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A note on the following text:

"Imperilled Inheritance" was a project which grew out of the closure of the Institute of Dialect and Folklife Studies at the University of Leeds in 1984, against the backdrop of little protest and no fanfare. It began as a private initiative of the last of the PhD students, Craig Fees, to record and celebrate the Institute, and developed in the context of the exciting coming-together of a number of dispersed folklorists in the British Folk Studies Forum, determined to build together a new and revitalised folk studies field in Britain.

The project was originally earmarked for publication in a special issue of the Forum's Talking Folklore to be edited by Craig Fees and fellow PhD alum Roy Judge; but the text refused to be tamed, and outgrew deadlines and page numbers, and ultimately Talking Folklore itself, the final issue of which appeared in 1990. Steve Roud, a founding member of the British Folk Studies Forum and Librarian for the Folk Lore Society, proposed that the Folk Lore Society publish it; and with that and a heavy dose of pragmatism, Part 1 on Harold Orton and the English Dialect Survey was wrestled from the much longer text and appeared in 1991.

Although virtually complete, what were then intended as Parts 2 and 3, on the (Yorkshire) Folklife Survey and the Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies respectively, were overtaken by work and life, and fell by the wayside. They were not published. That they are numbered III and IV in the texts presented here, rather than 2 and 3, gives a small insight into the wrestling which wrangled Part 1 out of an original and larger whole.

The texts presented here have been OCRed from 1991 computer print-outs recently rediscovered while sorting through old boxes. The original documents were word-processed using a secondhand Atari Mega ST2 computer, and printed in 1991 using a dot-matrix printer.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when "Imperilled Inheritance" was being written, Atari was still an international competitor among domestic computer systems. As IBM-compatibles came to dominate the market and Atari disappeared, there was a brief sweet spot when Atari files could still be read by the ascending Microsoft word-processing software.  But multiple generations of obsolesence later, any orginal Atari files still on floppy disks, and/or any copies in the Microsoftese of the transition period which may still turn up, will not be recognised by today's computers.They might as well be written in India ink on water.

The point is that these two texts exist only in print-out.They have a full run of footnote numbers within them, making them virtually publication-ready. But no print-outs of the footnotes themselves have so far been discovered. 

                                                                                                                      -  Craig Fees 1 September 2022






III. The (Yorkshire) Folk Life Survey


1. Beginning

"our subject is in much the same state, in this country at any rate, as, for instance, archaeology was in the eighteenth century
Stewart Sanderson (1960)1

"What is required above all is a systematic investigation of contemporary English folk tradition, and the creation of an archive of reliable material for study.”
Stewart Sanderson (1961)2


The inception of Folk Studies at the University of Leeds in 1960 was a direct outgrowth of the English Dialect Survey and reflected many of the assumptions upon which the dialect survey itself had been based. Primary among these was that

To establish folklore studies on a solid academic basis it is desirable to start both survey work and teaching. The latter is necessary in order to create a cadre of trained workers, who can be employed on survey work, or in folk museums, or (in the case of outstanding students) in advanced research.3

The ultimate model may-well have been the Institute of Dialect and Folklore Research at the University of Uppsala in Sweden (where Harold Orton had been Lektor in English, 1924-1928) and other Scandinavian programmes, which had such a profound influence on folk studies in the British Isles generally4. More immediate inspiration came probably from the University of Edinburgh, whose Linguistic Survey of Scotland (which had been part of the same Philological Society project as the English Dialect Survey) gave rise to the School of Scottish Studies in l952 which - like the Leeds proposal - had involved the successful “creation from scratch of an Institute for research in these subjects, in a country where there is no academic tradition of folk studies”.5 “Among the many considerations in the minds of the founders of the School [of Scottish Studies], according to Stewart Sanderson,

was the desirability of making the fullest use of the material already being collected by the newly-formed Linguistic Survey, material of potential value to many fields of study besides pure linguistics. Indeed, some of this richly varied material was not likely to develop its full value even for dialectologists unless parallel studies were instituted to supplement and amplify the linguistic work. For instance, a collection of local names for a particular object could only prove fully significant if a study were made of possible variations in the construction or use of the object. Even the various functional contexts in which the object was found might influence the choice of word to be used...The fruitful results of the Wörter und Sachen approach were clearly visible in the achievement of scholars in other countries. There was therefore a general feeling that the School should pay particular attention to such activities as the collection of popular traditions, where the decay factor made an early start imperative if the older material was to be saved.6

The "Proposals for the Inception and Development of Folklore Studies Within the School of English in the University of Leeds” were submitted to the University by Professor Norman Jeffares, Chairman of the School of English, and Harold Orton in November 1959. These proposals were largely accepted, and Stewart Sanderson, Secretary-Archivist of the School of Scottish Studies, was appointed in February 1960 to Britain’s first university-level folk life studies lectureship, and was simultaneously invited by the University to initiate and become Director of the Folk Life Survey.7

The proposals submitted by Jeffares and Orton argued “the necessity for the study of English folkore on a sound academic basis” and that ”The obvious place for a university department of folklore studies is in the University of Leeds. The English Dialect Survey has in a sense instituted the tradition of local studies of this kind: some of the dialect material, the local contacts, and the equipment could all be utilised for survey work in the future.

The core of the folklife studies programme, according to their proposal, would be a regional survey supported by teaching aimed at stimulating the imagination of undergraduates, ”drawing their attention to aspects of oral literature and language which seldom receive any attention in Departments of English”; and "At a more advanced level, aimed at training field-workers and research students.” The regional survey – a survey of selected aspects of Yorkshire folklife – might take at the outside ten years to complete, give adequate staffing and finance. It could then extend to other Northern counties of England and broaden the range of materials collected. The first stage for the survey “would be to examine and index printed and manuscript material”; the survey itself would be launched on this foundation in ”two ways: direct fieldwork by collectors with recording machines for folk-tales and oral narratives; and postal questionnaires, mainly on Wörter und Sachen lines, for custom, belief and practice. Questionnaire results would of course be checked by direct fieldwork."9

This programme would require the immediate appointment of a Director, a secretary, and a "trained and experienced Research Fellow". The Director ought to be "a fully trained and experienced folklorist, a man of drive, a competent fieldworker, organiser and administrator". The Director "would be a member of the staffs of both Departments within the School of English and carried on the budget of both Departments. He should be advised by an Advisory Committee of both Internal and External Members".

"The collection programme," they suggested, "would be done partly by the Director of the Survey (who might well be of lecturer’s status), aided by the holder of a senior research fellowship, and partly by postgraduate research students, and partly by voluntary collectors where these could be found". Regular publication ought to be a built-in part of the survey, beginning with descriptive reports and culminating in the "final analysis of the completed survey". The cost of fieldwork, postage, equipment and publication might amount to £1085 per annum.

In creating the lectureship in folk life studies the University accepted those aspects of the proposal which related to teaching: Stewart Sanderson was appointed to the staff of both Departments within the School of English as a lecturer in Folk Life Studies. In inviting him to take responsibility for the Folk Life Survey, however, the University did not provide the suggested £1085 per annum funding. The funding for the Survey came from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation of Lisbon, which in a press announcement of July 20,1960, announced:

University of Leeds, Department of English Language, and Literature - £700 p.a. for 3 years (total £2,100) towards the cost of a folk-life survey of the oral and material traditions of Yorkshire.

English universities have lagged behind other countries of Europe and America in the study of folklore and folk-life. The University of Leeds has just appointed a lecturer in folk-life studies, and is anxious to start the first academic work in this field in England. A folk-life survey of Yorkshire is proposed, extending eventually westwards towards Wales and northwards towards Scotland, where similar studies are being carried out. The University has appointed for this study Mr. S.F. Sanderson, formerly of the School of Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh.10



2. Setting Up

"If I were asked to give a theoretical definition of the scope of folk- life studies, I should say something like this: it is ‘the study of inherited popular traditions of a community, both oral and material’ but for the purpose of instituting a survey, in practice as opposed to theory, I would add ‘especially of the pre-industrial and early industrial age before mass-communication and mass-production...For this is the part of our common heritage of tradition which is in most danger of vanishing without record.”
Stewart Sanderson (1960)11

The better part of the Folk Life Survey’s first year’s work and funding were taken up (as Jeffares and Orton had anticipated) in creating the basis for future work. As Sanderson reported to the Yorkshire Dialect Society a year and a half into the project:

The first task was to accumulate the basic equipment for recording and archiving the oral and material traditions which the Survey hopes to investigate. A high-quality, mains-operated tape recorder, a high-quality transistorised portable tape recorder which can be operated on mains or dry batteries, and six small battery-operated recorders were purchased. For photographic records, the Survey also acquired a high-quality twin-lens 6 cm. reflex camera and two second-hand folding cameras. A constant temperature store for tapes was built in the Archive Room, and an order was placed with the Department of Phonetics in the University of Edinburgh for the construction of a tape-repeater unit to be used in transcribing sound recordings. Other miscellaneous items included a mounting-iron and guillotine for the photographic records, cabinets for storing photographs and index-cards, and naturally a stock of tapes and films…

The next task was to lay the foundation of the archive, its registers and its indexing system. Photographic mounts with appropriate headings for various kinds of information were designed and printed. Accessions registers for manuscripts, tapes and photographs were instituted. Finally, the framework of a general index to all the archive holdings was built up on the model devised by Swedish scholars in the University of Uppsala and the Nordisk Museum...12

Having created an indexing system,

A start had been made on excerpting on to index cards and classifying the material contained in such printed sources as the County Folklore volumes for Yorkshire. This is designed to give a basic picture of what we already know historically about Yorkshire traditions, and to serve as one of the jumping-off points for the investigation of current traditions.13


During the first year of the Folk Life Survey work had also begun on building a network of informants for postal questionnaires, using, for example, the list of the English Dialect Survey informants (many of whom had died), and the membership rolls of the Yorkshire Dialect Society. An Advisory Committee had been formed (it first met in October, 1961), which included from outside the University Prof. J.H. Delargy (Professor of Irish Folklore, University College, Dublin, and Honorary Director of the Irish Folklore Commission), and Dr. Iorwerth Peate (Curator of the Welsh Folk Museum). There had been "experimental probes into the kinds of material the Survey might collect”14; Mr. Sanderson "had received a number of invitations to read papers and to lecture at folklore conferences in various parts of the world"15; and there were five undergraduates and one postgraduate student.


3. Running

This programme is designed to help to establish these studies in the British universities on a sound academic basis, as in the Scandinavian countries, the United States and Europe."
Stewart Sanderson (December 1961)16


a. Academic Programme

Stewart Sanderson was appointed Lecturer in Folk Life Studies in both the Department of English Literature and the Department of English Language and Medieval English Literature at the beginning of the 1960-61 academic session.

"From the outset,” Stewart Sanderson wrote in 1971,

a two year undergraduate option in Folk Life Studies was available to students in one of the three schemes of study in the Departments of English Literature and Medieval Literature - namely, those students whose scheme for the honours degree of B.A. with Special Studies in English was weighted towards historical language studies.17

Postgraduate students of English were able to take Folk Life Studies as the Special Subject option of either Scheme A (literature), or Scheme B (language).

Scheme A offered five separate options, of which all M.A. candidates in the Scheme were required to take at least three, and "candidates who are not graduates in special studies in English of this University, nor holders of its postgraduate diploma in English studies" at least four. Each of these were to result in one paper, and consisted of 1) Selected period of English literature; 2) Selected author; 3) Special Subject; 4) American literature; 5) Commonwealth literature. Furthermore, all candidates were required to present an "extended essay on a literary theme" before the end of the second term, and to attend for an oral examination.

The six options available in Scheme B, each of which involved the submission of one paper, were: 1) Old English texts; 2) Middle English texts; 3) Old English and Middle English literature with translation from unspecified texts; 4) English philology; 5) Old Icelandic; 6) Special subject.

"At that time," according to Stewart Sanderson,

The M.A. degree could be obtained either by presenting a full- scale research thesis, or by ’course and examination’. For this latter method, four courses (which in practice normally included not more than three in Folk Life Studies) were followed over a period of two years. Candidates were examined on the basis of four written papers and a long research dissertation.18

By the 1962-63 session, there were fifteen undergraduates and six post-graduates (five M.A.’s and 1 Diploma in English Studies) pursuing Folk Life Studies, and interest was growing. In October 1962, therefore, Sanderson submitted "Proposals for Post-graduate Diploma in Folk Life Studies" - "designed to meet the needs of potential museum, library and local archive staff" - in which he argued that

The current increases in student numbers, coupled with expectations for 1963-64, raise the question of staffing. Quite apart from post-graduate supervision, all undergraduates require individual supervision in preparing their dissertations, which are based on field collections on a wide range of topics each requiring treatment of a particular kind. While the increases in student numbers are very gratifying, there is a real danger that the urgent collection and research work of the Folk Life Survey may be seriously neglected unless early provision can be made for further staff in both teaching and research.19

Sanderson was able to draw on strong support from outside professionals for the idea of a post-graduate diploma in folk life studies (e.g., George B. Thompson, Director of the Ulster Folk Museum; A.T. Lucas, Director of the National Museum of Ireland; Iorwerth Peate, Curator of the Welsh Folk Museum; D.B. Harden, London Museum; A. Digsby, British Museum; T.A. Walden, the Museums Association20) and in February 1963 the University agreed to the initiation of a postgraduate diploma in Folk Life Studies with the beginning of the new academic year. More to the point, perhaps, it also agreed to institute a second lectureship in Folk Life Studies.

This second lectureship was inaugurated in the autumn term by Professor Reidar Christiansen of Oslo University, "one of the leading scholars in the field of folktale research”.21 To strengthen ties with Scandinavian folk life institutes this position (until Tony Green was appointed in 1970)was subsequently filled with young Scandinavian scholars.22


b. Research Programme

By September 30,1965, at the end of the final year of Gulbenkian Foundation support for the Folk-Life Survey (the Foundation had renewed their grant for a further two years in 1963):

the archives of the Institute contained 914 photographs, a further 153 negatives awaiting selection for processing as prints or slides, 210 slides (for lecture purposes) and 26 tapes of folksong, folklore and folklife material. Some 5000 subject index cards to archive material and to some of the main printed sources for Yorkshire have been made.23

In all but the first of the five years in which the Gulbenkian-financed Folk Life Survey ran - 1960-1965 - the hiring of a part-time archivist accounted for about £300, or nearly half of the £700 annual grant24, while another £100 went to Dr. Werner Kissling, who was the only paid researcher for the Folk Life Survey (apart from the Director), and who accounted for the majority of photographs in the collection25: Indeed, by the time his contribution came to an end, in 1969, Kissling had deposited over 1100 photographs with documentation in the Archive.26 The £300 remaining from the annual grant went on materials and equipment, fieldwork expenses, stationery and the postage involved, for example, in conducting the postal questionnaires. There were never the funds available for the full-time research fellow envisaged in the early plans for the Survey.

Dr. Kissling was a part-time research fellow who was engaged "each summer to record the traditional agricultural practice and the country crafts of the Yorkshire Dales”.27 According to Stewart Sanderson, Kissling was a naturalised citizen (having resigned from an appointment in the German Embassy in London in 1931 due to his strong anti-Nazi sentiments)28 Kissling had been a part-time fieldworker for the School of Scottish Studies, and Sanderson would have known his work, which was almost exclusively photographic, from a collection of his photographs which had gone into the School of Scottish Studies while Sanderson was archivist there.29 Sanderson himself worked primarily with camera and notebook, and the first major accessions into the Archive were photographs which he had taken (the majority of them to do with the Scottish fishing industry: He remarked in 1962 that he had "already started a photographic archive along the lines of the one I helped to create in the School of Scottish Studies ten years ago. In a sense, this could be called a Folk Museum on paper!”31

The Survey’s first postal questionnaire followed on the work of an undergraduate student, Valerie Calvert, who concluded in her B.A. dissertation The Pasche Egg, submitted in May 1962, that "wider survey work could still be done with useful results”32; the Survey’s questionnaire on Easter Eggs was undertaken in the Spring of 1962. Questionnaires were initially sent to English Dialect Survey informants in the northern counties, many of whom had died. Later in the year the questionnaire was published in the Transactions of the Yorkshire Dialect Society along with a request for informants.33 A second questionnaire, on garden and weather lore, was issued at the end of 1962 under the part-time archivist Jean Whitfield, who exploited newspapers and gardening magazines, adding more names to the informant card-index.

It was in 1963 that Sanderson put forward his "Proposals for Folk Life Research Amongst the Jewish Community in Leeds”, based on the fact that the Folk Life Survey "has embarked on the study of folk traditions in urban communities - an aspect which has been almost entirely neglected by previous generations of folklorists...” and that the University, "through its Folk Life Survey, can offer technical facilities (e.g., sound-recording, photographic and library services)...together with permanent archive storage...” All that was needed to activate this instrument was the right postgraduate student (someone with Yiddish and/or classical Hebrew, preferably with training ”in historical, literary and linguistic or anthropological studies”), and the funds to support him.34

There is very little manuscript material of any kind accessioned into the Archive during the period of the Folk Life Survey, the single most important item being a "collection of folktales recorded some fifty years ago from north-country gipsies”, which was deposited in the Brotherton Library’s Romany collection.35 The 26 tapes in the Archive at the end of the 1964-65 session were recorded exclusively by students and outsiders; there are none by either Sanderson or Kissling, whose principal tool was the camera.


Questionnaire No. 1

1. Do children roll Easter eggs in your district? If so, where do they go to do this? (Give name of e.g. field, hill, public park.)
2. Which day is this done? Good Friday, Easter Saturday, Sunday, Monday or Tuesday?
3. What word do you use for ”to roll” Easter eggs? (e.g. to troll.)
4. Why do children roll these? Is there any story to explain the custom?
5. Are any other games played with the eggs? If so, describe them and give the names of the games.
6. Is there any rule about how the children should get their eggs? (e.g. by collecting them secretly, stealing, buying?)
7. Are there any rhymes about the eggs?
8. How are the eggs decorated?
9. What does it mean if I say people are going ”pace-egging”?
10. Do grown-ups and/or children perform an Easter play in your district? If so, please write down what you know about it.36


Questionnaire 2

1. Do you know of any local belief that links Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, the Apostles, Judas Iscariot, or the Devil with garden plants? For instance with their names or their growth.
2. In your part of the country does the Church calendar have any effect on the time that certain jobs are done in the garden?
3. Do you know any local person who fortells [sic] the weather?
4. How does he or she do this? By what means? For instance by studying clouds, the wind, the flight of wild birds - or what)
5. Do local people pay any heed to these warnings and are they guaranteed as fairly accurate?
6. Do you know of any local legends about gardens, gardeners and gardening? Either the tools they use, their techniques, or the plants grown.
7. Are there any local legends about the names and appearances of plants?
8. What sayings do local gardeners have about the weather, or the ground or plants? Are there any special names used?
9. Are there any local herbal mixtures and remedies made from plants grown in the area?37


As an example of what a team of researchers was capable:

In June [1965] the Director, Mr. Ellis, Mr. Liman and Dr. Kissling joined forces to make sound-recordings, cine and still photographs of sheep-washing at Thornton Rust in Wensleydale. The last occasion on which this was practised here was in 1935, and special thanks are due to the local farmers who revived this traditional custom in order to allow the recordings to be made.38

Apart from this, in the final year of the Survey the second folk life lecturer, P.E.I. Liman, “recorded, in photographs, plans and drawings, some 50 cow-houses in the West Riding,” while Stewart Sanderson “recorded the technique and terminology of have-net fishing on the River Lune and made some preliminary investigations on the River Wear and the Ribble estuary.” Werner Kissling was "engaged mainly in Wensleydale, where he has recorded in particular the traditional practices in sheep-husbandry, including salving, shearing and driving”.39


4. Diffusion

The first aim of the Folk Life Survey in the University of Leeds is to study Yorkshire folk life. A representative sample of the oral, material and social traditions of the County must be collected and analysed, and the findings published
Stewart Sanderson (1961)40

By the time the Gulbenkian subvention came to an end in 1965 the “first aim” of the Folk Life Survey had still not been achieved; and though as late as 1971 Stewart Sanderson was still calling for a systematic and scientifically conducted folk life survey41, within the limiting financial conditions of the Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies (as discussed later) it became impossible.

Fundamental to the concept of the Folk Life Survey was a team of fieldworkers. The Advisory Committee, established in 1961, was set up in part “to advise the Director on the practical problems encountered in initiating a Survey of Yorkshire lore based on oral material and on information collected by a team of fieldworkers”.42 In a grant application at the end of 1961 Sanderson emphasised that

Naturally the contributions of the students are limited, especially at the undergraduate level, while the Director’s teaching duties preclude sustained periods of fieldwork during University terms. The real need therefore is for a team of full-time collectors to undertake the Survey work, and incidentally, to build up a network of informants and voluntary part-time collectors.43

The crucial problems were time and finance. In a field where there were few appropriate academic texts, very little in the way of systematically collected and arranged source materials, and where the nature of students’ fieldwork and writing made teaching labour-intensive, relatively little of the Director’s time could go into directing the Survey. Indeed, unlike Harold Orton, Stewart Sanderson never had a full-time research assistant to direct. Nor was he supported, as Harold Orton was from Zurich and with Dr. Halliday, by a dedicated team independent of Leeds University finances.

It took some time, too, for Stewart Sanderson (who had, after all, been working for nearly a decade in Scotland) to refocus his personal research southwards from Scotland.44 As the demographics of the rapidly expanding University changed, the local community of the student - which in Orton’s early years at Leeds had been predominantly local or at least northern - became less easily gathered into the concept of a ‘Yorkshire’ survey. The focus which Orton had achieved - and upon which he had been able to expand - was not available to Sanderson in the same way, nor was it as easy to define the terms of reference for the folk life thesis or dissertation. With no Joseph Wright or A.J. Ellis of Folk Life Studies to build on, and with only, in the end, five years to work with (it should be remembered that Orton and Jeffares had suggested that the Survey of Yorkshire Folk Life would require perhaps ten years, given sufficient fieldwork support), the Folk Life Survey failed in the end to crystallise. The Institute, as discussed later, and especially in the absence of outside funding (most of which went into the Survey of English Dialects) virtually precluded the completion of the Yorkshire Folk Life Survey.


5. A Brief Note: "Folk Life” vs. “Folklore” and "Ethnography”


The proposals put forward by Jeffares and Orton in 1959 were for the inception and development of Folklore Studies, and it is "folklore studies" which is discussed throughout their paper.

The term "folk life studies" was clearly-that suggested by Stewart Sanderson. In the published version of the paper he delivered to the Ditchley Park Conference in 1969, Sanderson said:

We felt we couldn’t use the word ethnology in English studies, as we probably wouldn’t have got that through the Senate and other committees. So we opted for "Folk Life Studies", as we did not want to use "Folklore" for reasons which Professor Evans has very ably expounded.45

In subsequently explaining this terminology to the Vice-Chancelior, Sanderson said "we have preferred the term ‘folk life studies’ to ‘folklore’ just because the latter term sometimes raises unfortunately frivolous associations in the minds of the public at large."46 Or, as Katharine Briggs said at the Ditchley Park Conference, "we are hampered by the fact that ’folklore’ has almost become a dirty word academically.”47 In using the term ’folk life’ Stewart Sanderson attempted to achieve a balance between a field of study which could legitimately be set up and pursued within a university School of English, would be taken seriously by fellow academics and the public generally, and his own view of British folk life studies as an aspect of European ethnology.

Interestingly enough, in a paper published in 1981 Sanderson wrote:

What some of us in a large number of European countries, taking our cue from Swedish practice, have for decades referred to as Folk Life Research is very much what people have learnt in the last ten years or so to call Oral History Research when they are dealing with those parts of history which concern ordinary and, to the world at large, anonymous people...the kind of Oral History interviewing which focuses on the experiences of ordinary people as they go about their work, or run their households, or spend their leisure time, seems to me synonymous with Folk Life...48