I ran across a reference to a “bastable” that perplexed me; it turns out there’s a fuller form “bastable oven,” and the OED has an entry from 2019:

1. attributive. Especially in Ireland: designating an earthenware or (in later use) cast-iron pot with three short legs and a lid, used for baking over a fire; esp. in bastable oven, bastable pot.

2. Especially in Ireland: an earthenware or (in later use) cast-iron pot with three short legs and a lid, used for baking over a fire.

The etymology is interesting:

Variant of Barnstaple (in Barnstaple oven n.; compare forms at that entry), with simplification of the consonant cluster to rst and assimilatory loss of r before s.
Among forms attested for the place name Barnstaple are Barstaple (a1484), Barstable (1549), Bastable (1675).

The entry for Barnstaple oven, also from 2019, explains that “Barnstaple was formerly known for the manufacture of pottery, especially (from the end of the 16th cent.) prefabricated unglazed cloam ovens, which enjoyed considerable commercial success in the West Country, Ireland, and the North American colonies.” The first citation is:

1716 A. Hill Ess. for December iii. 35 The Barnstaple Ovens of Devonshire..being first form’d of common Potters Clay, in one entire Piece, are not only cleaner, and cheaper than any other Ovens, but bake with more Evenness, and Certainty.

You can see a photo at this Bread in Ireland page (which explains the history of soda bread: “The concept of leavening bread with acid and baking soda had been long in use by the American Indians (who used ashes) and had been used for some time by Europeans in North America. This quick, very simple method of making bread suited the poorly equipped Irish household, and also worked with the low gluten flour available in Ireland”), and more photos and descriptions here (where it’s spelled “bastible,” just another in a parade of historical variants).


  1. Is there actually a difference between this and a Dutch oven? It looks exactly the same to me.

  2. John Cowan says

    Cloam ‘clay > earthenware’, by the way. It’s dialectal.

  3. Those of us who are British and d’un certain âge remember the television presenter Tony Bastable:

  4. Irish soda bread is traditionally made with wholemeal flour, which was cheaper than white flour. In my youth “brown bread” meant soda bread; “white bread” was leavened with yeast. Once, my mother asked for “soda bread” at the baker’s and discovered when she got home that she had been handed white soda bread; she was amazed at the shop assistant’s ignorance.

  5. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I know Bastable only as the name of the children in an E. Nesbit book (I thought they were the Five Children, but apparently it’s the Treasure Seekers).

  6. For me, it’s captain Oswald Bastable, the protagonist of Michael Moorcock’s alternate history trilogy – The Warlord of the Air, The Land Leviathan, The Steel Tsar.

    Of course, it turns out Moorcock chose this name under influence of E. Nesbit books.

  7. AJP Crown says

    Half Man Half Biscuit refer to [Tony] Bastable in their song “I Love You Because (You Look Like Jim Reeves)”, from the 1985 album Back in the DHSS*. He is also referenced in the song “Tony Bastable vs. John Noakes”** by The Dentists, from the 1985 album Some People Are on the Pitch They Think It’s All Over It Is Now.***

    * (Gov.) Dept. of Health & Social Security
    ** John Noakes, BBC children’s TV presenter
    *** Famous commentary at the end of England’s World Cup win in 1966

    This represents what was interesting in English culture at that time, local – you might say consciously provincial – references instead of Beatles vs Stones, Band Aid concerts etc. It reminds me of what the Irish did (Flann O’Brien et al), only by that time Ireland was doing Bono, Bob Geldof and Band Aid concerts.

  8. AJP Crown says

    Moorcock chose this name [Bastable] under influence of E. Nesbit books.

    Of course, Edith Nesbit. I knew I knew it from somewhere. Lewisham (a not specially attractive residential area in south London) holds a place in my heart because of her books.

  9. PlasticPaddy says

    A friend’s mother made lovely wholemeal griddle bread. The only pictures I can find that look like it are of a kind of chapati. She was originally from Kerry but lived in West Clare, and she apologised for having no bread from the shop.

  10. There are as many recipes for Irish soda bread as there are families from Ireland. I have had many varieties: some white, some whole wheat; some sweet, some bitter; some with raisins and caraway seeds, some without; some delicious, and some practically inedible.

  11. J.W. Brewer says

    I am amused to see that wikipedia’s list of people surnamed Bastable has more fictional characters, if the Nesbit characters are counted individually, than non-fictional bearers of the name. (I too associate the name primarily with the Moorcock character and if I ever knew he’d borrowed it rather than made it up I’d totally forgotten.)

  12. John Cowan says

    Of course, it turns out Moorcock chose this name under influence of E. Nesbit books.

    It’s always been my view that Moorcock’s Oswald Bastable just is Nesbit’s, except that he’s grown up, or at least gotten bigger and added some new interests. Moorcock has denied this, but what does he know?

    “It is generally accepted that a critic is a better judge of the value of a poem than its creator, but there is still a lingering notion that it is somehow ridiculous to regard the critic as the final judge of its meaning, even though in practice it is clear that he must be [especially when the author is dead].”

  13. J.W. Brewer says

    Re AJPC’s reference to local/provincial references in mid-Eighties UK music, if he had not previously done so he should stop whatever he’s doing and listen to Viv Albertine’s 2012 tour de force “Still England,” whose lyrics consist almost entirely of an astonishingly lengthy and varied catalog of distinctively English persons, places, things, events, and (in the very last line) vulgar insults. Everything from Reading Gaol (rhymes with “Royal Mail”) to Granny Takes a Trip to Arthur Scargill, and beyond in all sorts of directions temporal and otherwise. You could have some sort of contest awarding prizes based on the percentage of the references a particular listener understands immediately w/o googling.

  14. John Cowan says

    Ah, a sort of British “American Pie”, then.

    I find it is true that Moorcock’s Oswald has four brothers and Nesbit’s only two, but (a) his mother is not too old to have two more sons, and (b) something must be allowed for the exigencies of “children’s” literature.

  15. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I don’t know Moorcock’s Oswald, but wikipedia says that he is ‘one of four brothers’, which is also the case for Nesbit’s – there are Oswald, Dicky, Noel and H.O., plus Dora and Alice.

  16. J.W. Brewer says

    I don’t think I agree with JC’s “American Pie” comparison, but others may judge for themselves after listening. I mention this not to try to triumph over JC on the merits of the comparison, but just in case others may have found the comparison a motivation not to click through and listen.

  17. AJP Crown says

    JW Brewer, thanks for that! I shall play it asap.

    Jen in Edinburgh, thank you too. Oswald, Dicky, Noel and H.O., plus Dora and Alice – good, c. 1900 names, I’d forgotten. I must get hold of The Treasure Seekers. It’s been nearly 60 years since I read it, I do hope it holds up.

  18. Viv Albertine’s 2012 tour de force “Still England,”

    Very enjoyable (and not a bit like “American Pie”). I got a surprising (to me) number of the references, but it would be nice to check the lyrics at leisure; alas, they don’t seem to be online (which astonishes me in the age of Genius Lyrics).

  19. AJP Crown says

    “No one likes us, we don’t care” – very American as well as English. I was about to make the same comment as Language about the weird lack of online lyrics. We need them. Especially because I’m a bit deaf and at 2:00 I thought she said Meryl Streep (well, she did play Mrs Thatcher) but after three goes, I realised it’s Beryl Reed. I recognised at least 3/4 – hardly surprising since me & Viv Albertine (lovely real name, btw) are the same age and London art school background – and I’d probably get a lot more if I could actually hear.

  20. “No one likes us, we don’t care” – very American as well as English.

    The sentiment may be, but the actual phrase is pure Albion, and specifically Millwall.

  21. No, I take that back — apparently it’s been co-opted by Philadelphia. Sorry about that, we steal everything that’s not nailed down.

  22. Thanks for posting this, Hat!

    I will be very happy to add bastable oven to the group of ass, bass, bust, cuss, dace, gash, (ol’) hoss and passel when I lecture on English historical phonology or semantic differentiation.

  23. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I didn’t remember any of the names except Oswald either – I just knew there was quite a crowd of them, so when I read that about the other-Oswald I thought I might as well count 🙂

    It’s not quite as long as that since I read it – maybe I should. I think I prefer the Psammead ones, though.

  24. J.W. Brewer says

    I agree that the lack of an online transcription of the “Still England” lyrics is both unexpected (for 2020) and inconvenient. Clearly the task needs a dedicated volunteer who has plenty of free time and is very accurate and detail-oriented. Not saying that only a retired copy editor would fit that description, of course. There’s at least one UK-specific reference in there (the Woodcraft Folk) that I only recognize on account of having read Viv’s autobiography.

  25. AJP Crown says

    the Psammead ones – Five Children And It, I haven’t read those. I’ll give them a try.

    Thanks for Millwall, Language. I did vaguely know (I like Bermondsey and they’re a very peculiar team), but I’d never have guessed it.

  26. You never know what you’re going to learn here at the Hattery!

  27. The word “bastable” has been repurposed in the BBC’s Shakespeare sitcom “Upstart Crow” as a cod-Jacobethan minced form of “bastard”. Dunno what fraction of the viewers know the original meaning.

  28. Oh, how stupid. That kind of thing infuriates me.

  29. Does the name for this cooking pot have nothing to do with basting food? I mean it seems a stretch that they might have shipped these ordinary clay pots from Barnstable. It’s not exactly the centre of the universe and they could have made them anywhere. And they look fragile. I’d rather have a French cast-iron one any day. French food too.

  30. Ironically, I just read PG Wodehouse’s Bill the Conquererest yesterday and wondered about the name of the tutor, Sherman Bastable. And here I learn a lot!

    I agree that the oven pictured on the Irish soda bread page is what I’d have called a Dutch oven, although most Dutch ovens in my experience don’t have feet. (They would play havoc with my smooth top stove! ) My daddy had a big 1 with feet and a handle like a frying pan that I think probably is what used to be called a “spider,” but we always called it a Dutch oven because daddy only used it for baking. We have a few at the Girl Scout camp where I volunteer that have feet; I may start calling them bastables just to freak people out.

  31. John Cowan says

    I don’t think I agree with JC’s “American Pie” comparison

    Well, it was meant to be a narrow comparison only, with regard to the highly allusive lyrics and nothing else. Then again, some may have clicked through because of the comparison.

    we steal everything that’s not nailed down

    Hardly surprising, since these colonies were founded by thieves and deadbeats along with the better-known heretics, levellers, and republicans.

  32. “American Pie” is a roughly chronological recounting of events and cultural phenomena from 1959 to 1969, with particular emphasis on the music business. It is larded—particularly in the later parts of the song—with double (and occasionally triple) entendres, such as combining references to the Beatles and Vietnam War, or the Rolling Stones and the space program. Moreover, some of the things mentioned, if they were even intended to be specific references, have never been conclusively decoded.

    “Still England” just seems to a listing of a large number of characteristically British things. However, I, not being British, may easily be missing the kinds of double-meanings that are omnipresent in “American Pie.”

  33. Do the Brits even have Chevys and levees?

  34. Ford Anglias and dykes. But they don’t have the cultural allusions or poetic potential of Chevys and levees.

    I learn from that definition that ‘dyke’ can refer either to what Americans would call a levee or to the channel contained by embankments. You can find such things in the fens and to a lesser extent in the Somerset levels.

  35. John Cowan says

    OE dīc was ambiguous between the two meanings, and then there is northern dyke/dike vs. southern ditch; in Ireland the latter is elevated, elsewhere it is dug out, but both are long and narrow. See the discussion beginning here for the cognates outside English and their varying meanings, and this comment for the etymological nativization that gives German both Deik ‘high and dry bit’ and Teich ‘low, watery bit’.

  36. AJP Crown says

    Unlocks all/In a Vauxhall… is probably the closest they could get (GM owned Vauxhall Motors until recently). The difference between those songs and ‘Chevy to the levee’ is huge. At the risk of sounding all pretentious, my original point was that the English songs were deliberately provincial and perhaps the closest England got to being Irish. There are folk in Norfolk and the Isle of Wight who wouldn’t know “No one likes us, we don’t care” is a chant of Millwall football club. Perhaps everyone in Britain knows what the DHSS is (amongst other things, I think it’s where you draw unemployment money), but for better or worse the DHSS is in a different league from “the day Buddy Holly died”. It’s a mocking anarcho-political commentary on British life, not a mysterious nostalgic national celebration of American music. [No value judgements are intended here.]

  37. [And none inferred.]

  38. David Marjanović says


    Oh, worse, it’s nativized to Deich.

  39. John Cowan says

    Sorry, yes. What I said at the link and meant to say here is that if dijk vel sim. had been borrowed without nativization, it would have been as Deik.

    I do think “American Pie” is pretty ironic and political, though not anarchist, unless you think Bob Dylan (“the jester”) is an anarchist. (Dylan himself said that anyone who writes songs like “Masters of War” isn’t a jester.) But I certainly wouldn’t deny that “American Pie” is mysterious, nostalgic, national, and celebratory.

    “What does your song mean?” “It means I’ll never have to work again.”

  40. I guess I know the names of most American car marques, but I have little idea of their relative status and cultural resonance. I assumed that the only reason the young McLean drove a Chevrolet to a levee was because of the rhyme; otherwise he might have driven an Oldsmobile to a quarry or a Studebaker to a grain elevator.

  41. SFReader says

    In Russia, Studebaker is known only as a truck.

    Due to Studebaker US6 2½-ton 6×6 truck which was one of the most common Red Army trucks during the Great Patriotic War.

    It was exported in enormous quantities to the Soviet Union under Lend-Lease program.

    Red Army Studebaker truck on the streets of conquered Berlin, May 1, 1945.

  42. Studebakers were discontinued in 1966, the car maker having already dragged down Packard with it. (Packard bought out Studebaker without understanding how bad its financial position was.)
    One of my friends in high school was still driving one in the early 1990s, but for most kids my age, the Studebaker was only known as Fozzie’s car.

  43. David Eddyshaw says

    I learn from that definition that ‘dyke’ can refer either to what Americans would call a levee or to the channel contained by embankments

    Kusaal mu’ar similarly and confusingly means both “dam” and “lake, reservoir.”
    I had some difficulty parsing the local place name “Mogonori” (= Kusaal Mu’anɔɔr), which looked like “Dam Mouth”, until I discovered that (a) it was a lake, not a dam, and (b) rivers and lakes have “mouths” in Ghana where their European sisters have banks or shores.
    So it actually means “Lakeshore.”

  44. AJP Crown says

    When I was seven, I bought a fantastic gold painted Corgi model Studebaker Golden Hawk. If I’d kept it, it would probably now be worth anything from two to three dollars.

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