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SBG Sabine Baring-Gould Folk Music Papers

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Sabine Baring-Gould Folk Music Papers
Sabine Baring-Gould Manuscript Collection (SBG)

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There are two manuscripts that were specifically drawn up for consultation by the public and which were given by Baring-Gould to Plymouth Library during his lifetime. The Fair Copy contains 202 songs and their variants, mostly those that were included in his published collections. The Rough Copy is a collation of the notation of songs by Baring-Gould and his collaborators, some made in the field, as well as some workings of arrangements. Both of these documents have now been transferred to the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office. The other manuscripts were his working documents, including other fair copies and notebooks. Some of these remained with his personal papers and were re-discovered in 1992 among his books and other material at Killerton House, near Exeter, where they had been deposited for safe keeping. These include the most valuable of his manuscripts, the Personal Copy, which records the greater part of his collection and was the source for the smaller number of songs in the Plymouth Fair Copy. There were also three notebooks of songs from the earlier days of his collection. All the manuscripts that were discovered at Killerton are now in the Devon Heritage Centre at Exeter. In 1955 a large collection of books and other material, amounting to over 400 items, was bequeathed to Plymouth Library by Francis Nicolle, an admirer of Baring-Gould and his work. This material included a notebook that had belonged to Baring-Gould, now known as Working Notebook 1, which dates from the beginning of his collecting project. This, too, is now kept at the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office. Other items include a notebook of compositions by Baring-Gould and a music book containing nursery rhymes with hand-drawn illustrations compiled by Baring-Gould's Aunt Emily, which he mentions in connection with some songs. There are also some annotated copies of his published collections. Finally, there is an important collection of letters written by Baring-Gould to Prof. Francis Child at Harvard University which contains song texts and other information. The individual items and their locations are as follows:

Personal Copy Manuscript (In three volumes) Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter Fair Copy Manuscript Plymouth and West Devon Record Office Rough Copy Manuscript (in 13 volumes) Plymouth and West Devon Record Office Working notebook 1 Plymouth and West Devon Record Office Working notebook 2 Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter Working notebook 3 Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter Working notebook 4 Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter Songs of the West - Annotated Copy (2 vols) Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter A Garland of Country Song - Annotated Copy Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter Composition Notebook 1 Plymouth and West Devon Record Office Aunt Emily's Nursery Rhyme Book Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter Letters written to Prof. F. J. Child Harvard University, Houghton Library

For more on Sabine Baring-Gould and his folk song collection, including a full description of the manuscript collection, visit

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Close Sabine Baring-Gould

Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924)

Sabine Baring-Gould was born in Exeter in 1834 and soon afterwards his father took the family on a series of European tours that were to last most of his childhood. During a brief period of schooling in Mannheim he discovered Nordic literature, sparking an interest in folklore, philology and antiquarian pursuits that was to shape the future course of his life. Baring-Gould’s father forbade him to enter the church on pain of disinheritance and so, after he graduated, he became a teacher for eight years until in 1864, at the age of thirty, he finally overcame his father’s objections and became a priest.

 At Baring-Gould’s first post at Horbury, Yorkshire, he met the teenage mill-girl, Grace Taylor, whom he married and had 15 children. He also started to collect and publish folklore, household tales, and a few songs from the mill-workers and boat-people who were his special charge. In 1881 he returned to the family home at Lewtrenchard in West Devon. He was, by then, established as a writer and more than 1,200 books and magazine articles became the source for the funds he needed to rebuild the house, the church, and the estate that had been neglected by his father and grandfather.

In 1888 a dinner conversation prompted him to start collecting the traditional songs of Devon and Cornwall, with the help of the young Oxford graduate, Frederick Bussell and the music historian, Henry Fleetwood Sheppard. His collection, Songs of the West, was published in parts between 1889 and 1891 and was followed in 1895 by A Garland of Country Songs. While these collections have been criticised for the way in which the songs were presented, they were among the first of their kind and Baring-Gould’s recording of details of the singers, as well as his notes on their songs and their origins, was a model adopted by many of the collectors who followed him. He also wrote a number of other articles about folk songs and the people from whom he collected them.

Baring-Gould died in 1924, a few days short of his ninetieth birthday. Though he is mostly remembered by the public for his hymn-writing and his archaeological studies, he considered that his greatest achievement was his folk song collection. He was an important influence on other collectors and Cecil Sharp and Lucy Broadwood were among those who visited Lewtrenchard and collected songs in his company.

Baring-Gould’s manuscripts are to be found in two locations in England: the Devon Heritage Centre in Exeter and the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office in Plymouth. Other important papers are to be found in the Houghton Library, Harvard University.

(Martin Graebe)

The Baring-Gould folk song collection appears as part of The Full English thanks to Wren Music who donated the entire digitised and catalogued collection to EFDSS as part of the Devon Tradition project, supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and The National Folk Music Fund.

For more information about Baring-Gould and his folk song collection, including a full description of the manuscript collection, visit the Songs of the West website.


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