Onward to a dilly house

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I wrote the other week about the origin of the phrase “like Dick and Liddy” and mentioned that although I was well aware of the phrase, I didn’t know its origin.

Well, after a bit of painstaking research – I spend far too much time on these matters than I ought to – I’m getting a bit warmer. I found a reference in an ancient book I have at home called “Yorksher Pudding” by John Hartley, it dates from 1876.

There is a line in a ditty in that book that goes “there as reight as Dick and Liddy nah.” John Hartley was an English poet who lived from 1839 to 1915, he specialised in the dialect of the Halifax area and wrote amusing and sentimental stuff about the poverty of the working classes. He published for many years a highly successful magazine on cheap paper called “The Original Clock Almanac.”

Now, it’s my bet that “Dick and Liddy” were a couple of old mill workers who had over the years become inseparable, so unless anyone can come up with anything different, that’s what I’m sticking with.

I had a letter from a lady called June, who asked me “why is Horbury referred to as ‘the home of Onward Christian Soldiers’ on the road signs into the town. That’s an easy one June. The hymn was written by Rev Sabine Baring-Gould who was a curate at Horbury Bridge.

Baring-Gould was an interesting man, a Victorian polymath who among many other things, specialised in the language of the Basque people, collecting folk songs and tales, researched werewolves and vampires and married the daughter of a mill labourer called Grace Taylor.

He met her when she was just 15 and with her parents’ permission sent her to live for two years with his relatives in York so she could be schooled in middle class manners. He wrote the most famous of hymns in about 15 minutes as a processional hymn for the children of Horbury Bridge who tramped up the hill to St Peter’s Church in Horbury on Whit Sunday in 1865.

One of Gould’s grandsons was a noted scholar of Sherlock Holmes and a novel about Holmes describes Gould as “the godfather of Sherlock Holmes.” The hymn was played at Eisenhower’s funeral.

Have you ever come across the expression, “like a dilly house?” it’s one I hear used regularly in the tap room at The Shoulder of Mutton by the landlord’s wife Margaret Parker, she says “it’s like a blooming dilly house in here.” I asked her where she got it from; she told me that her mother Eda Carr used it a lot. I found a reference to it in another ancient book “Leeds Dialect Glossary and Lore” from 1923. It describes dilly house as a “child’s playhouse”

So when somewhere is looking a bit untidy and things are upside down, it’s “like a dilly house” I like that one, I might start using it myself. I like to breathe new life into these old sayings, I don’t know why, I suppose I don’t want them to disappear.

Finally this week, another favourite of mine, why do we say “oops-a-daisy?” We use it when picking a child up don’t we? Or when we stumble. Hugh Grant the actor says it in the film Notting Hill, he says “whoops a daisy” and Julia Roberts says “nobody ever said that in the last 50 years and even then it was just little girls in blonde ringlets.”

There are some lovely little stories attached to this, the flower “daisy” is so called because it closes its outer petals at night, but when the sun comes out it opens to reveal its yellow middle, “the day’s eye” therefore “oops a day’s eye” out of the dark into the light.

You can see the metaphorical connection here then, if a child has fallen and then is picked up into the air. It’s also connected to the old English word “lackadaisical” or “lacking daisies.” Shakespeare uses it in Romeo and Juliet, he says “She’s dead, deceased, alack the day.”

And on that note, I’ll return to my dilly house and play at Dick and Liddy. Onward!