Campaign by former South Yorkshire pitman to keep Yorkshire dialect alive

Keeping the Yorkshire dialect alive through verse is the aim of former pitman, traveller and now poet, John Davison.

Saturday, 14th July 2018, 9:53 am
Updated Monday, 16th July 2018, 4:52 pm
John Davison who toured Sweden to trace his Swedish family

John, 88, now lives in Broughton, North Lincolnshire, but worked and lived in South Yorkshire for many years and his passion for poetry, with his last book @Yorkshire Poems Old and New’ written in Yorkshire tongue, shows his desire to keep local dialect alive.

He worked as a fitter at Hickleton pit for more than 20 years, 1943 to 63, before moving to Hatfield, back to Hickleton, then back to Hatfield pit from where he retired in August 1985.

John Davison in Switzerland in 1956

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Throughout all this time his passion for writing and trying to keep Yorkshire speak alive burned brightly.

His life has also taken many twists and turns with a passion from his early 20s for travel. He recounted his search for long lost family in a book, which saw him travel alone to Sweden to trace his relatives.

It was a daunting undertaking in any age, but back in the 1950s it was virtually unheard of for a working class lad.

John spoke about his campaign to keep dialect alive and kicking and said: “I feel the Yorkshire dialect is dying out and I would like to see it go on. I am not into ‘airy fairy’ language, I prefer it to be down to earth.

John Davison as he is today with his book, Yorkshire Poems Old and New

“I write mainly in dialect, as I feel it is disappearing fast and if we don’t protect it then it may be gone for good.”

He added: “I have always written. I have diaries dating back to the 1940s.”

But it was not until John was 47 that he admits to starting to write “with a vengeance” after a family tragedy he still prefers not to divulge.

He said: “At the age of 47 I began to write more and more. My poetry and keeping Yorkshire dialect going is a passion, not just a hobby.”

John Davison in Paris in 1953

Sine FM radio broadcaster and live music promoter, John Willis, and his radio partner, Johnny Windle, aim to have John on their roots and acoustic radio programme in September, and he said: “I am interested to get John on the show after reading lots of his poetry on Facebook. Also, John is from Goldthorpe originally and I’m from Thurnscoe, so many people we both know have worked in the mines in South Yorkshire.”

He added: “I feel like him that this way of speaking is dying out and it needs to be kept alive.” John also has a supporter in the shape of Barnsley bard Ian McMillan who said: “Davison understands the rhythm, the music and the orality of dialect, lifting it to places lit by Yorkshire light.”

But poetry is not the only passion of John’s. Although it is now mainly consigned to memory, John was a keen traveller.

It began as a boy when he would travel with his mate, Denis Swinhoe, all over England on their push bikes. He later became more ambitious and travelled to Holland, toured France and later embarked on a mini tour of Europe.

But this was only a precursor to his life-changing trip to Sweden in 1955, where his grandfather, Amandus Sigfrid Johannsson, was from and a country he had longed to visit, as his granddad never spoke about his homeland.

He recounted the journey later in a book he had published himself and which he gave to family and friends.

Armed with only a letter from the Swedish consulate in Sunderland, stating his grandfather was born in St Anna in the Baltic, the intrepid traveller set off on his BSA 650 motorbike and sailed from North Shields to Bergen, before riding into Sweden. During the next few weeks he painstakingly pieced together his family tree. This involved going through church records in St Anna and other churches across Sweden, having his motorbike repaired by an angel of mercy, and a chance encounter in Vaster Vik on the Baltic coast. While there he spoke to a pastor who said he could find no family trace. After travelling 2,000 miles fate was to lend a hand. As he left the church, someone he refers to as captain Gibson, turned the door knob at the same time as he did. He knew John’s family and after a journey of 14 more miles he traced his cousin Axel Jannsson. His search was over. Since then both his family and his Swedish cousins have kept in touch.