The phrase “cockney” conjures up a plethora of London-based cultural expectations. Possibly you envisage the muted criminality of Solely Fools and Horses, which epitomises the centuries-old depiction of cockneys because the “playful rogue”. Or perhaps you consider ’er indoors: headstrong kitchen matriarchs bustling over dusty, shoeless youngsters who dart out and in of labyrinths of alleys and cobbled streets. Or maybe what involves thoughts is the legend of the Bow Bells within the Metropolis of London, inside whose earshot a real cockney is supposedly born.
Or perhaps you consider Dame Barbara Windsor, who died on December 9. She was a cockney icon, born in 1937 in Shoreditch, east London. She was finest identified for her impassioned cries of “get outta my pub!” as Peggy Mitchell within the BBC One cleaning soap opera EastEnders.
Windsor encapsulated widespread imaginings of the cockney; she was joyous, riotous, staunchly working class and spoke with an unmistakably cockney accent. Cockneys are sometimes described because the white working class in east London who converse, effectively, cockney. However there may be extra to it than that. Windsor’s cockney accent is comparatively far faraway from the accent now spoken by many younger folks in modern-day east London – Multicultural London English – which has supplanted cockney.
So is the cockney accent quickly be brown bread (lifeless in cockney rhyming slang)? My analysis means that cockney might as a substitute be alive and effectively in Essex – though the folks that talk it could not think about themselves cockney.
Who speaks cockney?
Since Barbara Windsor’s rise to fame, there was a dramatic reconfiguration of who’s and who speaks cockney. Though east London is the religious house of cockney, the cockney tradition and accent might now be most prolific in Essex.
Essex has lengthy been some of the widespread locations for day journeys and holidays for east Londoners. However after the second world warfare, many relocated to Essex, main to what’s now often known as the cockney diaspora. This huge-scale motion was provoked by many interrelated elements.
Some households selected to depart behind the poverty and overcrowding in east London, others misplaced their jobs by way of deindustrialisation, such because the closure of the London Docks. Others misplaced their properties because of the Twenties-Nineteen Sixties government-led slum-clearance programmes. As a part of the slum-clearance programmes to Essex, many post-war new cities and council estates had been constructed, equivalent to Becontree, which on the time the world’s largest property.
One other such property was Debden, which was the analysis web site of sociologists Michael Younger and Peter Willmott’s extremely influential Household and Kinship in East London. This e-book traced the relocation of cockneys to Essex, which supposedly broken household and kinship ties.
Debden can also be the place I’m from. Each units of my grandparents had been moved from east London to council homes in Essex by the then London County Council. My dad was born in his dad and mom’ house in leafy Debden, and my sister and I had been subsequently introduced up and schooled there.
Like me, many in Debden are born into households with direct hyperlinks to the East Finish and are firmly a part of the cockney diaspora, however does that make us cockney? Properly, it’s difficult.
When my grandparents left east London, they left behind substantial poverty (not that they or my dad and mom lived with out financial hardship in Essex), however in some methods, in addition they left behind their sense of self. Though they lived out the rest, and the bulk, of their lives in Essex, they at all times thought of east London to be house.
In consequence, subsequent generations have been born to cockney households in Essex, like me, and have needed to calibrate our identities. Though we might frequent the native pie and mash store and dance the Cockney Knees Up at weddings, it feels implausible that cockneys could possibly be born into red-brick homes with spacious gardens in suburban Essex. That is too removed from the poverty and vibrancy of east London that our grandparents vividly recounted. We’re extra credibly described with the derisive trope of the brash and materialistic “Essex lady or boy” which emerged to appease middle-class egos after the new-found success of the working class in Essex.
I needed to look into this confused sense of identification and located that in Debden, the cockney identification is dwindling. Inside two generations, there was a dramatic lower in those that think about themselves and their accents to be cockney. As a substitute, younger folks imagine they’ve an “Essex” accent, although their accent has not notably diverged from the accent of their cockney dad and mom or grandparents.
What many think about to be the Essex accent is not the beforehand documented, rural east Anglian accent – whose decline is lamented in components of Essex. As a substitute, though not an ideal reproduction, a modern-day Essex accent is notably a descendent of cockney.
As all accents do, the cockney accent has advanced, transmuted and brought on flavours and hues of different accents. When you are now much less more likely to hear Barbara Windsor’s well-known cockney lilt in east London, the cockney accent is alive and effectively. As a substitute, it’s purchased a brand new whistle and flute (swimsuit), bought a haircut, and moved to a semi-detached home in Essex.
Amanda Cole obtained funding from the College of Essex Doctoral Scholarship in addition to ESSEXLab seedcorn funding.