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Nen versus Neen: Battle over how to pronounce river name decided by game of croquet

·2 min read
Peterborough and Northampton Croquet Clubs battle it out at Central Park, Peterborough - Adam Hughes / SWNS 
Peterborough and Northampton Croquet Clubs battle it out at Central Park, Peterborough - Adam Hughes / SWNS

A centuries-old battle over how to pronounce a river name was decided by a game of croquet on Sunday.

The River Nene originates in Northamptonshire and runs for 100 miles through Cambridgeshire and Norfolk before flowing into The Wash.

But for generations there has been controversy over the way it is pronounced – locals in Northampton say "Nen" while 40 miles away in Peterborough they say "Neen".

When a long-awaited local croquet derby was planned, the two sides decided to up the stakes by making it a decider on the pronunciation.

Northampton was the first side to win five games in Sunday’s contest and claimed the right to call the disputed river the "Nen" with a decisive 7-2 victory in a four-hour contest.

Paul Hetherington, 56, Peterborough club secretary, said: "The dispute has been going on a long, long time, it must be centuries-old.

"I've always been interested in the pronunciation because the towns are only 40 miles apart and we are just downstream of Northampton.

"I was joking about it with the Northampton club when I thought it would be a good idea to have a game to settle once and for all the name of the river."

The origin of the Nene – the UK's 10th longest river – is unknown but its name has changed over the years; it has been called “Nenn” or “Nyn” during the course of history.

Paul Chard, 61, chairman of Northampton Croquet Club, said: "It is quite odd why there's a difference.

"I looked on Wikipedia and they pronounced it the 'Nenny' but no one calls it that.

"I know that in villages in the middle of us like Oundle and Thrapston one person at one end of the village will say 'Nen' and a person at the other end will say 'Neen'.

"I don't think anyone knows why.

"With Peterborough and Northampton deeply divided north and south of the river you can sometimes hear people who live in the middle oscillating between the two pronunciations.

"When I moved here 20 years ago I picked up what local people said to me and it wasn't until I played with people like Paul that I heard the other pronunciation.”

Despite being so close, the two towns play in different croquet leagues and rarely meet for a derby.

It was therefore decided that such a momentous tie should carry a significant prize for the winning team.

The five-person mixed ability teams played nine games, three of the longer-form association croquet and six of the shorter version of golf croquet.

The losing team agreed that their town will pronounce the river's name in the winning team's way in all correspondence and public interviews.

However, they have plans to make it an annual tie – so the pronunciation could shift on a yearly basis.

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