Free archive reveals England's folk heritage

By Jon Bauckham, 27 June 2013 - 3:17pm

Records that could reveal more about the lives of your musical forebears have been added to a free web database

Thursday 27 June 2013
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Researchers can now explore England’s cultural heritage on the web following the launch of a free digital folk dance and music archive.

The English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) has scanned and uploaded more than 58,400 historic records, each of which can be viewed via The Full English web database.

The resource provides access to documents collected during the English folk revival at the turn of the 20th century, when composers such as Percy Grainger sought to ‘rescue’ traditional local dances and songs from becoming forgotten.

Their notes from out in the field, as well as materials collected on their travels such as newspaper clippings and photographs, can offer a wealth of information about local dancers and musicians unavailable anywhere else.

Even if genealogists cannot find their forebears mentioned by the name, browsing through each of the 12 indexed collections can offer an insight into many bygone customs and traditions, which were often rooted in rural working class communities.

The website includes the work of Cecil Sharp, whose efforts at preserving the traditions led to the formation of the English Folk Dance Society in 1911, which was a predecessor of the EFDSS. Sharp undertook extensive research and published books on Morris dancing, as well as the rapper sword dances of the North East, which had both been on the verge of extinction. 

Sharp is also the namesake of the organisation’s London headquarters – Cecil Sharp House – which operates as a music venue and a centre for the teaching of indigenous English folk arts. A large number of the materials included in The Full English are held at the centre's Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, which itself was named after another leading figure in the folk revival.

Other institutions that assisted and provided content for the project include the British Library, Devon Heritage Centre and Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.

“The launch of The Full English archive is a landmark in digital archives and for EFDSS,” says Malcolm Taylor, Director at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.

“It will open up traditional English music to an international audience, making available for browsing and searching manuscripts of traditional song, music and culture that could once only be accessed by visiting archives or in edited printed versions.” 

The Full English was made possible following substantial grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Folk Music Fund, plus additional support from the Folklore Society. Over the coming months, the EFDSS hopes to expand the collection as well as engage volunteers in transcribing the documents to make them fully searchable. 

take it further

► Explore The Full English for free at

► Visit the English Folk Dance and Song Society website at


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