SIMPLY, a Dabber is someone
born within the town's ancient boundaries. It's a little like being a Cockney because
you were born within the sound of Bow Bells in London.
the sound of the eight bells of St Mary's Parish Church in the centre of town
travel several miles, you could be born within the sound of Nantwich bells but
not qualify as being a Dabber.
How did the
name come about? Well, there are
numerous theories about this - some plausible, some just plain daft!
instance, this one: A man and his son were in the countryside trying to catch
birds by putting birdlime on the branches. Suddenly, the boy calls out:
"Dab thee yed dine, Feyther, there's a chaddy on t'twig." [Obviously
that means: "Get your head down, Dad, there's a chaffinch on the branch"!] And so,
the theory goes, the whole townspeople were called Dabbers because of a
conversation between two men! I don't think so!
say it is something to do with the tanning industry of the town which produced
fine leather. Others - who worked in the industry - say they have never
heard of "dabbing" as a tannery word.
theorists think it might be a variation of "dipping" the hides to make leather.
THE late Harry
Simpson - another Dabber - used to run the family shoe shop in Beam Street.
told me his grandfather had a different theory. He said the name came not from
the tanning industry but from shoe making. The uppers (the bits you polish) and
a lining had to be glued together before they were stitched into the shoe. This
was done with dabs of glue carried out by - you've guessed it - a
attributed by some to the gambling world where bets were "dabbed"
down. That would be fitting as Nantwich had a racecourse on Beam Heath between
1729 and 1824. After that the common land was bounded by fences and
Illiterate farmers who couldn't sign contracts permitting them to use the
town's common land to graze their cattle were said, in another theory, to
"dab" their mark on the deed. A fingerprint, I suppose. The trouble
with these, in my opinion, is that these actions must have occurred in other
towns so how did Nantwich people alone qualify for the name?
I READ a new theory in
the Nantwich Chronicle of
Churche's Mansion - an example of
a "magpie" building
January 28, 2004. A
reader, doing research into their family from the 1851 and 1861 censuses,
noticed there were a lot of Irish
people in Nantwich at those times. They suggested that the
name Dabbers was a way of
concealing the nickname
Paddies so that "the people of Crewe wouldn't pick up on it".
A nice idea, but, again, I am sorry to
say that I don't buy it. I don't think Irish people refer
to themselves as Paddies, do they? Any more than we call ourselves by the
Australian term of "pommy b*****ds".
True, there were Irish people
fighting in the 1644 Civil War so some of them could have stayed around and they
or their descendents could have been
here at the right time when the name came into being.
it be that we are Dabbers because of our bakery skills? We certainly have
the best bakers and confectioners in the country in Chatwin's!
This idea came to me after I read an entry on the website of the
Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regimental Association from one Terry (Dabber) Baker.
When I asked him about his
nickname, he said: "I
got the nickname when I was in the Army because of my surname as that
is what bakers do to the dough. It's another word for kneading."
ANOTHER theory connected with food can be found in a
reference to Nantwich Town Football Club: "Nantwich Town were founded in 1884
and are nicknamed the Dabbers after the town’s famous Dabber Pies
(apparently)." So says David Poole, member No 34 of the 100
Football Grounds Club - a website which focuses on football grounds. His comment
can be found at
I haven't heard of a Dabber's Pie in respect
of Nantwich football ground before although Nantwich butchers, Clewlow's of Pepper Street, made one.
It served 1 to 2 people and was made with local pork from Reaseheath College,
farmhouse pickle and Cheshire cheese. Sadly this family butchers' closed down in
July 2023. But I digress . . .
THE Cheshire Cat
in Welsh Row has a website which puts forward a slightly different idea. Talking
about the history of the town (in January 2010), it combines the salt industry
with a couple of different eras and refers to "the famous salt dabbers of Roman
and Saxon times".
A case of the people taking on the name of the implement used
in the trade? Not that I have heard of a salt dabber as the name of an implement
I stick with my
favourite theory. I have long
believed that the name comes from the wattle and daub
buildings in Nantwich, or at least their builders. Others have also expressed
Buildings were made from a wooden frame and the gaps
between the beams were filled with wattle (thin twigs) and daub (mud and even
cattle dung). I like to think that Nantwich people were the best "wattle
and daubers" for miles around - and gained the shortened name of
"daubers" or Dabbers.
Well, it's as good as any other idea.
Not that another Dabber, Michael
Chatwin, agrees with me - cautiously referring to my idea with some scepticism
in his book about Nantwich Town F.C., "Proud to be
Incidentally, wooden frames and the daub of buildings were
originally left in their natural colours. It was only later that the frames were
painted black and the daub was coated in white to give the famous look of black
and white (or magpie) buildings.
One magpie building in Nantwich is
A Places to See page:
NOTE that if you enter the word Dabber in an Internet search engine you
are pointed to sailing websites, among others.
drew a blank on why Drascombe Dabbers were so called. The boat's name was chosen
by the builders in 1971.
builders were Honnor Marine who formerly built Drascombe Boats in Totnes, Devon.
The boat could be beached without shipping the rudder - a bone of
contention with early Lugger owners, apparently. The late John Watkinson was a retired Royal
Navy officer when he designed the Dabber. He grew up on the Wirral and could well
have known the name for Nantwich people. The boat name
have been chosen because it was alliteration. Another theory was that it was
something to do with the way ducks feed. My thanks to Mr Luke Churchouse, former
MD of Honnor Marine, Kate Watkinson, widow of the designer, and especially Tim
Lodge, webmaster of Drascombe
Association website, for all their help.
name crops up in other fields, too.
lPeople who are good at something
are said to be "dab hands". As I was saying (above) about the wattle and
daubers . . .
are used in painting, plate making for
artistic prints and for taking brass rubbings. In antique
map making they were used to rub ink into the incised parts of the printing plate.
lIt is the name of the broad pen used by bingo players to mark, on their
bingo card, the numbers that have been called off (there is even an auto
dabber!). I suppose anything that you dab with is a
dabber . . .
lIt is a name given by grammar schools, etc, to a mortar
lI have even seen the
children's treat called a sherbet dabber - although I always called it a sherbet
lAlex Johnson's village games page on the Burn
website tells us a dabber was used in the game of hopscotch. He says: "The
skill was throwing the 'dabber'
into the circle you needed. Starting from one you had to go to eight, hopping in
each circle without touching a line. Having mastered this game you went on to
"Hitchy Dabber". This was a very difficult game and certainly
strengthened your leg muscles. You had to hop on one leg and kick the dabber
into each numbered circle
without it landing on a line. The dabber was a piece
flat sandstone or tile and was carried in our pockets so we could play the
game at any time."
Incidentally, if you use the link
to the Burn Family website, select Contents and then Village Games. The link only takes you as far as
the home page.
NOTHING to do with the origin of Dabber, but
AN actress called Tisha Dabber was born in
Shelbeyville, Indiana, USA,
on December 14, 1977.
In Charles Dickens' "Nicholas Nickleby", these lines appear: "Kate's
picture, too, would be in at least half-a-dozen of the annuals, and on the
opposite page would appear, in delicate type, 'Lines on contemplating the
Portrait of Lady Mulberry Hawk. By Sir Dingleby Dabber'."
There are others listings on the Internet. Make a search some time.
Here's an excellent one: