Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Folklore Society surveys of folklore

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

The Folklore Society soliticited accounts of the folk-lore from particular English, Scottish and Irish counties from its members from 1893. As the Annual Report described:

THE principal undertakings of the Society during the year I892 have been: (I) The inauguration of the work recommended by the Council in their last Annual Report, viz., collecting the Folk-lore of the different counties; (2) closely allied with and arising out of this work: the institution of a joint conference of the learned societies interested in the subject, for the discussion of the best means of obtaining a complete ethnographic survey of the United Kingdom. As regards the first point, the Council drew up the following recommendation for the guidance of the Local Committees, viz:-
I. That the Committee be called the ............... Local Committee for Folk-lore.
II. That the Committee be invited to attach itself to the Folk-lore Society as a member.
III. That all items of Folk-lore from printed sources, such as Chronicles, Local Histories, Newspapers, Notes and Queries, and Archaeological Publications, be copied out by the Local Committee, to be printed by the Folk-lore Society.
IV. That the current Folk-lore of the county be collected orally, to include
(a) Folk Tales and Nursery Tales; (b) Hero Tales; (c) Traditional Ballads and Songs; (d) Place Legends and Traditions; (e) Fairy Lore and Goblindom;(f) Witchcraft and Charms; (g) Folk Medicine; (h) Superstitions; (i) Local Customs; (j) Festival Customs; (k) Ceremonial Customs; (1) Games; (m) Jingles, Nursery Rhymes, Riddles, etc.; (n) Proverbs; (o) Old Saws - rhymed and unrhymed; (p) Nicknames, Place Names, and Sayings; (q) War Cries; (r) Folk Etymology.
V. That each item, whether from printed or oral sources, be clearly written on one side only of a separate slip of paper, with a full reference to the authority, (a) when derived from a printed source, the title, author's name, date, and pages of reference, and (b) in the case of items collected orally, a note of the name, age, occupation, and sex of the narrator, and of the locality to which the item relates.
VI. That a list be drawn up of Folk-lore objects in all the Museums and Private Collections in the county, such as Amulets, Feasten Cakes, Harvest Trophies, Objects left at Holy Wells, Specimens of Mumming and other Costumes, etc.
VII. That in the event of any question or difficulty arising in carrying out the work of the Local Committee, the Secretary of the Committee communicate with the Secretary of the Folk-lore Society. [pp. 112-113]

In 1897 this work was still on-going, and the Annual Report for that year gave advice to members thinking of taking part:

The Council again invite offers of help from members in undertaking the collection of the folklore from printed sources of the unallotted counties. At present the only counties allotted, besides those the folklore of which has been already published, are, in England: Yorkshire (North Riding), Notts, Staffordshire, Norfolk, Herts, Middlesex, Kent, and Surrey; in Scotland: Morayshire, Banffshire, Aberdeenshire, Kincardine, and Forfarshire; in Ireland: Antrim and Tyrone; and the Isle of Man. Although no response was received to a similar invitation given a year ago, they hope that this renewed appeal may secure co-operation in a work which can only be successfully carried out by the voluntary help of members generally. Its practical utility has already been pointed out, and need not be here insisted on. Many of the sources are inaccessible save to inhabitants of the counties concerned. Hence it can only be undertaken by country members, to whom it affords an opportunity, even when they are not in a position to assist in the collection and preservation of still living traditions, to render permanent service to science, and whom it brings into touch with the general work of the Society. Wherever there may be a sufficient number of members resident in a county, the formation of a local committee for the purpose will perhaps be found useful. Division of labour tends to lighten and expedite the task; the multiplication of workers, if properly organised, increases the probability of thoroughness in its performance; while their re-union from time to time, as it proceeds, for the discussion of incidental questions helps to quicken their interest, not merely in the remains of the past within their own county, but also in the wider problems offered by the Science of Tradition. At the same time, a local committee is by no means indispensable; for most of the collections which have hitherto reached the Council have been made by workers either single-handed or with only slight external assistance.
The Council feel that the first duty of the Society is to superintend the collection of folklore in the United Kingdom. ... With this end in view, the Council appeal to members of the Society, and especially to those in the provinces, to make known among their friends and neighbours the objects of the Society, and to assist in observing and recording the current folklore of their own neighbourhoods. [pp. 21-22]

The Folklore Society continued to amass and publish data from several counties over the next few years

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