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Dick Bagnall-Oakeley, Norfolk dialect expert and naturalist  

‘NORFOLK’ is not simply a word that describes a county, it also describes a language, a humour and a way of life.

Spoken Norfolk has a stout and uniquely resistant quality and only people born in the county are able properly to penetrate it and repeat it with their own tongues.

Just as their language, so also the people of Norfolk are tough, resistant and impenetrable.

They guard to themselves the secrets of their language and of their humour.

Yet humour there is in the Norfolk people, riotous and abundant. When you read Norfolk tales, remember that they are tales about a highly observant, subtle and recondite people.

Therefore, always think twice before you laugh at a Norfolk tale – the laugh might be on you!

Dick Bagnall-Oakeley 1908–1974
Naturalist and dialect expert


It seems important that someone who knew Dick should commit to paper a brief tribute to a very remarkable person before all those who knew him have gone, so here then is an extract from Dick Bagnall-Oakeley, A Tribute to a Norfolk Naturalist by Logie Bruce Lockhart, published by The Gallpen Press Limited.

It can’t be, even in a small way, an attempt at a modern pocket biography. To modern biographers the point of departure is that no man is a hero to his valet, and no picture is true or complete unless every weakness in the subject is ferreted out and he is ruthlessly debunked.

The correspondence I have received about Dick is unhelpful in one respect: all the correspondents paint the same picture. He was a hero to them all. A hero, rather than a paragon.

He had an element of dash peculiar to the ’30s and kept it to the end. I asked Sir Martin Woods the eminent physicist what he remembered most about Dick at the beginning of the war.

“Our hero,” he said unhesitatingly. “Dashing and handsome, and with an eye for all the prettiest girls in Norfolk.”

To me, too, years later, he seemed to have preserved that heroic dash.

He was one of the last, true all-rounders, an outstanding, if mildly eccentric, example of a species of Briton approaching extinction. His joie de vivre and vitality spilled over so that everyone else felt better for it.

Again and again his pupils and colleagues marvelled that he could excel in so many activities and still find time to be a genius in the classroom.


Some of those ancient Norse invaders have left isolated words behind, living in the spoken language of Norfolk until this very day.

As a boy, I was brought up in Hemsby rectory, where my father on one occasion had two Norwegian guests staying for a few days. Passing through the garden one morning, we were approached by the gardener, wishing to draw our attention to the gardener’s boy who was propping up the tool shed wall – a favourite occupation of his.

“There he be agin,” said the old man, “standin’ there a-garpin’ like a mucka ole mawkin.”

My father and I could not understand this use of the Norfolk Dialect, but our Norwegian visitors at once knew!

The gardener was talking about the resemblance of the lad to a scarecrow. Mawkin is the old Norse for an effigy or guy. Here was a Scandinavian word that had been brought across the North Sea before William the Conqueror, and remains in spoken use in parts of Norfolk up to the present day.

From Dick Bagnall-Oakeley, A tribute to a Norfolk Naturalist
by Logie Bruce Lockhart.

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