EVERYONE is an etymologist! Last week, Bruce Dodsworth who now lives in the Lake District why he remembered a “laven tin” being an important part of his West Auckland childhood. But what was it, and how did it come by its name?

Ron Bryden of St Helen Auckland explained its purpose: “I was brought up in East View in West Auckland and I well remember granny’s laven tin. When grandad and uncles came home from the pit it was used to transfer hot water from the open range to the tin bath – we had no indoor amenities in the 1940s and 1950s.”

A “laven tin” was a pan with handles for carrying hot water. But from where does this south Durham word “laven” come?

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Loads of people went scurrying to dusty book shelves.

“My father used Nutalls Standard Dictionary of English Language, 1919 edition, and it says: ‘lave – to wash oneself, to bathe; laver – a vessel for washing, a large basin,” said Christina Pearson in Haughton-le-Skerne.

Anne Burton in Crook said: “My ancient, and very useful, Universal Dictionary of the English Language states that ‘to lave’ means to wash or pour and probably comes from an Old English word ‘lafian’ or the French verb ‘laver’ which mean ‘to wash’. Both of these words were borrowed from Latin.”

The Northern Echo: LAVEN TIN: Two kids in a bath at Gurney Valley, near Bishop Auckland, in January 1974. The range on which the water was heated is behind and they are in a tin bath so, to be perfectly correct, the laven tin is actually the bucket on the right of the pictu

Two kids in a bath at Gurney Valley, near Bishop Auckland, in January 1974. The range on which the water was heated is behind and they are in a tin bath so, to be perfectly correct, the laven tin is actually the bucket on the right of the picture

Yes, of course. In Latin a lavatorium is a place for washing, and a lavatory was originally a bowl for washing, and they seem to enter the English language from French.

“The question, then, is about how small communities in County Durham came to adopt a French word for their various ablutions,” says Peter Kemp. Isn’t there a theory that the North-East accent is the closest sounding of all English accents to French?

But it isn’t just south Durham. Jo Tudor emailed: “In Derbyshire houses where the big black range had an oven on one side of the fire and a water tank on the other, the ‘lavin can’ was a cylindrical enamelled dipper with a handle (like a largish jug with no spout). It was used for getting hot water from the tank to the kitchen sink for washing. It had to be small enough to get into the lidded opening at the top of the tank, so it held about two pints, I’d say.”

And even in Durham there were clearly regional differences.

Alan Blenkiron said: “When I was young, around wartime in the Ferryhill area, the ‘lathering tin’, pronounced ‘laythering’ was a half gallon jug of aluminium which fitted nicely into the setpot.”

So perhaps Ferryhill had its own vocabulary. Dave Griffin from out that way said: “My mother used a ‘laden tin’ to empty the set-pot boiler after use. The correct pronunciation would be a ‘ladling tin’ – it was a straight sided enamelled tin which would hold about half a gallon.”

So now an alternative derivation is emerging: a laven tin has nothing to do with washing but everything to do with ladling?

A lady called Kath emailed. She said: “At 86 I read Memories every week and enjoy them immensely, but I'm a bit dodgy on the pc.” Her message still came through very impressively.

She said: “When was a kid in the 1930s, I lived in Bishops Close Street in Spennymoor. We had a tin bath and used what we called a ‘laden’ tin to fill the bath from a setpot full of water which was part of the kitchen range. I think ‘laven tin’ and ‘laden tin’ were used instead of ‘ladling tin’.”

We can have so much fun with these form of local sayings. Kath continued: “For many years, there was a school in Spennymoor that we all called ‘The Dicies’, and anyone who attended it was a Dicie. Many pitched battles took place in the weeks leading up to bonfire night when the kids from Bishops Close and those from ‘Dicies’ who lived just a few streets away would raid each other’s bonfires.

“It wasn't until I was a little older and wiser did I discovered that ‘The Dicies’ was a Church of England school and it's correct title was ‘The Diocese School’.”

Are there any others we should be investigating?

And who can help Christina Pearson, who used to travel on Stevenson’s bus from Witton Park to Bishop Auckland. “At one of the bus stops, the conductor would shout ‘Latherbrush’,” she says. “How did it get such a name?”