The Full English

The Full English, the world’s largest digital archive of English traditional music and dance, was recently launched. Over 58,000 items are included in the database, that has brought together and digitised archive collections from various archive holding institutions around the country including Clare College, The British Library, The Mitchell Library in Glasgow, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre and the Folklore Society at UCL.

Clare College Archives has been involved with the project for the last few years which has been co-ordinated by the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) and as part of its contribution has had the fair copy manuscript notes of Cecil Sharp (1859-1924, matriculated 1882) [subscription access; Oxford DNB] that Sharp bequeathed to the College, digitised. The Sharp fair copy manuscripts account for several thousand of the items now included in the Full English database. The image below shows one version of Bonny Bunch of Roses collected by Sharp and is representative of the size and style of the other images made of the collection.

‘Bonny Bunch of Roses’ collected by Sharp ; copyright by Clare College.

‘Bonny Bunch of Roses’ collected by Sharp ; copyright Clare College.

Sharp collected extensively, spending twenty-five years collecting examples of folk song and dance from across England as well as Australia and the Appalachian Mountains in America. The result was hundreds of pages of original notes that are now held at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, headquarters of the EFDSS, that were in turn edited and written up into the fair copy manuscripts now held in the Clare College Archives. As well as being a keen folk song collector, Sharp’s enthusiasm for collecting examples of folk dance did not just stop at collecting and he was known for experimenting with dances that he collected as shown in the video below. Coincidentally this also happens to be the earliest known surviving example of folk dance on film (1912). The other people shown in the video are Maud Karpeles [subscription access; Oxford DNB] who assisted Sharp in recording many folk songs and dances, her sister Helen, and George Butterworth [subscription access; Oxford DNB] whose work has also been digitised as part of the Full English. Watch out for the collision between Sharp and Butterworth at 3 minutes 54 seconds – a bit more practice was clearly needed!


The Full English database went live on the evening of 20th June at a launch event at Cecil Sharp House in London. New interpretations of the music included in the project were performed by some of the country’s best known folk musicians including Seth LakemanMartin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Sam SweeneyRob Harbron and Ben Nicholls, led by Fay Hield.

Now the first stage of the project (the digitisation of original mss and launch of the database) is complete, the Full English Tour will begin, whilst a series of Folk Song in England Study Days across the country will also take place, including one at Clare College in November 2013. Although not held at Clare, the musical manuscript collections of another Clare alumnus, Sabine Baring-Gould [subscription access ; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography], have also been included in the project.

Please click on the logo below to access the digitised archive collections and to learn more about the Full English project.

The Full English Digital Archive (banner) ; http://www.vwml.org.uk/browse/browse-collections-full-english

The Full English Digital Archive (banner) ; http://www.vwml.org.uk/browse/browse-collections-full-english

Any questions about the Cecil Sharp manuscripts can be directed to Robert Athol, Edgar Bowring Archivist, Clare College at ra398[atsign]cam[dot]ac[dot]uk

Robert Athol
Edgar Bowring Archivist, Clare College

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