Butter’s Spelling

We love old school texts. They tell us what was important in times past and what youngsters were expected to know. One such book is Butter’s Spelling – a book of no great interest from the outside.

Butter's Spelling - a book at Market Lavington Museum

Butter’s Spelling – a book at Market Lavington Museum

The title page of Butter's Spelling = published in 1879

The title page of Butter’s Spelling – published in 1879

The title page tells us that the book was published in 1879 and that this was the 400th edition. Clearly it was a very successful book, used widely and not just in Market Lavington. We are also told that the book has a portrait of the author, so we are able to see Henry Butter in all his magnificent glory.

Henry Butter

Henry Butter

But of course, at the heart of the book are lists of words, arranged in interesting ways. Here we see words that sound similar except for one small piece of pronunciation – and they have different spellings.


Some similar sounding words and how to spell them

Some similar sounding words and how to spell them

One can imagine the poor scholars being given lists of spellings to learn – but Mr Butter wanted more. He wanted our Victorian ancestors to know the meanings as well. Mr Hatley, headmaster at Market Lavington, no doubt encouraged the youngsters with his ‘great big stick’, but probably some found it very hard.

We can pick out changes in life style from the words. We’d guess not many 21st century youngsters would know the words bodice or chaise, let alone disseize. And it is interesting to see that Mr Butter regarded the pronunciation of ‘practice’ and practise’ as different.  Maybe that would save problems these days.

This book hasn’t made it to our ‘school days’ display this year, but it is in place in a cabinet in the entrance room at the museum.

Here’s hoping I have avoided too many spelling mistakes in writing this!


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