Article MT161

Revisiting Baring-Gould

Third part of a six part series

Part 3: Collecting, continued1

Continuing the account of Baring-Gould's experience of collecting, we look now, firstly, at the extent to which Baring-Gould travelled and then to the circumstances in which he encountered individual singers during these early days.  Investigation in the first item is straightforward enough but in the second begins to uncover some problems in aspects of Baring-Gould's work and there is a need to adopt caution in the same way that was necessary in our acceptance of his various narratives of impetus and progression where he sometimes forgot or otherwise altered detail, the end result of which has been to expose conflict in terms of accuracy and unreliability in resolution.  All - as has already been remarked - is not as it seems with Baring-Gould.

As far as geographical compass is concerned, his hinterland was relatively modest in extent.  There is a total of 24 venues where, according to information given in notes in SBW, he met up with named singers.  This total comes from the 'finished' first edition of four parts.  It does not include reference to anybody who sent songs to Baring-Gould.  In this respect a further 29 places can be added including Plymouth, Exeter and Exmouth…although Baring-Gould never seems to have collected at any of them.  He never, either, went to east Devon - that area extending from Exeter towards the Somerset and Dorset borders - or, again, to the north Devon coast: Halwill (Baring-Gould's 'Halwell'2) would seem to have been the furthest point north to which he travelled.  He appears never to have visited the South Hams district beyond South Brent which rendezvous itself seems to have been out of the ordinary.  It is not clear if he got to the area south of Newton Abbott…as far as Dartmouth.  He certainly came to know a Miss Bidder in Dartmouth, through correspondence (see below); but it may be that songs were simply sent to him.  There were also some visits out of the heartland to places like South Brent and to Holne, on the southern edge of the Moor; and, again, to Liskeard and Launceston (not that distant), for example; and, more distantly still, to Fowey (as recounted in the previous piece in this series), once to Mawgam in Cornwall, down by Helston - the farthest west that he travelled - and, once, to Tiverton.  Principally, though, we are left with an area which is centred on Dartmoor and its fringes with something of a closer concentration - naturally enough - on those places that were more easily accessible to him such as the villages and hamlets around his home at Lew Trenchard, in his own parish, and near to it - Lydford, Mary Tavy, Thrushelton and so on.3

Indeed, he wrote once, with somewhat uncharacteristic modesty, that 'I have not gone over any great area in my search for songs or ballads'.4

The revelation of such a relatively confined geographical hinterland is paralleled by the details of Cecil Sharp's enterprise.  Vaughan Williams made a mild comment to the effect that Sharp's collecting could be construed not so much that of English as of Somerset Folk Song - a fact which Sharp acknowledged.5  At this distance in time this is not quite such a problem as it might first appear.  The whole experience of collectors does not appear to have revealed any significant divergence in the extent and kinds of singing activity amongst the regions - as information has been passed on by those collectors.  Conversely, the very concentration on small areas, acknowledging gaps in collecting experience in some counties, helps to give a vivid picture of singing activity in depth - through the Hammonds in Dorset, Gardiner in Hampshire, Grainger in Lincolnshire as well as Sharp in Somerset.

Where Baring-Gould's encounters with singers are concerned, some degree of qualification is necessary in respect of information already given in the first and second parts of this survey which all came from Fair Copy and Personal Copy manuscripts and, therefore, was all added retrospectively.

As example of difficulty: in Baring-Gould's experience, Lew Down, contiguous to his home, was one of the first places in which collecting was done; where he found or was directed to James Parsons and Matthew Baker.  But we immediately come across references which are confusing.  In Mr Baker's case, there is, as instance, in Rough Copy manuscripts, a date of September 11th 1890 given as that on which a tune to the song All the Trees they were so High was noted from Matthew Baker (it looks to be Bussell's notation).  In Personal Copy manuscripts September 1890 is given as a month for a text but no specific date included although Bussell's name is given in connection with notation of text.  On the other hand, a tune is given as having been taken down from Mr Parsons and Mr Baker on September 4th 1890.6  This could all well be so.  But when we look at Fair Copy manuscript, a version of text is given as having been taken down from James Parsons and Matthew Baker at Lew Down in 1888.7  And, in this connection, the notes to the first part of the first edition of SBW credit the piece to James Parsons alone; those in the fourth part to both Mr Parsons and Mr Baker; and Baring-Gould wrote in the note to the 1905 edition of SBW that 'Words and melody were taken down in 1888, first from James Parsons, then from Matthew Baker'.8  Matthew Baker, as far as is known, only provided the one version.  The fourth part to the first edition of SBW does not exclusively represent the earliest collecting.  So which ascription is to be believed?  We would surely be inclined to go for Rough Copy and its specifics rather than to remembered detail; and here suggest that the Baker date in Fair Copy is inaccurate where Mr Baker is concerned and that the versions from him and from Mr Parsons have been amalgamated.  This causes confusion when a date for the initial notation is sought; but, at the same time, may illustrate the way that Baring-Gould appears to have worked from notation to publication via Personal Copy in which he added, subtracted and arranged versions.

As second example (and recalling detail already noted in the second piece in this survey), in respect of James Parsons, in the Personal Copy manuscripts, there is a reference to a notation of A Maiden Sweet in May in July 1887; to a tune for Young Edwin in the Lowlands got by Harold Fleetwood Sheppard in 1887; and to The Golden Glove and Nobleman and Thresherman in November 1887; and the coincidence of such references makes it appear plausible that songs were, indeed, got from Mr Parsons as early as 1887.  However, despite the fact that tunes for The Golden Glove and Nobleman and Thresherman (but not for A Maiden… or Young Edwin) exist in Rough Copy manuscript, nothing in that source confirms these dates; nor is there confirmation in Fair Copy tune and text.  We are left supposing 1887 as a possible first date for song notation from James Parsons.  Yet Rough Copy - in a comparitively rare admission - reveals that a version of Cupid the Ploughboy (as Cupar's Gardens) was got in from Mr Parsons 1887.9

Similarly, in the case of John Woodrich, we cannot ignore the Personal Copy manuscripts which give 1887 as the time when Bussell got Mother and Daughter from the singer even if the bulk of other references to Mr Woodrich refer to 1888 and after - there is nothing in Rough Copy to confirm the date of 1887 given here in respect of Mother and Daughter.10

It should be observed at this point that, whilst Rough Copy might offer opportunity for establishment of dating, such dating itself, as noted above, is rare and the assembled tunes seem sometimes to have had added a note or a title here and there as if worked on.  Further still, several tunes are set out with full harmonies.  This could not have been the result of everyday notation but, again, suggests that the material had been worked on before being set down.  Since the tunes often follow each other without due reference to dates of collecting but more as a convenient repository we can but assume that somewhere, they were first set out in note or notebook form.  Even Rough Copy, then, has its limitations in respect of the task of formulating a chronology of collecting.

As intimated, there seem to be too many references to 1887 as a date for collecting for them to be discarded entirely but, in respect of these collecting processes, whilst in his Introductory essay on English folk-music included in the first volume of English Minstrelsie, Baring-Gould gave 1887 as the date of his initial conversation with Daniel Radford11, the 1905 edition of SBW gives a date of October 1888 for the Radford conversation.12  Further Reminiscences, as we know, proclaims the start of the collecting venture as having been in 1888 - curiously, though, a sub-heading to the chapter has 'Folk Songs 1887-1888' thus leaving us with a faint possibility that the 1887 date is, in fact, correct.13

Unfortunately, the date of J D Prickman's letter as mentioned in a previous piece in this series informing us of the whereabouts of Harry Westaway and others - which by all accounts came after the Radford conversation - is not available to us.  Nor, as far as can be ascertained, are there other letters, diaries and notebooks with which to map out Baring-Gould's activities.

The initial date for the start of Baring-Gould's adventures in collecting, then, remains in doubt.

There is another aspect to this uncertainty.  As one leafs through SBW, there comes a rapid realisation that it represents work in progress.  Of course, it is not being suggested that working through the volume in this way is the sole aim but is merely here a way of trying to establish a characteristic approach of Baring-Gould to collecting and publishing.  So - as already indicated in the previous piece in this survey, at South Brent, Baring-Gould wrote, he noted songs from Robert Hard and John Helmore; but when, exactly, was the first visit?  Detail from retrospective manuscript sources suggest that both Bussell and Baring-Gould were at South Brent during August 1888 when Bussell apparently took down a version of The Miller's Last Will.14  Sheppard, it seems, was involved in a visit in the autumn of 1888 since, in this connection, in Personal Copy manuscripts, reference is made to a tune for Bonny Bunch of Roses, got from South Brent in October 1888 with Sheppard's name attached and this, moreover, is set under another version, this time ascribed to Robert Hard, as got by the schoolmaster in South Brent the month before.15  Similarly, Personal Copy manuscript reveals that a tune for The Brown Girl was noted from Robert Hard by Sheppard in October 1888.  In this instance, text and tune appear in Rough Copy - but, frustratingly for the accuracy of evidence, the one is ascribed to John Woodrich and is dated 1888 - which date is accompanied by a reference to a version taken down from Will Setter in 1890, more clear proof of retrospection; and the other is credited to James Parsons (1888) with another tune, undated, from John Masters and yet another taken down by Bussell in 1894.  There is no reference to Robert Hard.16

In Personal Copy, too, the inclusion of the Christian name, Robert, whilst, as has been shown, Baring-Gould - in the first part of SBW - referred to 'J Hard' and 'John Hard', again underlines retrospective reference.

And, to hone in further on Sheppard's initial participation in the collecting processes, if, as the recorded notation of The Miller's Last Will suggests, Baring-Gould's and Bussell's first visit to South Brent was during August or September of 1888, we are still left with the observation made in Further Reminiscences (we need to remind ourselves that this book was written forty years after the event) that Baring-Gould's first visit with Sheppard had been in the 'depth of winter'…the autumn date as noted above is challenged.17

If the outline sequence - August and autumn 1888 - is anywhere near accurate despite inherent contradictions, then a visit by Sheppard in 1889 which is indicated in Fair and Personal Copy manuscripts (a tune to the Green Cockade from Robert Hard in Fair Copy; a tune to Blow Away Ye Morning Breezes from Robert Hard in Personal Copy18 must have been a third one during which Mr Hard and Mr Helmore were encountered.  After all, Baring-Gould had described his own second visit to South Brent, as having been in company this time not with Bussell but with Sheppard and that visit, all the evidence seems to suggest, was in the autumn of 1888.19  When was it, then, that Baring-Gould went back and sat with Robert Hard all day, just two months before the singer died?  It has not yet been possible to find details of Mr Hard's death or burial; but we can arrive at an approximate date.  In the 1905 edition of SBW Baring-Gould noted that it was in November 1890 that he paid a visit to South Brent in order to meet with Robert Hard and in Further Reminiscences that 'I went alone in the winter of 1890' for the long session described.20  The 1905 SBW recorded that Robert Hard was 'growing very feeble' and that, 'A month later, poor old Hard was found dead in a snow-drift by the roadside.'  There are no such references in the first editions of SBW.  A tentative summation might conclude that this was, in fact, a fourth visit for Baring-Gould himself.

In another version of the South Brent visits (at risk of too much repetition) Baring-Gould wrote clearly enough in the Preface to the first part of the first edition of SBW that after his initial determination to begin collecting, he appealed to the public through 'local papers' - by which method he got 'a score of versions of…“The Widdecombe Fair”…' - and then received information about Robert Hard and John Helmore at South Brent; at the same time knowing already of one singer in his own neighbourhood, James Parsons (he 'sent for him' - which might suggest that he had first heard of Mr Parsons through a third party - and 'procured about five-and-twenty ballads and songs…').21  Following the reference to Mr Parsons in these introductory notes to SBW Baring-Gould then recorded his first visit to South Brent - and went on to describe a trip to Belstone (and Harry Westaway amongst others); his meeting with Jonas Coaker in 'the very heart of Dartmoor'; and his encounter with John Woodrich at Thrushelton and singers at Lydford, 'another spot where much of the old world lingers' (this Lydford reference was left out of the fourth part of the first edition of SBW but, clearly, is a factor in establishing the fact of collecting during Baring-Gould's earliest experience).  No dates were included in the notes but Baring-Gould gives the impression both above and in all his published descriptions of the process of collecting that his first visit to South Brent took place after his first encounter with James Parsons.  Further, the letter of appeal quoted in the previous piece in this survey is dated September 28th 1888; and the date of publication, October 1st, at least, is incontrovertible.22  If, then, the trip to South Brent was after he had appealed to the readership of the Western Daily Mercury the date of August 1888 for his own and Bussell's collecting at South Brent is in doubt…  August as a month for collecting must have been during the following year.  Either some information appears to have gone missing or to have been altered; or, again, the letter to the Western Daily Mercury went out during the very process of collecting songs at South Brent and just before Sheppard's first - autumn 1888 - visit to South Brent: quite possible but not capable of confirmation as yet and subject to yet more qualification as will be seen below.

These anomalies will not go away.  There is some suspicion over the accuracy of Baring-Gould's ascriptions for his earliest collecting and there is a need to enter something of a state of willing suspension of disbelief.  We cannot be sure of dates of first notation except, perhaps, where in both Fair Copy and Personal Copy manuscripts, as shown in the case of Matthew Baker above, there are occasions when a specific date is given (as another, according to the Personal Copy manuscripts, Bussell got a version of Bonny Bunch of Roses from Edmund Fry on January 4th 1889)23 and such specificity might, once more, suggest that details of collecting had been set down somewhere, perhaps in notebooks - but not, as shown, on Rough Copy manuscript to any great extent.

Yet, if we take such tentative dating, scattered as it may be and with doubts contained, at least a general chronology can be unfolded.  This can be pieced together as example from Fair and Personal Copy manuscripts even though there are inbuilt qualifications as explained below (the initial references to manuscript here begin with Rough Copy with details then adduced from Fair and Personal Copy where applicable).  In this chronology, Nancy of Yarmouth, it appears, was got from William Friend by Bussell in January 188824; Fathom the Bowl, Blow Away Ye Morning Breezes and The Broken Token from Robert Hard by Sheppard in October 1888 and My Lady's Coach from John Helmore by Sheppard during the same month (thus confirming the date of Sheppard's first visit)25; a version of The Gypsy Countess from James Parsons by Bussell in 188826; The Brown Girl from John Woodrich in the same year (but no month is offered)27; Poor Old Horse from Matthew Baker, taken down by Sheppard in 1889 and again by Bussell in 189028; Henry Martyn from the same singer by Sheppard on September 14th 1890 (the same singer and same date as given for All the Trees… - discussed previously in this series - so cementing a date of collecting) - and, it seems, by Bussell in the same month… perhaps on the same day (were all three collectors present, then?)29; The Highwayman from James Townsend at Holne by Sheppard in May 189030; and One Evening So Clear from James Peake at Liskeard by Sheppard in May 1890….31

The sequence, at least, is consistent but no dating is available in Rough Copy and there are no tunes recorded there for The Broken Token or The Highwayman.

Following on: within the outline of this chronology, we find that in Fair Copy there are no ascriptions to singers where Nancy of Yarmouth is concerned.  Fair Copy text of Fathom the Bowl does support the date of October 1888 for a visit to South Brent and the name of Robert Hard as singer; and gives him as singer of Blow Away Ye Morning Breezes but September 1888 as date for notation of the tune.  A text of Broken Token came from Robert Hard but the only tune is from John Woodrich and is dated November (with a question mark) 1888.  A tune, but not a text, for My Lady's Coach is merely ascribed to a singer in South Brent - and is dated 1889.  There are texts of Gypsy Countess from James Parsons, evidently taken down severally, and one each from a Peter Cheriton and from John Woodrich; but no tunes nor dates at all.  The Woodrich Brown Girl text has already been noted as it appears in Fair Copy (1888).  A text of Poor Old Horse comes from 'Matthew Baker, an old cripple, Lew Down, 1888'; but tunes are from - this is a surprise - 'a Servant Girl, Horrabridge, 1887' and from James Parsons (dated 1891).  A text of Henry Martyn is given as having come from Mathew Baker 'aet 72 Lew Down' and another is given as from Roger Luxton, dated 1891.  The only tune included is from J.Hoskins, South Brent, 1888 (Sheppard - at least this confirms one of Sheppard's visits).  There is a text of The Highwayman from Mr Townsend at Holne 'who learned it from his grandfather Wm Ford' in 1887 and another from Samuel Gilbert dating from 1891.  One tune is from Thomas Darke and James Parsons, undated; and another from Sam Fone, dated 1893.

As time went on, then, matters of ascription did not get any clearer; rather to the contrary.  The numerous dates in Fair Copy - the 1893 reference above is particularly noteworthy - fail to clarify first notation as a rule and suggest that the copy was made late, after the initial surge of collecting.

We are forced to rely on Personal Copy details for a collective assertion of dating processes: this, too, at some remove from the event, and, as will be seen, compromised.  In these ascriptions, curiously, for instance, the text of Nancy… is first ascribed to 'Edmond Fry' but the 'Edmond' is crossed out and the name 'William' substituted - and the tune is then credited to Anne Bickle (sometimes Baring-Gould rendered the name as 'Bickell'), Bratton Clovelly, c.  1840 - a remembered tune as the details for My Lady's Coach, given below, imply (Ann Bickle was Baring-Gould's own nurse).  There is no mention of William Friend - although that change of Christian name from 'Edmond' to 'William' might provide echoes and hesitancy in ascription.  Robert Hard is credited with text and tune of Fathom the Bowl, taken down in October 1888.  His name is attached to the fragments of text of Blow Away Ye Morning Breezes and a date of September 1889 given for notation - by Bussell.  The Broken Token is merely ascribed to Robert Hard: there are no dates given.  Nothing from Holne is attached to fragments of My Lady's Coach.  Instead Baring-Gould credits Anne Bick!e of Bratton-Clovelly, c.  1838-40, 'Remembered by me'.  A text of The Brown Girl is credited to J Woodrich and a date given as 1888; a tune given as from John Woodrich, taken down by Bussell in 1888 (there are other tunes, one from J Masters - Sheppard; no date - and another without source, taken down by Bussell).  Roger Luxton's name ('aged 76' - Roger Luxton was born in 1813 so that this would place the date of collection in 1889 - see below) is given in connection with a text of Henry Martin but no date given; and Matthew Baker's text is also given (he is 'aged 72').  Roger Luxton's tune is attached but no date given.  All the Trees… has already been discussed.  A text of Poor Old Horse is ascribed to Matthew Baker, got at Lew Down in 1888.  A tune is given as that from James Parsons, got at Michaelmas 1891.  The Gypsy Countess has a text and tunes from James Parsons, dated 1888 and J Woodrich, undated - both from Bussell.  At least The Highwayman is credited to 'Jas Townsend', as in Fair Copy, and with the same note that Mr Townsend had learned the song from his grandfather, 'W Ford' in 1887.  A text of An Evening So Clear (note the changed title) is given as having been taken down from Will Huggins at Lydford in 1888: a tune from James Parsons taken down by Baring-Gould himself in January 1889.

In most cases, versions from books and broadsides are also given but our concern here is to establish the progress of songs found 'in the mouths of the people'.

In this state of some confusion, we note that the brief account of collecting in notes in this first part of the first edition of SBW was repeated in the fourth part of the first edition except that in connection with Lydford above, one or two details were changed or left out and, after the reference to John Woodrich (above), a list of singers was included, as set out in the previous piece in the survey, thus extending the collecting compass considerably.  Significantly, in the fourth part of the first edition (but not in the first part), confirming the on-going nature of collecting, Baring-Gould added that 'I hear of others at Chagford, whom I intend to visit shortly' (my italics…and see below).32

So, taking into account the vexed information about collecting in 1887 - where Lydford was concerned the names of Lydford singers, Edmund Fry, Will Huggins and William Friend, were not included in the first published part of SBW and appear, as it were, second in order of collecting to the first nexus of Messrs.  Parsons, Baker, Woodrich and Hard and Helmore.  This may well reflect actuality but the citation of Edmund Fry for source of Come My Lads… comes in Personal Copy (a tune is noted in Rough Copy but there are no details) and is shared with the name of James Olver and that notation is given as being made in 1888.33  Was it just that a period of weeks or even less rather than months came between collecting bouts with the Lew Down and Lydford singers?  Was the collecting in the Lew Down and Lydford areas done, as it were, in one fell swoop?  Or do we have here a simple (not so simple?) indication of how the songs were being assembled for publication - in which case there may be no real significance in terms of chronology where the nexus centred on James Parsons and that centred on Lydford are concerned?  That is: one or other song may predate others but could even have been got more or less at the same time and the appearance of the Parsons nexus before the Lydford one was merely a way of setting out material.  Only the specific dates in Rough Copy, sparse though they are, firm up collecting processes.  As gloss: James Parsons was also cited as source for songs in all four parts of SBW and we may take this as a reflection of his importance to Baring-Gould but also, perhaps, as indication of continuing visits.  Will Huggins, on the other hand, is recorded in notes as having died in March 1889.34  And, in addition to the one or two 1887 references to Lydford, song notes and Fair Copy and Personal Copy manuscripts indicate that more songs were got from Edmund Fry and William Friend in 1889.  So a chronological sequence is posited as suggested above35 and successive visits to singers implied but there is no clear, consistent confirmation of dates of collecting.

We also find that another singer in the growing list, Roger Luxton, at Halwill, does not appear as supplier of songs until the third part of SBW was issued and some of his songs included.  There is some confusion here too as regards time of collecting.  Fair Copy records a tune from Roger Luxton to Henry Martyn dated 1891; there are no dates in Personal Copy.  Notes in SBW give no clue.  But since all of Roger Luxton's contributions come in the fourth part of the first edition and because that fourth part was completed before 1891, and if a certain order of publication reflecting an order of collecting is admitted, then we have to look at the years before then for dating.  If we can attach verity to Baring-Gould's note of Roger Luxton's age, 76, where it was given in connection with his version of Henry Martin, then a date in 1889 for collecting seems likely.  This would fit the known sequence of collection and assembly for publication.36

Mr Luxton's contributions may, perhaps, be confirmed in dating to an extent by reference to the Chagford singers who were not included until the fourth part of SBW was published.  In this case songs were got from Will Aggett, G H Hurrell and John Bennett.  Four were, in the end, included in SBW with supporting notes - Midsummer Carol, 'Taken down from Will Aggett, an old crippled labourer, very illiterate, at Chagford; melody noted by Mr Bussell'); Barley Straw, 'Taken down from the singing of Mr G H Hurell (sic), the blind organist at Chagford, as he heard it sung by a carpenter, William Beare, some fifteen years ago' (George Henry Hurrell (sic), according to the 1881 census, was 52, lodging with a George Henry Reed at Chagford, but was actually born in Deptford, Kent); I Rode my Little Horse, actually 'Taken down from Edmund Fry, of Lydford, but the tune was faulty.  We afterwards obtained it complete and correct from John Bennett, a labourer, aged 67, at Chagford' (one notes the word 'afterwards': the date of Edmund Fry's contribution is not given but at least we see that the Chagford collecting came after songs were taken down from Mr Fry); and the tune of Bibberly Town, ' taken down from John Bennett, Chagford, labourer, aged 68'.  We should not overlook the two different ages given for John Bennett - they once again suggest that Baring-Gould was a little careless at times although census details often themselves varied because of faulty memory or an ignorance of birthdate or, again, though errors in inscription.37

In the case of Chagford, we can, though, be more definite.  In the 1895 edition of SBW the progression at Chagford - 'I hear of others…' - is acknowledged and refined by the substitution of the simple phrase, 'others from Chagford', in the list of songs already collected (and a further location is given to collecting - 'more recently from Mawgam in Pyder, and Padstow…').38

Collecting at Chagford, then, it seems clear, was done before the issue of the 1895 edition of SBW which edition itself was in preparation as the first edition was being completed.  This first edition came out in 1892.  Sheppard's discussion of the melodies collected as it was included in this full first edition is dated 1891 thus putting the collecting dates further back (an important discussion since he refused to give countenance to tunes that he himself had not taken down…not in a spirit of criticism but, it seems, in order to be accurate).39

The real clincher for Chagford comes with references to Will Aggett - the 1881 census gives the name for a 60 year old labourer and Baring-Gould, writing a decade later, referred to 'William Aggett, a paralysed labourer of 70 years, at Chagford' and to 'William Aggett, an old crippled labourer at Chagford'.40  Further, we find that, in Fair Copy and Personal Copy manuscripts, Will Aggett's version of All theTrees is dated, specifically, to September 30th 1890 ('a paralysed labourer…').  Likewise, a Rough Copy of his version of The Roving Journeyman ('an old crippled labourer') is dated September 1890 and this date is followed in Fair Copy and in Personal Copy.41  Fair Copy and Personal Copy manuscripts also ascribe versions of both tune and text of High Germany to Will Aggett, the Personal Copy being dated October 1890; and the tune is also found in Rough Copy, immediately after The Roving Journeyman as described here and with the same date and along with a tune from Mr Hurrell and with a tune to Fanny Blair dated September 30th 1890 ascribed to Will Aggett.42

Given that there may well have been a gap between the readying of material and its actual issue, it seems to be reasonably clear that collecting at Chagford was done in 1890 and this, in turn, puts collecting from Mr Luxton and from the Lydford singers back in time, perhaps, to 1889.  Pursuing such chronological detail enables us to work back through it to the very earliest collecting where the most difficulty occurs in respect of accurate dating.

The revised 1905 edition of SBW condensed the totality of comment in notes although the essential sequence remained.  We have a consistent outline, then, even if the details are not straightforward.  And this is not to ignore what seems to have been the case with some singers that Baring-Gould went back to them.  The collecting processes seem to have been continuous if not to be accounted for smoothly.

We may contrast the work of Frank Kidson and Alfred Williams who both issued their songs in part-form in local newspaper columns before their respective volumes were published.  This is simply to underline a method and to underline also Baring-Gould's geographical compass and how it was quartered.  Some more detail will emerge when some singers and a selection of songs are considered in forthcoming pieces but it is obvious that much remains to be done for the sake of intimate accuracy.  We cannot at this stage rightfully pinpoint the first songs collected by Sabine Barring-Gould nor yet the exact date of the start of his venture.  But at least there is no doubt about the close-packed nature of collecting as SBW was first assembled and, even if specific dates remain elusive (one gratefully awaits correction if it becomes evident), we are never that far out.  There was a huge input - and output - during the years 1888-1891 - perhaps beginning just before that - where Baring-Gould's initial efforts are concerned.  At this stage, this is probably all that can be said until fresh information becomes available.

Roly Brown - 29.8.05
Oradour sur Vayres, France


Article MT161

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