Working in Lincolnshire archives

MA students are continuing to unearth exciting new archival materials. Helen Earl is working on “Folk Fishing in North Lincolnshire 1904-1908”, investigating Percy Grainger’s ‘helpers’, singers, villages and songs. Like some of the other MA students she has been working with digital materials available on the Full English Archive Collections, including censuses, newspapers, trade directories, memoirs and archival materials. Here she writes about her recent work in Lincolnshire:

I am a North Lincolnshire resident. Being a local girl working on a local topic, moving within local musical circles (but not, as it happens, any of the folk circles) has been an interesting experience: it has involved several “what are you doing for your dissertation?” conversations. It’s amazing how many people know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone else “who is really into folk music”! Sometimes the leads have been complete dead ends. Other times they have been very fruitful!

Brigg market place

A fruitful lead took me to the North Lincolnshire Music Festival: they have original material relating to the competitions, including the 1905 and 1906 festivals when a folk song class was added. I found an email address. It took a while for a response to arrive, but after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, an album was left at Brigg Heritage Centre for me to consult. It took about six weeks to arrange the access. When I arrived at the centre, the volunteers were more than hospitable: they handed me the album and found me a quiet corner. Opening the album was really exciting. I wasn’t sure exactly what it would contain, and was amazed to find it full of programmes, syllabuses, posters … I spent a good two hours looking through it all and making notes. I thought, “this should be in a proper archive”, but then thought again because “if it was in a proper archive it would probably be labelled too fragile and no one would be able to see it”. I felt really privileged.

Another lead, generated this time by a Google search, took me to the Lincs to the Past website and Lincolnshire Archives. The Elwes family hosted Grainger during his ‘folk fishing cruises’ (Gervase Elwes, the tenor, seen left, and his wife Lady Winefride lived in Brigg) and were also behind the first North Lincolnshire music festivals. Lincolnshire Archives hold several deposits from the Elwes family. The one I was interested in is not freely available to view but, contains letters that I thought would be of use. The archive requested access from the family. The permission did not come quickly, however, and I gave up hope! It eventually came in the middle of August and I headed to the archive with fingers crossed. I was presented with several boxes crammed full of letters. Lady Winefride must have kept everything she was ever sent. Thankfully, they were very well sorted into alphabetical bundles, and once I worked out the system, I was able to find several from Percy Grainger that I haven’t seen published. Even if they have been published, and I have missed them, there’s nothing quite like seeing and handling the real thing! In skimming through many other bundles, I also found a few other snippets that I have been able to weave into my work.

I love the way that investigating this topic, through all these different materials, has allowed me to piece things together bit by bit, like a giant jigsaw puzzle. I’m sure that there are many pieces missing, that is the way of things with historical sources, but I think I have managed to find something that resembles a true picture. As regards archival work, I’ve learnt that patience, forward planning and persistence, are definitely virtues to cultivate!

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