Spench, spence and sbens

Recently a friend told me that in North Wales the area under stairs is know as the spench – I hadn’t heard it before and didn’t know how to write it so this spelling is a guess. I found spench in the Urban Dictionary, which defines it as “the area under the stairs (often a cupboard) where things are stored. Used in North Wales.”

In the Geiriadur Mawr, one of my Welsh dictionaries, I found the Welsh word sbens, which is defined as “twll dan y grisiau” (a hole under the stairs) and is translated as spence.

The OED defines spence as “a room or separate place in which victuals and liquor are kept; a buttery or pantry; a cupboard.” and says that it is dialectal or archaic. It comes from the Old French word despense (to dispense), from the Latin word dispendere (to dispense, weigh out; pay out; open, spread out), from the Latin word pendere (to hang; depend; weigh out; pay) plus the prefix dis-.

Have you heard this word before, or do you have another word for the area//cupboard under the stairs?

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This entry was posted in English, Etymology, French, Language, Latin, Welsh, Words and phrases.

3 Responses to Spench, spence and sbens

  1. P. says:

    The lovely British TV show “As Time Goes By” had Judi Dench’s character hide in (or otherwise visit) the cupboard under the stairs on several occasions. That strikes me as an excellent aide-mémoire for that nifty word, but it’d be nice to have a definitive spelling first!

  2. Jim says:

    Never heard of that.
    We always call it the ‘Bogey hole’!

  3. Di says:

    In Welsh, “cwtsh dan star”. The verb “cwtsh” means to crouch as well, and you usually have to crouch down to get into the cupboard under the stairs if you don’t want to bang your head. These days, cwtsh seems to have the exclusive meaning of cuddle, but the cwtsh under the stairs is still in use.

    I like spence, and wonder if the surname Spencer comes from the person who dispensed items from a place of storage.