A description of the Baring-Gould Manuscript Collection and the work that has been done to make more of it accessible to singers and others interested in looking at the songs it contains


The Manuscript Collection

Sabine Baring-Gould's intention in collecting the folk songs of Devon and Cornwall was not to pin them, like butterflies, into the museum case of a printed text. His desire was to hear them sung and enjoyed by as many people as possible, particularly by children who would keep tradition alive. The articles he wrote and the books he published were done with this in mind. Early on in his collecting days he also started to arrange performances of his songs, initially in concerts but, increasingly, as staged performances with costumes and a plot that joined the songs together. In doing this he knew that the songs could not be performed exactly as he had collected them. Victorian audiences were not attuned to unaccompanied singing. If he was to be successful in popularising the songs they had to be matched to the tastes of the listeners. This meant that piano accompaniments were obligatory. He also had to tone down some of the more 'unsuitable' songs. He wrote:

"Of course, it is only some, and they are not very numerous among the popular lyrics, that are objectionable, and the singers have no thought that they are offending ears polite, when they mention in their songs and ballads matters not generally talked about, and when they call a spade "a spade" and not "an agricultural implement employed by gardeners."

Less understandably, Baring-Gould sometimes edited on the grounds of personal taste and his feeling of what the singer might have sung if they hadn't omitted a verse.

Baring-Gould's gift to posterity is that he had the foresight to make fair copies of the songs he collected and to ensure that one of these copies was given to Plymouth Library, together with the rough notes of tunes taken down in the field by his collaborators Bussell and Sheppard. These were the only manuscripts that researchers had to work with up until 1992 when it was discovered that Baring-Gould's personal fair copy of the songs had also survived with his books and other papers in Killerton House near Exeter where his personal library had been moved in the 1970s. This started a period of exploration with the help and encouragement of Baring-Gould's great-granddaughter, Merriol Almond and with the assistance of a number of other enthusiasts. The manuscripts have now been moved from Killerton to the Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter.

The complete collection of Baring-Gould's folk song manuscripts from has now been photographed as high quality digital images and can be viewed on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library's 'Full English' song database.

To see a complete guide to the Baring-Gould Manuscript Collection, click on the tab to the left. You can also view an index to the Personal Copy Manuscript and some exhibits from the collection.




Other Baring-Gould Manuscript Collections

Other locations have collections Baring-Gould manuscripts or street literature which are of interest, including:

  • The Houghton Library at Harvard University (USA) has a collection of letters and songs sent by Baring-Gould to Francis Child. This collection has been included in those presented on the 'Full English' website. The collection can also be viewed on the Harvard University Library's website - go here..
  • The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House, London has letters sent by Baring-Gould to Cecil Sharp and to Lucy Broadwood.These can now be seen on the 'Full English' database.
  • The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, has a volume of broadside ballads that was once the property of Baring-Gould. There is a second volume, which he bought at the same time, in the John Rylands Library in Manchester.
  • The greater part of Baring-Gould's broadside ballad collection was given by him to the Printed Books Department of the British Museum in 1898. It is now in the British Library, Kings Cross, London
  • A transcription of Baring-Gould's 1862 diary-notebook, which contains the record of stories, songs, and riddles that he collected in Yorkshire can be seen on Ron Wawman's website: www.nevercompletelysubmerged.co.uk. Ron's website includes transcriptions of a number of other important documents, though no others are related to his song collection

While these are the folk song manuscripts that are known about and are available  to researchers it is possible that other material will come to light as the search goes on. I live in hope!


[Updated 26 June 2014]