cropped IMG 1293

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






IV. The Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies


1. Origins

The University seems now to be faced with a decision either to decline to support the publication of the rest of the material results of the recently completed survey of vernacular English carried out by its Department of English Language and Medieval English Literature, or, alternatively, to support the project yet more strongly, in order to ensure not only successful publication over the next few years, but also the maintenance of an organisation for active and effective research into dialectal English.”
Harold Orton, “Proposal for Establishment of a Research Centre for the Study of Dialectal English” (11.6.1963)1


Harold Orton looked toward October 1964 with considerable apprehension.

The University’s voluntary support for the SED publication scheme came to an end in October, 1963. Only the Introduction and Northern volume of the Basic Material would be through the editing stages and into the press by then; work on the nine books in the other three volumes would take at least another five years. By the end of October 1964, not only would he have taken mandatory retirement, but the three-year subsidies from private sources which enabled the Survey to employ Martyn Wakelin as assistant editor would have come to an end, Stanley Ellis’ secondment to the Dialect Survey would likewise have run out, and Philip Tilling would have been lost to the editorial team. “Thus, unless some extraordinary measures can be taken,” he wrote in January 1963, “the present editorial team will have been dispersed by October 1st 1964. Our publication programme is accordingly in great jeopardy and the future...fills me with dismay.”2

There is no evidence that Orton had consulted Stewart Sanderson in preparing his “Proposal for the Establishment of a Research Centre for the Study of Dialectal English” for Professor Jeffares (Chairman of the School of English) in June 1963; but in the proposal he argued that “For the University to abandon the publication programme at the present stage would be quite inexcusable, and, considered in connexion with its present support for Folk-Life and Folk-Lore Studies, it would be completely illogical”3:

My proposal is that the University should found as soon as possible a unit in the School of English with some such name as "English Dialect Archives". But in my view the scope of the unit might well be widened to include Folk-Life and Folk-Lore Studies; and if so, designated "Archives for English Dialects, Folk-Life and Folk-Lore", or even "Archives for English Regional Studies". Simpler still, but far less precise would be: "Institute of English Studies", which might eventually take into its fold, Field-, Personal-, and Place-Names, as well as local historical studies. But regardless of title and eventual scope, the immediate aim should be to ensure the continuation of active and purposeful research into dialectal English.4 [emphasis added]


First among the "main functions" of such an organisation would be "the continuation of a University-sponsored series of publications entitled Survey of English Dialects.” The central concern of Orton’s thinking at this point was to institutionalise the work of which he had been the focus; the precise manner in which that was achieved, as long as it remained the core of whatever organisation was set up, at least for the foreseeable future, did not concern him.

The concept "Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies", which so closely reflected the title of the "Institute for Dialect and Folklore Research" at the University of Uppsala, in Sweden, where Stewart Sanderson had for a while trained, was almost certainly Sanderson’s.

The "Proposals for a Leeds University Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies", though presented to the University by Professor Jeffares, no doubt contained much of his thinking as well.

In slightly modified form, these proposals were accepted by the University Senate which recommended the establishment of the Institute to the University Council. The Council agreed with this recommendation in June,1964, and that October the folklife section of the Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies opened in new premises at 2,4,6 and 8 Virginia Road5; the dialect division moved from its old headquarters in the foimer Department of English Language and Medieval English Literature in the New Arts Building to 10 Clarendon Place in December6.

From "Committee on Matters Arising on Professor Orton’s Retirement (5/6/69)", The University of Leeds Minutes of Senate 1963-19647:

Institute of Dialect and Folk-life Studies
8258 REPORTED: (i) That the Committee had received a memorandum by Professor Jeffares containing proposals for the setting up of an Institute of Dialect and Folk-life Studies in the University; and that the proposal had arisen from

(a) the fact that a grant had been made to Professor Orton to enable him to continue, after his retirement, with the publication of the Survey of English Dialects;
(b) the growth, in recent years, within the School of English, of Folk-life Studies under the direction of Mr. S.F. Sanderson, which were already attracting international attention.
(c) the feeling that the creation of an Institute to embrace both these studies would enhance the status of both, in America and on the continent, and would make it easier to obtain outside financial support.


8259 (ii) That Professor Orton’s relationship with the Institute would be in an honorary capacity and that the Director would be advised by a committee which included experts drawn from outside the University.


8260 (iii) That the Committee had sent forward recommendations.


8261 In reply to a question about the financial implications of the proposal, Professor Jeffares stated that the Institute would not require additional money above that already provided by the University, except for the provision of secretarial assistance for Professor Orton.


8262 RECOMMENDED: That approval be given to the establishment of a University of Leeds Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies, with the following functions:

(a) To foster in the University the intensive study of the dialects, folklore and folklife of the British Isles, to be a national centre for the study of these subjects and to publish the results of the researches of its Staff;
(b) To continue, in particular, the publication of the Survey of English Dialects, as well as of the results of the University’s field Surveys into current folklore now in progress;
(c) To pursue the systematic study of all kinds of dialectal English, especially those spoken in England, both by field investigations and by tape-recording programmes;
(d) To provide facilities for students and scholars both from this country and from abroad who are engaged in similar studies, and to assist their work in every possible way;
(e) To stimulate and co-ordinate studies of regional English speech and of folklife and folklore in other institutions;
(f) To build up archives of material relating to these fields of study and to organise and catalogue them appropriately;
(g) To obtain funds for the support of its activities and to administer all monies placed at its disposal by the University or external donors;
(h) To prepare for publication annually a report on its activities;
(i) To consider any proposals to widen the scope of its work so as to include regional studies of all kinds.


8263 The Senate noted

(a) that Professor Jeffares and Professor Grant would propose that the Institute, when established, should be under the control of a Director responsible to the Academic Committee of the School of English and who would be advised by a Committee under the Chairmanship of the Vice-Chancellor (with the Chairman of the School of English as his Deputy), this Committee to include representatives of the Academic Committee of the School of English.
(b) That members of the Institute’s staff would, when suitable, also hold departmental appointments.


The finances of the Institute were secured in its first year both on the dialect and on the folklife side.

On the folklife side, the last of the five annual grants from the Gulbenkian Foundation enabled the Director of the Institute, Stewart Sanderson, to continue to hire a part-time archivist and to send Werner Kissling into the field.8

On the dialect side, the University had agreed in 1963 to support a Five Year Publication Programme for the Survey of English Dialects beginning with October 1964. This will have gone a long way towards dispelling Professor Orton’s anxieties by underwriting for five years the costs of three assistant editors and three research assistants to help them, overseen by Orton himself as Editor-in-Chief. The presumption behind this funding was that by the end of this period the Basic Material volumes would all have been published.9


The staff-listing of the Institute at the beginning of its first year, 1964-65, was impressive10:


S.F. Sanderson, M.A. (Edinburgh)


Editor-in-Chief, the
Survey of English Dialects


  Professor H. Orton, B.Litt, M.A.(Oxford)
Assistant Editors
of the Survey

M.V. Barry, M.A. (Leeds)
EM. Tilling, B.A. (Leeds)
M.E Wakelin, M.A. (Leeds)


Research Assistants  

D. Bothe, Cand. Fil.(Basle)
W.M. Hull, B.A. (Kansas)
P.J. Lucas, B.A. (Oxon)
Rae L. Siporin, M.A (California)


Research Staff  

S. Ellis, M.A. (Leeds)
P.E.I. Liman, Fil. Kand(Uppsala)


Part Time  

W. Kissling, Dr. Jur.(Konigsberg)


Part Time Archivist  

D. Fisher


Part Time Clerks   Miss Vera Cracknell
Miss Josephine Ryan



2. Financial Limits

"The Survey of English Dialects, edited by Harold Orton and Eugen Dieth, based on eleven years of fieldwork and nine years of editorial work, cost Leeds University at least £90,000, and if certain salaries were included, at least £120,000. This excludes subsidies from other funds."
Harold Orton (1974)11

"You people in England who are beating your breasts the way you are... I don't think you're in as bad a position as you think you are..."
Wayland Hand, Ditchley Park Conference (September 1969)12

Within its first five years the Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies had suffered two major financial setbacks. The first came with the beginning of the 1965-66 session, the Institute’s second year, when the folklife programme opened without the usual Gulbenkian grant. The second came at the beginning of the 1969-70 session, when the University’s support for the Five Year Publication Programme of the Basic Material volumes of the Survey of English Dialects, the culmination of over twenty years of continuous support, ran out.

To understand the significance of this lost funding one must remember the purpose of the folk life programme and of the dialect survey. From the beginning the latter had been designed to culminate in a Linguistic Atlas of England, for which the publication of the Basic Materials was only a preliminary but necessary step. At the core of the folk life programme had been, from the outset, the idea of a systematic folk life survey - first of Yorkshire, then of Northern England - and presumably, though this was never stated, and no doubt depending on developments elsewhere - the entirety of England.



It was the Gulbenkian money which from its inception had supported the Folk Life Survey - not at the £1085 per annum rate envisaged in the Orton-Jeffares proposals of 1959, and never enough for the full-time research assistant they had assumed would be necessary, but enough to keep the programme of collection ticking over. That such a survey was fundamental to any teaching programme was emphasised by Stewart Sanderson in 1961:

Owing to past neglect of folklore and folklife studies in the United Kingdom, the content of the teaching programme is necessarily based on sources many of which fall short of the standards demanded by modern scholarship. 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.13


When the Gulbenkian grant ran out in 1965, Stewart Sanderson formulated and at the end of 1965/beginning of 1966 put forward a proposal that undergraduate teaching in folk life studies be suspended for three years “in order to release the energies of the Director and his assistant for more intensive post-graduate teaching and research”14.

Sanderson had earlier, in November 1965, put forward a proposal to “start publishing a series of short monographs, some of them presenting descriptive analysis of archive material, some of a more theoretical nature” of which the “cost in the first two or three years is likely to be about £100 per annum”15. Publication of results had been part of the constitution of the Folk Life Survey, and was one of the Institute’s founding functions. However, having tried unsuccessfully to interest commercial publishers and a private benefactor, and having been discouraged by the Chairman of the University’s publication Committee, the publication series never materialised16. It was against this unpropitious background that Sanderson put forward his proposal for a temporary relief from the undergraduate teaching load.

The weight of this load is indicated in a report by American folklorist Lew Girdler, who visited the Institute at the beginning of February, 196617, while on a study tour of European and American folk studies programmes. The Leeds programme was the closest to the American which he had seen in Europe, he wrote in his report, but “the load must be extremely heavy for Mr. Sanderson and Mr. Liman...The two instructors must be exhausted at the end of each term. In many American universities such an ambitious program would be divided among from four to six teachers”18 [emphasis added].

Sanderson had maintained as early as 1961 that funding for the folk life programme needed to be kept at least at the level of the Gulbenkian grant, with “a proportionately higher income if greater numbers of undergraduate and especially postgraduate research students are forthcoming to assist in fieldwork”19. Before agreeing to recommend the establishment of the Institute, however, the University Senate had received the assurance “that the Institute would not require additional money above that already provided by the University, except for the provision of secretarial assistance for Professor Orton”20. The two were incompatible, unless the Institute could gather funds from outside sources: indeed, the merging of the dialect and folklife programmes in the Institute had been intended to make fundraising easier. That it didn’t make it easy we shall see in a moment.

The sabbatical from undergraduate teaching which Sanderson requested at the end of 1965 did not materialise, but Iorwerth Peate - to whom Sanderson had sent a copy of his proposals as a member of the Institute’s Advisory Committee, made the wider point in a letter to the Chairman of the School of English on January 18,1966:

Whether there is undergraduate teaching or not, a sum of about £800 per annum for all administrative and research purposes and for any new work in dialectology is ludicrously inadequate; to depend merely on the Director and an assistant to carry out field-work and research is quite unrealistic.21


In 1963 Sanderson had told the Society for Folk Life Studies “It is of course difficult, if not impossible, to create purely research posts in the Universities - unless outside financial aid can be obtained...”22. But at a later date he also made the point “that where source materials are badly organized, are rather suspect and sometimes lack may well have to put a lot of money and a lot of time into a massive revisal of source materials, and of course this means that you will have to wait for quite a little while before these things can be fully exploited”.23 Here, again, the unfortunate contradiction - the need for primary research and archiving, at a time when “there is a demand for rather quick returns in publication and feedback into teaching”24. This contradiction could not be easily resolved. On the one hand the British Government has never seen its role as the funder of such programmes (and unlike the American, could not be shamed into it25), and private industry (as we see at the present moment) does not tend to underwrite long-term projects in which there is, at best, no clear commercial or public relations advantage. Private foundations, such as the Gulbenkian, prefer midwifing to maintaining research programmes, or funding special projects (such as the Linguistic Atlas of England, supported by the Leverhulme Trust; see below) rather than the running expenses of established programmes.

While Sanderson was trying unsuccessfully to find money for the monograph series and to get relief from undergraduate teaching in order to pursue the aims of the Folk Life Survey, Harold Orton was engaged in trying to raise further outside support for the SED publication programme. In a letter of January 12,1966, he listed some of the outside sources to which he had applied: The British Academy, the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, and one or two private benefactors had agreed to contribute funds; the American Council of Learned Societies, the Carnegie U.K. Trust, the Houblan and Norman Trust, the Linguistic Society of America, the Nuffield Trust, the Pilgrim Trust, and the Wolfson Trust had declined26. He felt constrained to say in a letter to the Vice-Chancellor on January 18, 1966:

It was personally distressing to learn that, if the University were to be asked now for financial backing for our publication programme, it could not, or would not, do so.

I must stress here, too, that the University’s recent establishment of its Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies is equally acclaimed elsewhere as an enlightened development. Any failure to provide adequate funds and encouragement for its many possible activities would certainly bewilder and grievously disappoint very many admirers of this University. Given the appropriate support, the Institute’s certain to add to the University’s prestige everywhere.27




The crisis of 1969 took place, against this background, when the University’s five-year commitment to the publication programme of the dialect material ran out with two books of the twelve in the Basic Material series still incomplete, with no provision for their publication, and with all of the editorial work on the projected Linguistic Atlas of England still to be funded and carried out. In a press conference on September 16, 1969, Harold Orton explained how, with his retirement five years earlier, the responsibility for promoting dialect studies within the University and for exploiting “to the full the results of the investigations carried out during the period 1950-1961, and subsequently” passed to Stewart Sanderson and the Institute. “I am delighted that this responsibility lies with Mr. Sanderson,” he said.

But at the same time I am grieved at the heavy burden imposed on him, consequent upon the University’s declared inability to provide any more financial support for the publication programme. This means that the editorial team will be dispersed by the end of this month: there is simply no money to keep it going; and although all the Basic Material books will have appeared in print by 1971, we shall not have realised the ultimate aim of the project that Dieth and I launched in 1946. This is a Linguistic Atlas of England based entirely on the field recordings.28


The latter was ultimately published after Orton’s death, with the help of a substantial grant from the Leverhulme Trust, with support from the commercial publishers, Croom Helm, and through the good will and largely voluntary efforts of Stewart Sanderson and John Widdowson, as described below.



The University quickly came to view the period in which the Institute was formed as one of “severe financial stringency”29. The constriction did not manifest itself all at once - in 1967 the University could still see supporting the publication of some of the tape-recordings made by the dialect survey, sharing the cost with a commercial firm; by 1969 any University funding was out of the question30. Nor did this changing policy affect only the folk life programme - the creation of a one-year folk life studies for 1968-69, forced by the need to remain competitive with one-year M.A.’s instituted by the newer universities31, was agreed by Leeds with the proviso:

That the School of English be advised that the Standing Committee on Developments, having given full consideration to the matter, will not be able to advise the Priorities Committee to give sympathetic consideration to any claims for additional staff which may be based on the teaching load borne by members of staff of the Department arising from the institution of the following courses of advanced study leading to the degree of M.A.:

Celtic Studies
Icelandic Studies
Bibliography and Textual Criticism
Folk Life Studies.32


The introduction of the Postgraduate Diploma in Folk Life Studies in 1963 had been accompanied by a second lectureship; it was now clear that any new load arising from the one-year M.A. in the peripheral areas of the School of English would have to be borne by their extant faculties.

The University did not simply abandon the Institute; it was prepared to extend a research assistantship for three months from December 1969 to help with the Basic Materials publication, for example; and it helped in other ways which did not commit it to long-term programmes nor to supporting new programmes of research33. Having made this qualification, however, it is interesting to note that one of the terms from the "Proposals for a Leeds University Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies” prepared by Prof. Jeffares which did not make it into the constitutional document approved by the Senate and Council was “To operate, with an adequate staff, under the control of a Director...,,34[emphasis added]; which draws our attention to Stewart Sanderson’s comment, in 1969, that "though it was comparatively easy in the 1950’s to set up research institutions of various the 1960’s it has become increasingly difficult to start any kind of research which is not tied to teaching and to student numbers”35. By 1969, while the University was prepared to support folk life and dialect teaching, it was clearly not prepared to support additional research or publication.


3. Adaptations

In his annual report for 1966-67, Stewart Sanderson reported:

No changes in course structure. But we have now seen the results of the closer direction of students’ choice of subjects for their research dissertation, initiated in 1965. Four students have presented studies of fishing communities, two with a strong bias towards folklore, two towards material culture and fishing techniques. Two students have studied a seasonal festival, one in an urban, the other in a rural community. These comparable projects seem to be a fruitful way of working, and it is hoped that this will be developed in the future.36

Based in the twenty years of the English Dialect Survey and the five years of the Folk Life Survey the Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies was, in essence, a fully equipped and functioning research centre which, from the mid-1960s, was without sufficient finance to put it to full use. To make as full a use of this research instrument as possible within the climate of constricted funding, the students’ research was more closely focused and coordinated, and the Institute engaged in joint projects, and hosted, facilitated and contributed to projects organised and/or financed by others.

In 1967, for example, Carolyn Molloy-Mason submitted a dissertation entitled A Survey of Annual Bonfires in England, 1900-191437. Where Valerie Calvert’s thesis on The Pasche Egg several years earlier38 had spurred the survey of Easter eggs and Easter customs, the core of Molloy-Mason’s dissertation was the survey of English bonfires between 1900-1910 undertaken jointly by the Institute and the English Folklore Survey in 1966-67.

The English Folklore Survey, financed by a substantial benefaction from Hilda Coote-Lake and based in University College, London, had been conducting postal questionnaires since the mid-1950s (using, among other sources, the informant lists of the English Dialect Survey). In 1966 it employed Tony Green, who had trained in the Institute and was therefore well-known to Stewart Sanderson, to be its first (and only) full-time research assistant (the Survey had formerly been conducted by a lecturer in the English Language Department). Green was the research assistant for the period of the survey, 1966-67; he then went to Memorial University in Newfoundland to study, before joining the Institute at Leeds in 1970 as lecturer in Folk Life Studies.39

The bonfire survey was framed with the projected Atlas of European Ethnology in mind. The latter was a UNESCO-sponsored project, of which Stewart Sanderson was the U.K. representative, the intent of which was to map European folk culture as it had been before the massive technological and demographic disruptions of the Twentieth Century.40 It was therefore very much within the tradition of the English Dialect Survey, utilising a student to help with the preparation and analysis of contemporary survey material concerning an older and traditional state of affairs.

Though the Institute itself, by itself, never held a conference or extracurricular study course, it welcomed members of Section H (Anthropology) of the British Association for the Advancement of Science with a tour and display when it met in Leeds in 196741; helped to organise a summer course in Swedish folk museums for British museum curators with financial support of the Swedish Institute and the Carnegie Trust in 1969 and 197042; participated in “Folk Life and Custom”, a course organised by the University of Keele’s Department of Adult Education in 197043; a Museums Association Diploma Curatorial Course in Folk Life and Local History in 197144; and hosted the 1975 Oral History Society Conference.45

In terms of publications the Institute joined with the English Folk Dance and Song Society in 1973 to publish Michael Dawney’s Doon the Wagon Way: Mining Songs from the North of England,46 and in 1975 his The Iron Man: English Occupational Songs.47 In 1981 the Institute and the Centre for English Cultural Traditions and Language joined together to edit and publish Language, Culture and Tradition: Papers on Language and Folklore Presented at the Annual Conference of the..British Sociological Association, April, 1978.48

In terms of research, Sanderson proposed as early as February 1963 a study of the folk culture and traditions of the Jewish Community in Leeds. “The University”, he wrote at the time, “through its Folk Life Survey, can offer technical facilities (e.g., sound-recording photographic and library services) for research in these fields, together with permanent archive storage for collected material.” The problems were “to find the right man to do the work” and “to find the finance to support him while he does it”.49 In March 1966 the Institute was able to offer subsistence, travel and lecture fees to a scholar from Göttingen who spent about a month on a preliminary folklore survey of the Leeds Jewish community. In 1970 the Institute hosted the visit of the Secretary of the Haifa Ethnological Museum/Deputy Director of the Israel Folktale Archive, from which plans for a joint Israel-Leeds research and archive project were formulated (but in the end were not realised).50 In 1980-81 and again in 1981-82, private outside funding enabled Paul Smith, a post-graduate student at Sheffield University, to carry out the initial stages in an oral history project on the tailoring industry in Leeds as a part-time field-work assistant in the Institute.51

On the dialect side there were a number of collaborations. In the 1965-66 session, for example, Prof. Charles Houck of Indiana carried out “a preliminary survey of Leeds speech on a socio-statistical basis” in which 115 households were selected for investigation by a questionnaire structured for computer analysis”; this involved considerable help from Stanley Ellis52; in 1969-70 the Institute collaborated with the Illinois Institute of Technology in collecting tape-recorded specimens of urban dialectal English, and with the Department of English at the University of Helsinki in collecting specimens of oral narrative.53



4. New Directions

Basically what we are concentrating on is unofficial culture today; and to that extent our collecting is sociological rather than historical.”
Tony Green (1974)54


Perhaps the most profound response to the changing conditions of the 1960s was marked by Stewart Sanderson’s decision at the end of 1969 to hire Tony Green as the second member of the Folk Life Studies team, an appointment Green took up on April 1, 197055. Prior to this, and apart from Prof. Reidar Christiansen’s inaugurating term in 1963, the position had been held by young Scandinavian scholars for one or two years each before moving on to positions in Scandinavia. This brought the breadth of the European perspective to England, and generated useful ties to the vital and influential Folk Life Studies movement in Scandinavia, but it could not provide the stability and continuity which the new direction in Folk Life Studies at Leeds required. Thus, in 1970, Tony Green became the first Englishman to become a lecturer in Folk Life Studies in a British university.

The decision to hire Green would appear to have involved the acceptance by Stewart Sanderson that the Leeds Folk Life Survey was effectively dead: That the Folk Life faculty within the foreseeable future would be a purely teaching faculty. Thus his description of the Leeds programme in 1981, which would have seemed extraordinary if made before 1969:

If we turn now to the British universities, again I think we can distinguish two contrasting models, that of the School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University, which is essentially an institution geared to the formation of a fairly comprehensive research archive, and which as its name suggests, sees its remit in terms of a national folk culture; and the other model represented by Leeds or Sheffield or Stirling (whose recently instituted degree programme in Folk Life seems about to be frozen out of existence in the current financial draughts), institutions which are geared to ‘teaching-and-research’ in the normal pattern of university teaching departments.

In my own University of Leeds, which is typical of the second model, the field recording programmes do not, as a result, aspire towards comprehensive national record. They reflect instead the personal research interests of members of the teaching staff and of their individual students.56 [emphasis added]


“The continuity of teaching staff in post over a number of years,” he went on to say,


does itself lead to a certain measure of breadth in these archives, however. A research supervisor attracts students through his publications, and so one tends to find a number of these being written under his direction which together form a cluster of related work. In the case of Leeds we can discern two or three such clusters, e.g., folksong, particularly in terms of its social context and functions; witchcraft as a belief system and social control; the folktale as a culture reflector; and we can also point to a number of studies of traditional crafts which are strongly oriented either towards the craft’s vocabulary and terminology or towards innovation problems when new materials and new technology are introduced.57


For the purposes of the Folk Life Survey Stewart Sanderson had bracketed out urban and contemporary culture from his definition of the scope of folk life studies (see the discussion of the Folk Life Survey). But these constraints no longer obtained, and Tony Green was able to say in 1972 “We concentrate in fact increasingly much more on urban rather than rural traditions…”


The oral traditions (whatever that means) began to die out in England much faster than they did in Ireland and Scotland, and it consequently seems quite logical to concentrate on new traditions that have been produced by the dynamic growth of the urban cities. We do a lot, for instance, on rumour. We have a large number of scurrilous stories, which we cannot yet publish, on the sexual proclivities of various members of the Royal Family! We have stories about hauntings, about bewitching from urban communities too. These certainly could very well be exploited for social history, but you will not find the type of story that adds to one’s documentary evidence of the rather distant past..You will find much more evidence that relates to the last 50 or possibly 100 years, and certainly evidence that relates to unofficial culture today.58


This change of orientation from the historical to the present of folk culture shifted the way in which the students in the Folk Life programme were used and perceived. They were no longer simply students or collectors but were themselves perceived as culture-bearers, actors in the cultures they studied, part of the folk in the way that the fieldworkers for the English Dialect Survey were themselves dialect speakers with an impact on the people with whom they spoke. This opened up a whole area of theory and subjectivity characteristic of the Institute certainly in its last decade, but immanent within the English Dialect Survey and perhaps a part of its legacy. As a part of this, from 1971 each student in the introductory Folk Studies course completed an exercise in which she (more often than he; see below) completed an autobiographical sketch and discussed the beliefs and customs of themselves and their families and of the places in which they had lived and grown up. These were compiled in annual binders and remain a part of the archival material amassed in the archive, under the heading “Student Folklore File”.

Green’s appointment coincided with the collapse of the University’s funding for the Survey of English Dialects and with Stewart Sanderson’s increasing commitment to the SED and in particular to the Linguistic Atlas of England, as discussed immediately below. There is a strong prima facie case for arguing that his appointment was intended to provide the sort of support - as deputy director of the Folk Life programme, as it were - for which Sanderson had called, but which up until then had been lacking.



5. Survey of English Dialects

"The Linguistic Atlas of England...[would] undoubtedly be a landmark in the study of British and European ethnology"
Stewart Sanderson59


In becoming Director of the Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies Stewart Sanderson acquired new administrative duties and responsibility for a publishing programme which would not be complete in Harold Orton’s exacting eyes until the Basic Materials volumes of the SED, four volumes of Incidental Material, the Linguistic Atlas of England, and phonetic transcriptions of the dialect survey’s tape-recorded interviews had all seen publication.

In a memo dated November 22, 1966, and addressed to Stewart Sanderson as Director of the Institute, Harold Orton made it clear “that SED was always intended to comprise a series of different kinds of publications, and could certainly not be regarded as being complete when the four basic material volumes, each of three parts, are in print”60. Of the still unpublished material, “The proposed linguistic atlas will be the crowning achievement of SED”61.

In a ten-point memo of November 16, 1967, Harold Orton made clear in the first three the obligations of the Institute to the Linguistic Atlas of England as he saw them:

1. The Atlas to be sponsored and promoted actively by the Institute.
2. The task of financing work upon the Atlas to be undertaken by the Institute without seeking for the present, any financial support from the University.
3. The Institute to accept responsibility both for accommodating the undertaking and for organising the staff of the Atlas.62


Directed by these points, the Institute’s Linguistic Atlas Committee meeting the following day, noted “the virtual certainty that no University funds will be available for staffing or for publication costs...” Despite this, it nevertheless resolved “to constitute itself as the Editorial Committee of the Linguistic Atlas of England”, with Sanderson as its secretary, and with the power to co-opt63.

In his memo of 22.11.1966 Orton had said that ”I do not think it will be possible for me to continue any active editorial work on SED after the basic material volumes have been issued”64. But Orton had lived with the project for over twenty years, and as anecdotes by former students and colleagues show, he was not a man who found it easy to give up work; e.g.:


When he gave up his summer school teaching in the United States some time while we were working for him (I believe he was forced to give it up at 75 in 1974), he took it quite badly, saying one hot day that he thought he wouldn’t put his tie on to go home, since he was only ”a professor on the rubbish heap” (he did put his tie on!), but he threw himself ever more into the Survey. Another summer’s day he wished he could go to the cricket at Headingley. “Why don’t you?” we said, rather wishing for a respite, but he insisted pressure of work was too great - this was, of course, ten-plus years after his retirement.65


Throughout the editorial process of the Linguistic Atlas of England Orton remained firmly at the centre. As secretary of the Editorial Committee, and as Director of the Institute, this will no doubt both have taken some pressures off Stewart Sanderson but created others.

While plans were being laid for the Linguistic Atlas project the editorial work on the Basic Material volumes went ahead supported, once the University’s five year plan came to an end in 1969, with a three month extension by the University for a Research Assistant66; by the last of six £1000 grants from the British Association for the Advancement of Science67; £100 given by the Council of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society in 197068; two grants (apparently of £100 each) from the Hamlyn Trust, the second in 197069; and support for publication costs from the publisher, Arnolds of Leeds70. The annual salary of a joint editor at this point was initially £2000, that for a research assistant £100071. The final book in the Basic Material series appeared in 1971.

Writing in 1966, Orton said he thought that the Linguistic Atlas of England could be fully completed in three years at a cost of £11,400, using one co-editor and two research assistants72. Sanderson spoke of grant applications for the project as early as 196873. Finally, as a University of Leeds Press Release issued 23.11.1971 stated:

An English Dialect Atlas will definitely be available by 1975. The Leverhulme Trust has given £11,900 to the Leeds University’s Institute of Dialect and Folklife Studies to produce a single volume which illustrates the richness and diversity of rural English speech.74


John Widdowson of the University of Sheffield was appointed Honorary co-editor of the Atlas for a period of 3 years from September 30,1972 (which gave him staff privileges and meant that he would be reimbursed for expenses)75; and by October the two research assistants, Sue Powell and Clive Upton, were at work on the Atlas. “Between October, 1972 and June, 1973” the two “had produced several hundred experimental maps, mainly phonological.” Between June and November Harold Orton, Powell and Upton “had developed a procedure for interpretive and simplified phonological maps and had evolved a system of symbolisation, which was then explained to the editors”76.

When Harold Orton died suddenly after a brief illness in March 1975, the full responsibility for the complex, demanding and incomplete project of which only Orton had had the full picture fell upon Widdowson and Sanderson. Widdowson’s honorary co-editorship was fortunately extended another three years to September 30, 197877, but the Leverhulme funds for the research assistants ran out before the project was finished, and the original publishers said they could no longer agree to publish the Atlas without a substantial subsidy (which was not available)78. After considerable negotiation the project was released from its contract with the old publisher, and Croom Helm agreed to publish the Atlas79. In the end, the Linguistic Atlas of England took longer and was not the inexpensive publication Orton had envisaged; but it finally appeared in 1978; and within a year work had begun on a shorter, less expensive and more popular version, which Clive Upton, John Widdowson and Stewart Sanderson published as Word Maps: A Dialect Atlas of England, in 198780.

Although there are no plans at present for publication of the Incidental Material volumes or for phonological transcriptions of the mechanically recorded interviews, a Dialect Dictionary based on the SED material is scheduled to appear in 199281.


6. Academic Programme

When the Institute opened in 1964 the folklife side was housed in premises in Virginia Road, and the dialect division - centred on its ’Scriptorium’ - set up in Clarendon Place. This physical division emphasises the practical separation of the two disciplines within the Institute. Sue Powell, a dialect research assistant in the early 1970s, recalled that “Both Stewart Sanderson and Tony Green were very friendly and informative colleagues, but our work was entirely separate and there was never, as far as I know, any attempt to integrate the two sides...”82. This was certainly the experience of a post-graduate student in the folklife programme in the early 1980s, and a look at the undergraduate and postgraduate reading lists given to folklife students in 1981 shows only one item specifically devoted to language; none, for example, relates to English dialect or to the English Dialect Survey83.

There were opportunities for combined ventures, such as the documentation of sheep-washing at Thornton Rust in Wensleydale in 1964 mentioned earlier; but the integration of the folklife and dialect programme was primarily administrative, and the respective teaching programmes appear to have gone on much as before. Indeed, the structure, at least, of the folklife course of the late 1960s would be recognisable to earlier students, and is immediately familiar to a student of the early 1980s.

To understand both the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes


it will be useful to explain that the School of English is one of the largest in Britain. Its interests are wide and varied: apart from the standard diet of English Language and Literature, students are offered the opportunity of following courses by specialists in American Literature, Commonwealth Literature, Drama, English and General Linguistics, English as a Second Language, English Dialectology, Icelandic, and Celtic, through prescribed schemes of options at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Folk Life Studies find a natural home in this company.84


This is the reason, Stewart Sanderson explained later, “why folklife is going to remain in the School of English...because I can expect support from people teaching English Language, English Literature, and so on. For a small department this is obviously important”85.


The dialect programme as developed by and carried on from Harold Orton has been briefly described by Stanley Ellis:

At the undergraduate level students were encouraged to write a descriptive phonology of a dialect which they themselves investigated by fieldwork collecting a wide vocabulary. At the postgraduate level they might continue the study of a locality, enlarging their description by addition of a whole grammatical study...The main model for presentation for the undergraduate studies was Harold Orton’s Phonology of a South Durham Dialect, and it is this form of presentation that provides a basic model for student undergraduate dissertations today86.


In the undergraduate folklife programme:


Candidates for the degree of B.A. with Special Studies in English follow a common first-year curriculum and then opt for one of four main schemes of study. In two of these schemes, weighted towards linguistic rather than literary studies, there is a 2-year option in Folk Life Studies which attracts on average some 12 to 18 students per year.

They follow four survey courses of lectures: (1) an introduction to the theory and principles of the study of oral, material and social traditions; (2) oral literature; (3) custom and belief; (4) ballad and folksong.87


The two years of the Folk Life Studies course were each divided into two segments: the first term of the first year was devoted to a general introduction, with the oral literature course - “mainly a course dealing with the folktale but also with such things as proverbs, riddles, etc”88 - taking the Spring and Summer terms. The first term of the second year was devoted to custom and belief; ballad and folksong were studied in the final two terms.

In tutorial groups there is special discussion of field-work techniques, registration and classification of material, and other practicalities. Each student has a weekly supervision to discuss his research dissertation, the subject normally being examined by a dissertation based on fieldwork.89

In the postgraduate folk life programme:

Students seeking the Post-Graduate Diploma in Folk Life Studies - “devised to give professional training to people contemplating careers in museums, archives, etc., where they will be responsible for folk life collections”90 - generally took the first-term (’introduction’; ’custom and belief’) undergraduate courses, with additional practical training in archive methods; fieldwork; photography and sound recording; the elements of preservation techniques for museum specimens; and exhibition techniques.

They may by permission take one course from the following options both within and without the School of English: Romano-British archaeology; Anglo-Saxon art and archaeology; medieval archaeology; English dialectology; historical geography; social geography; history of art.91


The one-year M.A., introduced in 1968-69, was based on the full B.A. programme, but was intended to “be of higher theoretical and academic content”92:


Advanced tuition is available within the special field of each candidate’s research topic, and there is a practical course on fieldwork and archive techniques. Members of the course contribute to a weekly seminar for postgraduate students in the Institute.93


In regards to the M.Phil. and Ph.D.,


it is departmental practice that research students should follow the MA course in Folk Life Studies and sit the three written papers as a departmental qualification examination in their first year...Exemption may be granted to full-time students who already have post-graduate experience in folk life studies.94



7. The Institute and the World Outside

The Institute played a small but significant part in the development of ethnological studies abroad, and particularly in Africa. In January and February 1965 Stewart Sanderson visited Nigeria on behalf of the British Council, lecturing in various universities and advanced training colleges. According to the British Information Service’s British News Bulletin,



Discussions between universities in Nigeria and Britain during the next few months may lead to central archives being set up in Nigeria for dialect and folk life studies.

This follows a recent three-week visit to Nigeria by Mr. Stewart F. Sanderson, Director of the Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies at Leeds University. The purpose of his tour was to consider the problems of studying and collecting national folk lore and traditions.
"Talks are to take place between the various Nigerian universities on the question of central archives and I and my colleagues at British universities will be giving advice", said Mr. Sanderson.

During his visit Mr. Sanderson met many people actively concerned with recording the traditions of the country. They were specialists in their own field, such as history and language, and he thought they should exchange their knowledge, collating it in central archives.95


Sanderson was external examiner in Folklore in the University of Khartoum in April, 197496. One of the Institute’s first postgraduate students was Sayed Hamid, of Sudan, who took a diploma on 1965 and an M.A. in 196697; one of its last was Yussif Medani, also of Sudan, who took his Ph.D. in 198698.

By 1984 more than 60 students from Third World countries had taken the M.A. under Sanderson99.



8. Women in the Folk Life Programme: Some Statistics

From 1971 to 1982, sometime during the first term, students in the introductory Folk Life Studies course completed an exercise in personal collection, giving the various personal details one would ask of an informant, and discussing the children’s lore; adult songs, jokes, rhymes; adult customs and belief; local lore; oral proverbs and so on which one had grown up with and/or encountered and developed in one’s own life. These exercises were collected into seventeen ring- binders numbered from one to sixteen by year (1973 required four binders; 1976 and 1979 each required two, 1979 being numbered 13(I) and 13(II). Binder 8 - presumably 1975 - appears to be missing). In the sixteen binders, covering ten years, there are 143 completed exercises - an average of just over 14 per year. Though presumably an annual class exercise, these range from a high of 30 in 1973 to a low of 5 in 1978, and given that postgraduate students entering in 1981, for example (who took the FLS-I course as part of their programme), are not represented, it may be that these figures do not accurately reflect the entire annual student intake.

With these caveats it is nevertheless interesting to note that of the 143 exercises, 38 were completed by men and 105 by women: or, in percentage terms, 73.4% of the exercises were completed by women, 26.6% by men. If there is not some unrecorded sex-related bias (e.g., if it were a purely voluntary exercise, tending to be completed more often by women than men - which would itself be interesting), this would mean that nearly 3/4 of the beginning Folk Life Studies students between 1971 and 1982 were women.100



9. Recollection and Assessment: The Views of Past Students

This section is based on a postal survey of past folk life students at Leeds. There were 282 possible people on our list but it was soon evident that it would be difficult to find their present whereabouts. The School of English kindly allowed us to use addresses from their records of admission, and 244 letters were sent out based largely on these, although it was realised that in most cases they would be long out of date. More than a quarter of the letters were returned as unknown at that address, and more than half produced no reply at all. Presumably many of this latter group also failed to reach their intended target, but it seems likely that other factors were involved such as lack of time, a disinclination to reply to circulars, a feeling that there was nothing relevant to contribute and so on. The thirty nine actual responses came, as one might well expect, mostly from people who had positive and friendly reactions to their experience. Twenty had taken the undergraduate course and nineteen had been postgraduates; nineteen were men and twenty were women; and between them they gave a good spread over the whole period covered. The following account is gratefully based on their evidence, but with a commonsense realisation of the hazards involved in using a small sample in this way.


[Note, 2022: As part of our methodology Roy Judge and I passed their sections by contributors before pubishing them. I do not think we reached this stage with this section, and I have not yet found any correspondence with the former students to indicate what their understandings at the time were. Thirty years and GDPR later, and in what might be an excess of caution, I have left in the sub-section headings, but replaced the sub-section contributions themselves with dots. I'd be more than happy to hear from contributors and/or their heirs, with permission or otherwise to fill in the blanks with their 1991 thoughts on the Leeds programmes. But the blanks are left here with apologies].


Motives for taking the course

It is noteworthy that all the following excerpts come from past undergraduate students. Graduates often shared the same kind of interest and motivation, but generally did not feel the need to express it in this context; in their case the consideration of a career came first, and their interest in the subject material could be assumed. Among the attractions of the course for the undergraduates were its flexibility and informality, and the method of examination.





Reactions to the course

These were chiefly favourable, as one might expect from this self-selected group. There are hints of the kind of problems in personal relationships which again one might expect in an intimate academic situation, and in the last days of the Institute tensions naturally increased. But the expressions of enjoyment were so general that they suggest an underlying atmosphere of tolerance, purposefulness and civilised scholarship.





Each year had its own characteristics.





Impressions of the Staff










Research and Fieldwork

Note the importance of the dissertation as offering a chance to undertake independent research.





Two particular accounts of fieldwork are worth giving in full.





Arising out of this fieldwork Sue Pattison published an article in Folk Life, 15 (1977), 5-11, ’The Antrobus Soulcaking Play: An Alternative Approach to the Mummers’ Play’. It is worth noting incidentally, as some indication of the quality of the research in the Institute, that three out of the eight papers in this particular issue of Folk Life were by recent students, the others being Kathryn Smith, ’The Wise Man and His Community’, and Margaret Brooks,’The Craft of A Dry Stone Waller’.


The Archive

Writers mentioned their interest in and their concern for the Archive.






Many students went on to posts in higher education or in museum work, often seeing the Institute as a helpful, and sometimes an indispensable, means to their present situation.





The Wider Significance of the Courses

For many the interests encouraged by the course became an important part of their life:





Many expressed a conviction that the course had considerable personal influence on them. The following three responses all came from people who had taken only the undergraduate course.





Final Thoughts about the Institute

Most of the past students expressed their regret at the closure of the Institute.