Alice E. Gillington: Dweller on the Roughs

By Yates, Michael; Roud, Steve | Folk Music Journal, Annual 2006 | Go to article overview

Alice E. Gillington: Dweller on the Roughs

Yates, Michael, Roud, Steve, Folk Music Journal

Alice E. Gillington was a pioneer collector of songs from English Gypsies and yet today she remains largely unknown. Although invited to join the Folk-Song Society, she never did so. This paper considers her collection and collecting methods, asks why Gillington remained apart from other collectors, and tries to discover why she chose to follow her own path.


  The rosy musk-mellow blooms where the south wind blows,
    O my gypsy rose!
  In the sweet dark lanes where thou and I must meet;
    So sweet!
  From 'The Rosy Musk Mellow; or, Romany Love Song', by Alice E.

ON 21 July 1907, Cecil Sharp, the leading English folk song collector of his day, wrote to his wife to tell her of an encounter with a Gypsy folk singer:

  Talk of folk-singing! It was the finest and most characteristic bit of
  singing I had ever heard. Fiendishly difficult to take down, both
  words and music, but we eventually managed it! I cannot give you any
  idea what it was all like, but it was one of the most wonderful
  adventures I have ever had. (1)

The singer was called Betsy Holland and the 'fiendishly difficult' tune was one used for the song 'The Murder of James MacDonald'. The encounter is remarkable for two separate reasons. Firstly, according to A. H. Fox Strangways, the tune used for the song was in the Lydian mode and this was the only time that Sharp was to discover any melody in this rare mode in England. (2) Secondly, this was almost the only occasion on which Sharp collected songs from a Gypsy singer. There were a few other occasions, including one Christmas morning on which Sharp was using a phonograph to record songs from a female Gypsy singer, when

  suddenly she stopped singing and, turning deathly white, announced
  that she heard her husband approaching, and as he was of a jealous
  disposition she was afraid he would kill Mr Sharp. Sharp did not want
  to be killed, and there was nothing for it but to present a bold face.
  Opening the caravan door, he shouted to the man: 'A happy Christmas to
  you. Stop a moment and listen. I've got your wife's voice in a box.'
  The man listened to the record of his wife's song and was so amazed
  and delighted that he forgot to kill him, and instead they became
  great friends. (3)

Cecil Sharp, however, was not the first person to visit Gypsies in search of songs. Charlotte Burne, the first female President of the Folk-Lore Society, included a few songs collected from Gypsies in her survey of Shropshire Folk-Lore. (4) In 1891 Dr John Sampson, Librarian of Liverpool University from 1892 to 1928, contributed an article, 'English Gypsy Songs and Rhymes', to an issue of the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society. (5) Sampson was an authority on the Gypsies of Wales, some of whom began calling him 'the Rai', or 'Gentleman'. His later publications include The Dialect of the Gypsies of Wales and Welsh Gypsy Folk-Tales. (6) Certain members of the Folk-Song Society, including Lucy Broadwood and Ralph Vaughan Williams, were also visiting Gypsies at about the same time that Sharp was meeting Betsy Holland. And Ella Mary Leather interviewed Gypsies for her book The Folk-Lore of Herefordshire, which appeared in 1912. (7) However, the first book to be devoted solely to Gypsy songs was Laura Alexandrine Smith's Romany Song Land, published in 1889, which contains songs collected from Romanies throughout Europe, Russia, and India. (8) It was not, however, until 1910 and 1911 that two books devoted to songs collected from English Gypsies appeared. These were Alice E. Gillington's Old Christmas Carols of the Southern Counties (1910) and Songs of the Open Road: Didakei Ditties & Gypsy Dances (1911), two pioneering works by an author who is almost unknown today (Figure 1). (9) It is our intention to examine how these books came to be written and why it is that their author has been ignored for so long. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Alice E. Gillington: Dweller on the Roughs


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.