I had always assumed that the collecting of folk music and custom at the end of the 19th century was always a male preserve. I think of people like Cecil Sharp, Ralph Vaughn Williams and Gustav Holst weighed down with heavy sound recording equipment seeking out some ancient in the depths of Somerset to meticulously note down folksong.
Over the years I have had an interest in folk music and have attended many a concert. I had always assumed that
North Staffordshire was not especially rich territory as
far as local folk music or lore was concerned. Some areas of the country such
as the West Country appear to have a richer tradition although subsequent
commentators have suggested that the industrial areas were missed because
folklorists felt they were somehow” tainted”.
I looked recently at the archive of folksong that exists at Cecil Sharp House and the digital archive contains a number of games and dances collected in the Cheadle and Tean areas by Alice Keary and Charlotte Burne in the 1890s. Charlotte Burne who was born on the borders of Staffordshire and
Shropshire was something of
a pioneer in folk music and rose to pre-eminence within the organisation. She produced a book on Shropshire
folklore and edited the Folklore Society’s magazine. She became the first women
president of the Society unusually as the organisation was London based and she
remained in Staffordshire. She lived near Eccleshall. Miss Keary was from
Oakhill in Stoke on Trent and spent most of her life immersing herself in the
myths of North Staffordshire.( Her brother wrote an experimental novel which
was admired by James Joyce) Together the
two women spent three years circa 1890-1893 collecting materials in North Staffordshire. While a number of
joint papers were published, Burne moved to Cheltenham
in 1894, and their research failed to be realised in book form. It is probably
true to say that the role of women in the story of collecting the folk
tradition of the country has been neglected by a masculine dominated art form.
In the 1890s they were collecting material on Biddulph and their account of life on the Moor is worth recounting
“One very curious settlement we have, locally reputed to be a separate race, the "Biddle Muir" men. Biddulph Moor is situated in the north-western extremity of the county, bordering on