting to one one of my neighbours about the floods. She said she was living there at the time and when the water had receded had to go across the "Tip" and rescue her belongings that had been washed out of the house. The "Tip" is the nick name of Marksbury Road playing fields - so called because at one time it was a rubbish tip. When we were remodelling the back garden there was evidence of this in the amount of rubbish, including an old lorry engine, that we found. Another interesting thing she said during that conversation was that during the war, the house that I bought had been hit by a bomb and had to be, more or less, completely rebuilt. During the 1970's the Council decided to do something about the floods once and for all and so the Malago flood relief scheme was put into effect. This involved drilling two 20ft diameter pipes under the city to carry flood water away.

National Assistance - the dole - unemployment benefit
coulst = could
berk = idiot
tanners = sixpence in the days of the old English money
Lulsgate - the site of our regional airport
Old Market - another district of Bristol, the reference to the public bus (omnibus) service being rubbish is as true now as it was then
Cardiff - the capital of Wales, which is on the opposite side of the River Severn
Evening Post - our local evening newspaper
Nostra Yakki Da - I'm not sure if I've spelled this properly, but it means "Good Health" in Welsh (I think)
"Oh Ah" or "Oh Ar" - for some reason the rest of the UK seem to think that Bristolians go around in peasant smocks sucking on a piece of straw and that these are the only words we know. I was in a pub in Nottingham one time and from my accent the barman guessed I was from Bristol, as soon as I said I was the next thing he said was "Oh Ar"
Cumberland Basin - the site of the entrance to the floating harbour. A huge new road complex was built here in the 1960's. The road bridge here is a swing bridge that allows shipping entrance to the floating harbour.
"Bugger" and "Bleedin" - mild expletives
Concorde - British Aerospace and Rolls Royce both have huge factories here (or did have) and Concorde was built here. The song makes a reference to the huge amounts of money the British Government spent getting the worlds first, and only, supersonic passenger aircraft off the ground (sorry about the pun)
"The Never or "Never Never" - buying on hire purchase. You don't own the goods until the last payment is made
Quid - slang for the old English pound (money not weight)
Ashton Park - Ashton is a district of Bristol
The Downs - a huge open area near Clifton
Nelson Street - another reference to the old Labour Exchange. Unemployed people used to have to sign on the "dole" every week
Arno's Vale - another area of Bristol near Brislington. It has a huge cemetery, which the song is making a reference to.

The Fred Wedlock version missed out the two verses beginning "Praise the City Fathers" and "Long live all the brewers"

In December 2002, I received an email from Eric Brain asking if I knew anything about Len "Uke" Thomas. All that could be found about him was that he was very popular through the 60's to the 80's and sang songs like "Wassfink Of 'Ee, Den", "Thee Bissn't Gonna Get'n Out Of I" and "Thee's Better Keep Thee Eye On 'Ee". Looking up my old copies of the "Bristol Times" This newspaper has two articles about him, in issues 176 (11th Dec 2001) and 178 (8th Jan 2002). The lyrics and picture of him come from these articles.

Len "Uke" Thomas

Len "Uke" Thomas

Wassfink Of 'Ee, Den (The Bristol Song)

Now Bristol is a famous town
The gateway to the West
Although beer is weaker here
We still say beer is best
We're famous for our beauty spots
But what makes us unique
Is not our awful manners
But the funny way we speak

Chorus
Wot's fink of 'ee then, wot's fink of 'ee
Wot's fink of 'ee then the price of 'ee
If thee casn't speak as well as thee coust
Then take a screw at 'ee
Wot's fink of 'ee then, wot's fink of 'ee

The people down St. Philips way
Will welcome you, no doubt
But if the wind is blowing strong
It's better to keep out
The smell from Cole's boneyard
And the Feeder as you go
It seems that it's the only way
The ruddy wind will blow

Chorus

Now there's a place in Bristol
And it's known as Durdham Down
Where you can spend a holiday
For less than half a crown
You can see the famous beauty spots
But the noises from the zoo
Will make you think the monkey's
Trying to do the kangaroo

Chorus

Our city fathers built a palace
Up on College Green
It's the finest grandest palace
You've ever seen
With unicorns and coats of arms
All shiny and so bright
But then the public got the bill
They yelled with all their might

Chorus

We've got a place called Brandon Hill
Where courting couples go
And you may see them courting
In sunshine, rain and snow
You may here a maidens voice say
Oh! Please stoppit Joe
His reply will come to you
In accent sweet and low

Chorus

In February 2005, I received an email from Philip Budd who was a neighbour of Len Thomas. Philip wrote...

Len Thomas lived in Brooklyn Road, Bedminster Down, with his wife, two sons, Brian and Mickey, and his daughter. Brian, who was a particular friend of mine, died at the age of 21, I believe, but Mickey went on, as an amateur for a while but I suspect later as a professional trainer, into martial arts. Len was full of fun and did a lot of practicing, easily heard, and appreciated, in the road outside.

Philip is also the brother-in-law of Bryan Bignell who is responsible for the St. George pages on this site.

You may be interested in these other sites about west country artists ...

Scrumpy and Western - everything about local bands

The following links will take you to sites about Adge Cutler and Fred Wedlock

Adge Cutler and the Wurzels

Wurzelmania

Fred Wedlock

The Oldest Swinger in Town

I've lived in the U.S. now since 2001 and still haven't lost much of my accent. Nowadays I say things like "parking lot" instead of "car park" and "elevator" instead of "lift" but I still sometimes forget and I'm never going to get used to saying "aluminum" instead of "aluminium." A lot of people here like the accent and I still get people asking me to "say something."

This page created 23rd January 2000, last modified 26th May 2014


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