A guide to the Baring-Gould Folk Song Manuscript Collection on the EFDSS 'Take Six' Website

The Baring-Gould Manuscripts - A Guide


Martin Graebe



This guide has been compiled to describe Baring-Gould’s manuscript song collection, to explain the structure of the Vaughan Williams memorial Library’s ‘Full English’ song manuscript database, to summarise the projects that led to the creation of the database and to give some hints on how to use it. The guide is divided into the following sections

1               Introduction

2               The Baring-Gould Song manuscripts

3               The Full English database

4               Referring to songs in the Baring-Gould manuscripts

5               Making the Manuscripts available

6               Working with the Baring-Gould manuscripts



1          Introduction

Until 1992 it was believed that the only surviving manuscripts from Baring-Gould’s great song collecting project were the Rough Copy Manuscript containing tunes noted by Baring-Gould and his colleagues in the field, and the Fair Copy of 202 songs, both of which were deposited at Plymouth Library by Baring-Gould in the early years of the 20Th Century. There was also a more recent acquisition of another notebook of songs, which is probably the first that Baring-Gould compiled (Working Notebook 1). At that time, Plymouth Library also acquired a notebook of Baring-Gould's own compositions (Composition Notebook 1).


It was assumed that everything else had been lost or destroyed in the years following Baring-Gould's death in January 1924. Then, in 1992, Martin Graebe, Paul Wilson and Marilyn Tucker, were making a recording of the Wren Trust project 'Songs of the West', at Killerton House, near Exeter. During a break in the proceedings, they were shown the three manuscript books now known as the Personal Copy. On subsequent visits by Martin Graebe to study these manuscripts, it was established that there were a number of other books of interest in the library, including annotated copies of Baring-Gould's song books, Songs of the West and A Garland of Country Song. The library also contained a collection of bound volumes of chapbooks, songsters and broadside ballads – the Popular Literature collection.


It was also discovered that there were also a number of boxes of mixed manuscript and printed material stored in the basement at Killerton. After a preliminary examination there, it was decided that these should be transferred to the Devon Record Office (now the Devon Heritage Centre) for safe storage. Though some of the items in the boxes are damaged books, there is much there of interest. These boxes contain a wide variety of material. In respect of folk song, the most important manuscripts in the boxes were the three other manuscript notebooks of songs (Working Notebooks 2, 3 and 4). The boxes also contain a number of photographs and letters as well as Baring-Gould's journal for the 1880s (which, frustratingly, does not refer to his song collecting activities). There is also a large collection of proofs and cuttings culled from the hundreds of articles that Baring-Gould wrote for magazines.


It has since been established that all of this material had been kept in the library at Lew House, Baring-Gould's home in West Devon. The house had been tenanted for most of the time following Baring-Gould's death in 1924 and run latterly as a hotel. Surprisingly, this seems to have been a relatively safe environment because it was not until the 1970s that it was decided to remove the contents of the library to a more secure location. Sir Richard Acland had recently removed his books from the library at Killerton House, and an agreement was reached between the Baring-Gould family and the National Trust that the majority of the books from Lew Trenchard would be moved there. A selection was made by Bill Best-Harris, then the senior librarian at Plymouth Central Library, of books from Lew House to be moved. This selection was made on the grounds of importance, value and aesthetics. The outcome was a room that was delightful to look at, as well as secure storage for the collection.


In 2011 the National Trust asked Merriol Almond if she would remove Baring-Gould’s books, as they had other plans for the library. An arrangement was concluded with Exeter University that the books would be removed to the Heritage Collections Library at Exeter University. All the remaining manuscript material and the Popular Literature collection were moved to the Devon Heritage Centre.


We know that there must have been other manuscript material associated with Baring-Gould’s work on songs, particularly field notes, and there is always the hope that there will be other discoveries. In 2009 two significant manuscripts were added to the collection: an illustrated manuscript book of nursery songs, compiled by Emily Baring-Gould, Sabine’s Aunt, and a diary notebook from 1861, which contains notes of the stories, riddles and songs that he collected in Yorkshire as a curate.


There is a further collection of letters and song texts which were sent by Baring-Gould to Francis James Child, and which are kept in the Houghton Library at Harvard University.


All of these manuscripts are available, or soon will be, on the ‘Full English’ folk song database of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. This database is the result of a major project undertaken by the English Folk Dance and Song Society. The inclusion of the Baring-Gould manuscripts, however, was enabled by a series of earlier projects, described in section 4, below.



2          The Baring-Gould Song manuscripts

The collection of song manuscripts by Sabine Baring-Gould presented on the ‘Full English’ song database is comprised of documents prepared by him for different purposes at different times. There is one manuscript that was specifically drawn up for consultation by the public and which was given by Baring-Gould to Plymouth Library during his lifetime. This is the Fair Copy, which contains 202 songs and their variants, including all those that were published in his books.


The other manuscripts were his working documents, including other fair copies and notebooks of song texts and tunes. These include the most valuable of his manuscripts, the Personal Copy, which records the greater part of his collection and was the source for the smaller number of songs in the Plymouth Fair Copy. There were also three notebooks of songs from the earlier days of his collection. All of Baring-Gould’s song manuscripts are available for public consultation in his native county of Devon.


The individual items and their locations are as follows:


Personal Copy Manuscript (In three volumes)

Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter

Fair Copy Manuscript

Plymouth and West Devon Record Office

Rough Copy Manuscript (in 13 volumes)

Plymouth and West Devon Record Office

Working notebook 1

Plymouth and West Devon Record Office

Working notebook 2

Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter

Working notebook 3

Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter

Working notebook 4

Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter

Songs of the West – Annotated Copy (2 vols)

Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter

A Garland of Country Song – Annotated Copy

Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter

Popular Literature collection

Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter

Composition Notebook 1

Plymouth and West Devon Record Office

Aunt Emily’s Nursery Rhyme Book

Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter

Letters written to Prof. F. J. Child

Harvard University, Houghton Library

Letters written to Cecil Sharp and Lucy Broadwood

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library


Brief descriptions of each of the manuscripts are as follows:


The Personal Copy (Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter)

This is a set of three vellum-bound ledgers that contain more than 2,000 variants of songs and tunes under 650 headings. The volumes are laid out with the variants of song texts on the recto pages and the tune variants on the verso, written on hand-drawn staves in red ink. It is likely that Baring-Gould started the first of these volumes at some stage in 1892, and copied songs from his earlier fair copy notebooks into them as well as new songs that he collected. Though the pace of collection slowed after about 1896, he continued to copy songs into the manuscripts until about 1917. The volumes do not form a strict chronological sequence, and it is clear that some songs were added some time after they had actually been collected. The entries include some songs collected by Cecil Sharp, George Gardiner and Lucy Broadwood when staying with Baring-Gould.


The Fair Copy (Plymouth and West Devon Record Office)

This is the collection of 202 songs, with all their variants of words and tunes that Baring-Gould gave to Plymouth Library. Baring-Gould transcribed it from the Personal Copy, with some additions made because of new information. It was presented to Plymouth Library in 1900. It appears that he had intended to give them a complete transcription of all his songs but that, when he had filled the volume of 202 songs, he decided to stop. It includes most of the songs published in both editions of Songs of the West and in A Garland of Country Song.


The Rough Copy Notebooks (Plymouth and West Devon Record Office)

These are the original notebooks in which Baring-Gould and his colleagues, Henry Fleetwood Sheppard and Frederick Bussell noted tunes from the old singers. There were originally fourteen notebooks but one was mislaid before they were presented to Plymouth Library in 1914. The manuscripts are in a mixture of hands and some of the tunes are in pencil and so hard to read. The names used for the tunes are, as might be expected in the circumstances, mnemonics based on what they heard and were often changed in the fair copies. In places the collectors have amused themselves by using French, Latin or Greek names or puns. A new index for this set of manuscripts was drawn up in 2010 and in the course of this work it was noticed that many items appear more than once and that some of the instances are of arrangements for the songs, in preparation for publication or performance. Though it is likely that there were separate notebooks in which Baring-Gould (and, sometimes, his colleagues) noted the words, none of these have been discovered as yet.


Baring-Gould working notebook 1 (Plymouth and West Devon Record Office)

Formerly known as Plymouth Notebook 1 this is a mixture of fair copy and rough work and is the earliest of the notebooks available. The majority of the songs do not have music associated with them. Where music is given it is often on a separate sheet stuck in to the notebook. The notebook also contains a number of letters loose in its pages. Near the back are some lists of songs, which may be concert running orders.


Baring-Gould composition notebook (Plymouth and West Devon Record Office)

Formerly known Plymouth Notebook 2, this notebook is a fair copy of various lyrics written by Baring-Gould, including some of the song lyrics that he wrote for inclusion in Songs of the West, such as 'On the Settle'. Near the end of the book are some political poems and some pieces written to order for magazines.


Baring-Gould working notebook 2 (Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter)

Formerly known as Killerton Notebook 1, this is another early attempt at a fair copy without music and contains transcriptions of much of the material that appears in Songs of the West. It also contains some notes and a list of subscribers to the first edition of Songs of the West.


Baring-Gould working notebook 3 (Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter)

Formerly known as Killerton Notebook 2, this is also a fair copy of the words and notes of songs without tunes. Towards the end is some rough work on texts that Baring-Gould has rewritten.


Baring-Gould working notebook 4 (Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter)

Formerly known as Killerton Notebook 3, this is the last of the prototype fair copies made before Baring-Gould commenced the 'Personal Copy', with the larger format and with music included. This volume also includes a number of the original letters written to Baring-Gould by contributors to the collection.


Annotated copies of Songs of the West and A Garland of Country Songs (Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter)

Baring-Gould had copies of these two books bound with extra blank pages so that he could make additional notes in them. In the case of Songs of the West these are music manuscript pages interleaved throughout the text and contain a number of additional tune variants. The Garland of Country Song has a number of ruled pages included at the back, which have been used for additional information on some of the songs.


The Harvard Notebook (Houghton Library, Harvard University, USA)

This is a notebook that is in the Houghton Library of Harvard University in the USA. It was compiled in its present form by Prof. George Kittredge in 1913. Baring-Gould sent a number of letters and song texts to Prof. Francis Child between 1890 and 1893, while he was producing his great work on ballads. Kittredge attempted to place the material in the order in which it was sent, but has not been completely successful. Some of the letters are very hard to read, though most of the song texts are legible. Baring-Gould indicated that these were songs that he did not have a place for in Songs of the West.


Emily Baring-Gould's MS songbook (Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter)

This manuscript collection of nursery songs was compiled by Baring-Gould's Aunt Emily. Some of the paper can be dated (by watermark) to the 1830s. It contains 31 songs, many of them illustrated with watercolour sketches. Emily Baring-Gould was a competent amateur watercolourist. Baring-Gould entered some of her songs into his Personal Copy manuscript.


The Popular Literature collection (Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter)

Baring-Gould gave the greater part of his collection of broadside ballads and other popular literature to the Printed Books Department of the British Museum. There were some items that he retained, including 3 volumes labelled Chapbooks that contain a number of prose items, 7 volumes titled Ballads, which contain several song chapbooks by Marshall of Newcastle and Fortey of London, and others such as The Lover’s Harmony and Sharp’s New London Songster, as well as penny novels and children’s stories. The other volume, titled Broadsides contains a mixture of larger format items, including ballads, quarto song chapbooks, Catnach religious sheets, Tavistock election posters, and a variety of other printed material. There are also some engraved song sheets.


Letters to Cecil Sharp and Lucy Broadwood (Vaughan Williams Memorial Library)

Baring-Gould wrote a number of letters to Cecil Sharp and Lucy Broadwood which are in the VWML collection and which can be found in the ‘Full English’ database. There are other letters from Baring-Gould among Lucy Broadwood’s papers at the Surrey History Centre, Woking.



3          The ‘Full English' Database

In 2011 the Devon Tradition project (See section 4 below) re-photographed the manuscripts for online presentation and these high quality colour images are now available on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library’s 'Full English' website. All of the song manuscripts previously available on microfiches were photographed as well as the two additional notebooks from Killerton mentioned above. A new set of photographs of the correspondence from Baring-Gould to Francis James Child was also created, funded by a group in the USA led by Merriol Almond.


Working Notebooks 3 and 4 had not been included in the microfiche set and were photographed for the first time. The Popular Literature collection was also available on microfiches, but has not yet been included in the on-line edition.


This table gives the reference numbering scheme (Fonds/Series/File) and titles of the Baring-Gould song manuscripts as they appear on the ‘Full English’ website.




Killerton House Manuscripts

     SBG/1/1 - 3

Personal Copy Volumes 1 - 3

     SBG/1/4 - 7

Songs and Ballads of the West, annotated, (four parts)


A Garland of Country Song, annotated


Devon Record Office Manuscripts


Baring-Gould working notebook 2 [formerly Killerton Notebook 1]


Baring-Gould working notebook 3 [formerly Killerton Notebook 2]


Baring-Gould working notebook 4 [formerly Killerton Notebook 3]


Emily Baring-Gould's MS Songbook


Plymouth Manuscripts


Fair Copy


Baring-Gould working notebook 1 [formerly Plymouth Notebook 1]


Baring-Gould composition notebook 1 [formerly Plymouth Notebook 2]

     SBG/3/4 - 16

Rough Copy Volumes I - XIV


Popular Literature



         SBG/4/1/1 - 3

Chapbooks Volumes 1 - 3



          SBG/4/2/1 - 7

Ballads Volume 1 - 7




Broadsides, Volume 1 (of 1)


Harvard / Child book: Ballads and Songs Collected by the Rev. S. Baring-Gould, chiefly in Devonshire, and sent by him to Prof. F. J. Child (now in Houghton Library, Harvard)



4          Referring to songs in the Baring-Gould manuscripts

Until the coming of the ‘Full English’ song database the most effective way of referencing individual songs from the Baring-Gould manuscript collection was using a system devised by me (Martin Graebe). This system enabled identification of a song heading within the manuscripts based on volume tag, volume number, page number and song number, as they appear in the manuscripts. It was necessary to include both page number and song number as Baring-Gould made some mistakes, which resulted in duplication and confusion. Thus ‘By chance it was’ is P1, 1(1) in the Personal Copy and F,1(1) in the Fair Copy (etc.). The system has been extended to include individual songs and tunes under the headings with a letter for the song text (based on that assigned by Baring-Gould, where given), and a roman numeral for the tune (assigned in the order they appear under the heading). This gives a way of referring to each individual record in the manuscripts. Thus, for ‘By chance it was’ in the Personal Copy the variants are identified as  follows:




Version collected from James Parsons in September 1888

P1,1(1), A(i)

Version sent to Baring-Gould by Bruce Tyndall Esq., Exmouth

P1,1(1), B(ii)

Version from ‘The Court of Apollo’, British Museum (text only)

P1,1(1), C



My intention (though it will remain work in progress until the more important task of writing my book about Baring-Gould is completed) is to create an identifier for each instance of a song being collected. This is necessary because more than one singer can be associated with a song text.


The ‘Full English’, however, gives us a more convenient way of referring to a particular song, since each item in the database has its own, unique reference. This can be found, in brackets, at the top of the record (the grey box). For James Parsons’ version of ‘By chance it was’, for example, this reference is SBG/1/1/1. If you need to refer back to the item without repeating the search, there is a permanent URL at the foot of the record, which will take you straight to it. For the same song this is http://www.vwml.org/record/SBG/1/1/1.



5          Making the Manuscripts available

Not long after the Killerton manuscripts were discovered we realised that it was essential that this nationally important collection should be made available to folksong researchers throughout the world. In 1995 a number of individuals and institutions joined together in the Baring-Gould Heritage Project, with the intention of publishing the folksong manuscripts and other unique material from the Baring-Gould collection. The project brought together Paul Wilson and Marilyn Tucker of Wren Trust, Dr Merriol Almond, Baring-Gould’s great grand-daughter, Ian Maxted, then County Local Studies Librarian responsible for heritage collections throughout the county, and myself, Martin Graebe, as project manager.


Wren Trust obtained funding from a number of charitable institutions to photograph all the song manuscripts that had been recognised at that time, together with the volumes of popular literature (Broadsides, Chap-books etc.) and to publish them as a microfiche edition. Digital imaging was considered, but the expert advice we received at that time was that the technology was not yet sufficiently developed. The final collection, consisting of 209 fiches was launched together with indices prepared by Ian Maxted and me in November 1998. Sets of the fiches were given to the principle libraries in Devon, to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House in London and to the Lamont Library at Harvard University.


The Devon Tradition Project, which kicked off in the summer of 2009, was the successor to the Baring-Gould Heritage Project and was led, once again, by Wren Music. There were three elements to the project:


·       The digitisation and presentation on-line of the Baring-Gould manuscripts

·       The digitisation of the recordings made by Paul Wilson in Devon

·       The development of educational resources using these materials and Wren's expertise


The Baring-Gould song manuscripts were re-photographed as high resolution digital images in full colour, to maximise the visibility of some of the faint pencilled writing that could not be seen on the microfiches. The project team, with the support of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) catalogued the manuscripts to enable a database of the images to be placed online with the manuscripts of other collectors on the EFDSS Take Six web pages. This work was completed in February 2011.


In 2013 EFDSS launched the Full English online database which was a major extension of the ‘Take Six’ dataset, making the manuscript collections of 14 of the most significant collectors of English songs available. The Baring-Gould material is being transferred to the ‘Full English’ database. Most of the material that was on the ‘Take Six’ website has been transferred, though some work is still in progress at the time of writing


It is important to place on record the enthusiastic cooperation that we have received at all stages of this work from Merriol Almond, Sabine Baring-Gould’s great-granddaughter. The manuscripts themselves and any copyright in them rests with her as their owner. She has always been extremely generous in giving permission for publication of material from them, but appreciates it when people ask.



6          Working with the Baring-Gould Manuscripts

In this section I have included some hints for working with the Baring-Gould Manuscripts online.



The search boxes on the 'Full English’ website allow you to find songs in a number of different ways - by title, by first line, by performer etc. The advanced search allows you to combine different search terms. You can also locate versions of songs on a map if you are interested in songs from a particular location.


It is also possible to browse through the collection. To do this select ‘Browse’ from the menu at the bottom of the large orange bar and the click on ‘Baring-Gould Collection’. The manuscripts are organised hierarchically - see section 3 above. You can click on each successive level to reach the individual items. Note that only the first 50 or so items are shown initially. Click the orange bar (‘load more …’) at the foot of the list to bring up the next set.



If you are trying to establish whether there is a version of a particular song in the manuscripts, then you may not find it if it has been given a different name by Baring-Gould. One way to overcome this difficulty is to find the 'Roud Number' of the song on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library pages and then to search for that in the ‘Full English'.


Which Manuscript?

It is easy to get confused by the Baring-Gould manuscripts, particularly since a search of the ‘Full English’ doesn’t make it obvious which manuscript you are looking at. As a general rule I suggest to people that it is best to start with the Personal Copy manuscript, when you are searching for songs, since it is the most complete of the manuscripts. I have not found a way, as yet, to specify the Personal Copy in an advanced search so, when you have done your basic search, look at the reference in the top line of the individual records (grey box).  If you searched for ‘By chance it was’ then the heading for one of the records would be ‘Sabine Baring-Gould Manuscript Collection (SBG/1/1/1)’. SBG confirms that you are looking at the right collection, the first ‘1’ defines the Personal Copy.


Visual layout:

For the 'Personal Copy Manuscript' and the 'Fair Copy Manuscript' the layout of the songs is reasonably consistent. The text will be on the right-hand (recto) page, the music on the left-hand (verso) side. There is frequently more than one text given for each song and more than one tune. - these are usually labelled with the name of the singer from whom it was collected (or the other source) so that it can be linked with its partner. If a tune is given without words this indicates that the words were similar or identical in the second version.


Hand writing:

It has to be admitted that Baring-Gould's handwriting is not good. Frequently it is awful. Sometimes the ink is very faint or blotchy. It is very frustrating to get most of the way through a song and then find that you can't read a word or a line. The secret is to record what you can read - leave a gap, and go back to it later. It is amazing how often a word becomes obvious after a few readings or on another day (there is one word that I puzzled over for four years. I cannot now understand why 'bronchitis' wasn't completely obvious!). Above all - keep trying!


Useful tip - if you can't read a word in the 'Personal Copy' check whether the song is in the 'Fair Copy' or another manuscript where it may be easier to read.


Other things:

Baring-Gould numbered the pages in some of the manuscripts (most importantly in the Personal Copy and Fair Copy Mss.) He also gave each song title in the Personal Copy and Fair Copy a consecutive roman number. Unfortunately he made some mistakes with page numbering and, towards the end of volume 3 in the Personal Copy, he stopped numbering songs and pages. When the microfiche edition was being prepared, the decision was taken to complete the page numbering, but the song numbering was left incomplete.


With the high quality digital images now available it is now possible to see the notes added to Baring-Gould's manuscripts by Cecil Sharp, when he borrowed the volumes.


The Rough Copy contains the original notations of the tunes. There are a number of tunes in the Rough Copy for songs that were never copied into the Personal Copy manuscript. On the other hand, there are some texts given in the various working notebooks for which tunes can be found in the Rough Copy.


There is a huge amount of stuff in the manuscript collection. After nearly 20 years I am still finding something new every time I look. Just dive in and you are bound to find something to enjoy and, I hope, use in your own performance.




Martin Graebe

Revised June 2014



Copyright (C) 2014, Martin Graebe