Hertfordshire Folk Songs
An important but sometimes ignored part of our local heritage is the traditional folk music from our area. All folk songs were collected somewhere and, while Hertfordshire doesn’t compare with counties like Sussex, a number of songs have been collected in the county. I set out to find out more about both these songs and the singers who learnt them from old tradition and passed them on to learned collectors.
I already had one clue: a song called The Bramble Briar was included in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, the seminal work by Ralph Vaughan Williams and A.L. Lloyd published in 1959, which provided the 60s folk revival with so much of its repertoire. The book described this song as collected by Lucy Broadwood (one of the stalwart collectors) from a Mrs Joiner in Chiswell Green, Herts.
The website of the English Folk Dance and Song Society keeps a huge archive of collected songs. The songs themselves aren’t available online, but they do provide an extensive catalogue of what they hold, searchable by a number of fields, including county of origin. This yielded sixty-two songs (including some duplicates) provided by a number of source singers, but four stood out: besides Mrs Joiner (whose elusive first name proved to be Emily) there was Thomas Gray, Frederick Page and Clara Wilson.
I’ve pursued these people through the censuses and other records, especially Emily Joiner (née East). As for the songs themselves, until recently this would have meant a trip to Cecil Sharp House the headquarters of the EFDSS. Now, however, the “Full English” project has seen the records made available online. If you want to check out any of the songs mentioned, just type the title and singer into the search field — but note that Emily and Clara are listed as Mrs Joiner and Mrs Wilson.
I’m starting the section with articles about these four singers, but hopefully it will expand to include other singers, and maybe actual examples of the songs. If you have anything, please add to what’s already here.