Before the Folk-Song Society: Lucy Broadwood and English Folk Song, 1884-97

Article excerpt

As Honorary Secretary of the Folk-Song Society and editor of its journal, Lucy E. Broadwood played a major role in the Edwardian phase of the first folk song revival in England. Yet even before the foundation of the society in 1898 she had established herself as one of the leading English folk song collectors. Making extensive use of her diaries, which are extant at the Surrey History Centre in Working, this article explores the beginnings of Broadwood's fascination with vernacular song, the development of her network of friends and collaborators interested in folk song and folklore, the genesis of her first two important publications, Sussex Songs and English County Songs, and her work as a song collector during the 1890s with such informants as Samuel Willett, Clara Wilson, Patience Vaisey Henry Burstow, and a group of singers from the Surrey village of Dunsfold.

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Lucy Etheldred Broadwood (1858-1929) was the youngest daughter of Henry Fowler Broadwood, a successful businessman whose firm had a long history of building high-quality Broadwood pianos (Figure 1) (1) Although their money came from trade, the Broadwoods had been accepted into the local country gentry and they were acquainted socially with several aristocrats. Unmarried, Lucy was thus an upper middle-class spinster, and she had a private income, initially in the form of an allowance from her parents, later derived from investments in the family firm and in other stocks. The family had a London residence as well as a large manor house at Lyne, near Rusper, on the Surrey-Sussex border, and after her father's death in 1893 Lucy made London rather than Lyne her principal residence, eventually obtaining her own apartment, which she shared with her niece, Barbara Cra'ster.

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Many individuals were involved in the wave of vernacular song collecting that we call the late Victorian folk song revival, but the three most substantial contributions were made by the Revd Sabine Baring-Gould, Frank Kidson, and Lucy Broadwood. (2) Of these pioneer collectors, Broadwood was the only one who lived in the Home Counties and noted songs there. (3) Her proximity to (and later residence in) London meant that she, unlike Baring-Gould and Kidson, was able to combine her interest in traditional song with ongoing participation in the capital city's music scene. This, together with the leisure afforded by a private income, allowed her to play a leading role in the Folk-Song Society when it was established in the late 1890s. But why was Lucy Broadwood eager to play such a role? How had she developed a burning interest in folk song, and why in 1898 was she already regarded by others as a figure of some stature in the movement? This article seeks to answer those questions. (4)

Beginnings, 1858-86

Lucy Broadwood might be said to have inherited her interest in folk music from her uncle, the Revd John Broadwood, an important early Victorian collector and the editor of the 1847 publication Old English Songs. (5) She stated on one occasion that she had been 'fired' by her uncle's collection when she first became aware of it, around 1870. (6) But Uncle John was not the only source of folk songs in the Broadwood house. Her father had also collected a number of old songs locally during the 1830s and 1840s, and he occasionally sang them at home. (7) Lucy's first encounter with folk song was probably in the mid-1860s: she recalled that when she was a child of six a small group of old labourers in smock-frocks came around at Christmas time to sing ballads, apparently a rare event even then. She also remembered an old man with two sons coming to Lyne and singing 'The Green Mossy Banks of the Lea outside the front door. The last stanza ended with the lines: 'Go home to your father and mother, and thus you may tell them from me; There's many a poor maiden far fairer than them as has great propertee'. When the singers were invited into the house and asked to repeat the song, the old man violently nudged his boys and tried to prevent them from singing what might wound the feelings of the family. …