A dabber is used in painting, brass rubbing, old maps and bingo.  It is also the name of a type of boat, but . . . 

Just who or what is a Dabber?


Am I a Dabber?

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. 

   However, since 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!

   Take, for 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!

   Many people 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.

   Still other 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. He 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 dabber.   

   Dabbing is 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 hedges. 

   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.


COULD 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 http://thegroundhog.wordpress.com/2007/04/07


    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 before. 


SORRY, but 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 this view.

    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 the Dabbers".

   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 Churche's Mansion.

A Places to See page: Churche's Mansion



I NOTE that if you enter the word Dabber in an Internet search engine you are pointed to sailing websites, among others. I drew a blank on why Drascombe Dabbers were so called. The boat's name was chosen by the builders in 1971. The 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 could 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.  


THE 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 . . . 

lDabbers are used in painting, plate making for



Other Dabbers

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 board.

lI have even seen the children's treat called a sherbet dabber - although I always called it a sherbet dab.

lAlex Johnson's village games page on the Burn Family 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 of




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 interesting nonetheless:


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: billpearson.co.uk/dabber/

What is a Dabber? - your comments  

Mark, "a Nantwich-born, but Crewe-based artist" writes: "I was born in Nantwich Hospital several years ago and have always wondered what a Dabber might refer to. A theory that I heard somewhere when I was younger was that a Dabber referred to early signatures.

  " When the town's earliest trades were first established centuries ago, people working in the town were allocated a house along Beam Street. Quite who made the property available I don't remember, but it was almost certainly with funding from the Crown.

   "To prove themselves as genuine Nantwich workers these lucky few had to sign for their houses. But since nobody could read or write in those days they simply dabbed ink on to the parchment with their thumb. An interesting theory but who knows? There are so many."


lDabber writes: By "Nantwich Hospital" do you mean The Barony Hospital? This is a variation of the theory that people signing documents to be able to rent Beam Heath land as tenant farmers "dabbed" their thumbprint on the deed. But this must have happened all over the country so why were Nantwich



people singled out to be the Dabbers rather than any other townspeople?  


Mrs Alvina Greig (no address) writes: My grandfather was born in Haslington in 1899 and lived in the Crewe area until the 1930s when he moved to Bucks. He told me that another name for Nantwich was Dab Town.

   "He believed it was to do with the tanning / leather industry because he would then break into a little ditty which went . . .


   There is a little town not far away,

   Where dabs and tatching ends (go?) every day



   What a stick of leather-oh!

   Hip hip hooray!


   "He remembered all the lines but unfortunately I don't. I vaguely think there was another technical / local term used in the song. Tatching is something to do with working with leather.

    "I have some tape recordings of him made before he died in 1972 so if I ever find the rest of the song I will try and let you know."


lDabber writes: Thanks for that, Alvina. I agree that Dab Town would be a name for Nantwich based on the name Dabbers for the residents. but there is still the mystery of why Dabbers. I hadn't heard of "tatching". Would that make us Tatchers and Nantwich Tat Town? What a good job we decided to call ourselves Dabbers!


Roger Moors, Vancouver B.C. writes: "Good web site.

   "I am a Dabber from way back - Birchin Lane.  My Granddad and Great Granddad both lived there, at The Bootes.

   "I remember a story my Granddad told me about the Dabber who was called up for Home Guard duty during the war.

   "Part of his training included staring at a landscape for five minutes and then turning around and being asked questions on what he had observed, to which he was suppose to give great detail.

   "He was asked 'What did you see, Dabber?' He replied 'A big tree.' 'What kind of tree was it?' asked the trainer.  'A big wooden b****r,' replied the Dabber.

Thanks, Roger.