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Wrights Compleat tune book

Historic Dance and Tune books

The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library contains many rare and unique items of literature, both printed and in manuscript.

With the development of this gallery we are making available for browsing some of these items which, unless they have already been made available in one or other surrogate or transcribed formats, have effectively been invisible to the world until now. We know for a fact that in most cases these treasures have only ever been accessible within the confines of Cecil Sharp House. With the development of this initiative they are now available to a wider and no doubt new audience for the first time.

Click on a title in the left hand menu bar to begin browsing.


The VWML is indebted to Robin Seifert for his kind assistance digitising the manuscript collections. The development of this Gallery has been funded by the Islington Folk ClubFarringdon Folk Dance Club, Lichfield Folk Dance Club and Paul Cooper.

We intend to add to this Gallery over time as more funding becomes available. If you are interested in helping fund the development of this Gallery, please let us know at VWML. Contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

We would also like to thank our volunteers, The Village Music ProjectFolkopedia, David Jacobs and Marie Coviaux for providing transcriptions of the dances and tunes of these historic dance and tune books. 

History of the books

What we know of the printers and creators of the items so far selected is sketchy. If you know more please do let us know or direct us to useful sources of information about them. Here is something of what we do know...

Huntlea, Henry

There is information about Henry Huntlea on the Camdex website (it has the BMD records for Cambridgeshire) and on the Census returns for 1881-1911. As far as can be seen, he was born 1848 and died 1930, aged 82.

Henry Huntlea was classed as a musician on all the census returns apart from the 1911 one where he is a Billard Table repairer. He was quite likely a flute player as all his tunes never go lower than middle C. He probably composed most of the tunes in the book - they sound very Victorian - though there are one or two "folk" tunes towards the end of the book. His spelling wasn't the best - Marsurka is a classic example. He lived with an ever-expanding family of children in East Road in 1871 (part of Chesterton district) and continued to live in that district though he moved to Newmarket Road in 1881 (he probably needed a bigger house!) and then Sturton Street in 1911. (Mary Humphries)

There is a further small amount of information on this genealogical site.

Malchair, John

John Malchair, [formerly Johann Baptist Malscher] (bap. 1739, d. 1812), folksong collector, was baptized as Johann Baptist Malscher on 15 January 1730 at Cologne, the son of a watchmaker. He was a chorister at Cologne Cathedral from 1744, moved to Nancy in 1750, and in 1754 came to England, where he was known as John Malchair.

In London he played the violin at public-house concerts and taught music to mechanics and others. A gifted artist, he also obtained a post as drawing master at a ladies' school. He lived for some time in Hereford and Bristol, and from 1759 led the second violins at the Three Choirs festival; a peal of bells still rung at Gloucester Cathedral some 250 years later was his composition.

In 1760 Malchair married Elizabeth Jenner, and in the same year won the post of leader of the Oxford Music Room (later the Holywell Music Room) Band over a more prepossessing rival candidate: ‘Poor Malchair, tho' a fine figure, was ugly’ (Crotch's Malchair, MSS, Bodl. Oxf., MS mus. sch. D. 32), according to a friend, the Christ Church organist William Crotch (1775--1847). Malchair led the band until 1792, when an orange thrown at the orchestra during an undergraduate disturbance broke his Cremona violin. His sight was failing and he never led the band again. When Malchair became blind, Crotch wrote down his violin tunes and provided piano accompaniments for them. Malchair's melodies owe much to the folk tradition; he was a pioneer collector of popular airs, and in Oxford noted several melodies from singers and musicians heard in the streets. These include early notations of the country dance tunes ‘Astley's Ride’ and ‘Davy, Davy Knick-Knack’, and of the melody of ‘Early one morning’, which he obtained in May 1784 from the singing of a poor woman and two children. Malchair's own compositions include several pieces whimsically written for a violin with three strings, after an occasion when he took his violin from its case and discovered one string to be broken.

Both Malchair and Crotch were talented watercolour painters, and through Crotch, Malchair influenced later English landscape painters, including John Constable. Malchair died in Oxford on 12 December 1812.

T. B. Healey

(from online DNB)

Moore, John

John Moore was born at Wellington in Shropshire on 18 August 1819, the son of a brick maker who became a 'Nursery and Seedsman ' according to the 1821 census. John inherited this business after the death of his father, Richard, and lived with his mother wh o is described in the 1841 census as a publican.

There are three volumes his music manuscripts that survive, one containing mainly sacred music (dated 11 April 1839) but the o thers being classic examples of fiddlers tune books including a mixture of country dance tunes of the early nineteenth century, a few songs and number of street tunes.

Information taken from Gordon Ashman's The Ironbridge Hornpip e: a Shropshire tune collection from John Moore's manuscripts (Blyth: Dragonfly Music, 1991)

Preston, John

Frank Kidson writes*:

John Preston, the founder of the firm, was according to the directory of 1774, then established at 9, Banbury Court, Long Acre, as musical instrument maker, and possibly as music publisher, though I have as yet found no music bearing this address on the imprint. In 1776, he was at 105, Strand, near Beaufort Buildings, publishing books of Lessons for the guitar, etc. He advertises "the greatest variety of new music and musical instruments, ruled paper, etc., wholesale and retail."

In 1778 he had removed to 98, Strand, a mistake in the directory possibly for 97, for at this latter number the firm remains from before February, 1781, till about 1822. John Preston's business soon became an important one, and he published a great quantity of the best music of his day. In 1789, Preston, who had just taken his son Thomas into partnership, bought the whole plates and stock-in trade of Robert Bremner, and had additional premises at Exeter Change.

Between 1798 and 1801, John Preston disappears from the firm (though in some instances the old style, Preston & Son, is used), and Thomas alone remains. In 1823 Thomas Preston had left the Strand and was at 71, Dean Street, Soho, where he remained until after 1833. In 1837, Messrs. Coventry & Holliers have possession and are re-pul)lishing from Preston's old plates. Coventry & Hollier are advertising in 1848, but their names are not in the Musical Directory for 1853; Novello & Co. were large purchasers at the sale of their effects.

The Preston publications are very numerous. They include a great number of the English operas in oblong folio and the usual popular sheet music, besides a long series of Country Dances in yearly sets of twenty-four for the violin in oblong 8vo. This series started with the set for 1786 and reached down to at least 1818. The dances are numbered (with occasional mistakes) continuously, reaching at the end of the 1818 set to No. 861; printed on both sides of the paper. They also published Country Dances in folio and oblong 4to.


No information is currently known about Skene.

Skillern, Thomas

Frank Kidson writes*:

Was partner with Thomas Straight (see Straight & Skillern). The two names are found separate about 1777-8, with Skillern at th e old address, 17, St. Martin's Lane, and Straight at 138 of the same thoroughfare. Skillern appears to have retained the old pla tes and stock and continued the series of yearly country dance books; he also re-printed, with additions, one of the larger gathe rings, besides publishing a great quantity of new sheet and half-sheet songs; much of this sheet music is merely stamped "Sk."

Sometime after 1799, Skillern leaves St. Martin's Lane. In 1807 he is in partnership with Challoner and the imprint is now &qu ot;Skillern & Challoner, music sellers, 25, Greek Street, Soho, removed from corner of St. Martin's Church Yard." About 1815 to 1820, Skillern & Co. are in Regent Street; the directory for 1822 gives Skillern & Challoner, Regent Street, near Oxford Stre et. An address near this period found on sheet music is "Oxford St. (opposite the Mona Marble Works), between Holies Street and Bond Street." In 1830, N. Challoner taught the harp and violin in St. John's Wood.

Straight & Skillern

Frank Kidson writes*:

Thos. straight and Thos. Skillern were established in Great Russell Street, Covent Garden, before 1768, and they issued a set of Country Dances for that year from this address. They were at 17, St. Martin's Lane, in a shop previously held by James Osw ald, before 1771 (probably about 1769 or 1770), and from here published sheet music and continued their yearly sets of Country Da nces. They appear to have taken over some of Oswald's plates and stock, and they re-issued his "Caledonian Pocket Companion, " while, with Wm. Randall's, their names are on the imprint of "The Comic Tunes in Queen Mab," the re-print from O swald's old plates. Where the full imprint is not given on their sheet music, the publishers are indicated by "Str, & Sk.&qu ot; Straight was a music engraver. He retired from the firm in 1777 or 1778, leaving Skillern in possession of the shop at 17, St . Martin's Lane, and removing higher up to No. 138.

Straight, Thomas

Frank Kidson writes*:

Was either the above Thomas Straight or his son. At the dissolution of the partnership of Straight & Skillern he is found alon e at 138, St. Martin's Lane, where he published sheet-music and engraved many works for other music-publishers. In 1796 he had re moved from St. Martin's Lane, and seems to have given up publishing, for on Bunting's first Collection of Irish Music, issued by Preston in this year, there is stamped, "Engraved by Thos. Straight, No. 7, Lambeth Walk, Surrey."

Urbani & Liston

Charles Humphries and William C. Smith write**:

Music sellers and publishers, 10 Princes Street, Edinburgh, c. 1795-1806. When the partnership between Pietro Urbani and E dward Liston terminated c. 1806, Liston continued the business for a short time. Urbani was an Italian musician who became eminen t in Edinburgh and Glasgow as a singer and music teacher; he was also a composer and arranged a number of Scottish songs and airs ; died in Dublin 1816.

Wright, Daniel (Senior & Junior)

Frank Kidson writes*:

Though generally considered as but one, there were two music sellers of this Christian and surname, father and son, and th eir publications contain much curious matter. So far as I may surmise Daniel Wright was established at the beginning of the eight eenth century, though the earliest date I can definitely find for him is 1709. His shop was next door to a celebrated tavern -- t he " Sun " -- the one in Holborn, for there were two hostelries of that name, both famous. Wright's shop was at the cor ner of Brook Street, between Gray's Inn Lane and Furnival's Inn on the northern side of Holborn. He styled himself maker of music al instruments, and no doubt he did a large music selling trade. Like the rest of the music trade he had engraved slips, which he pasted over the imprints of music sold by him but not of his own publication. One of these over a dance book issued by John Wals h is: "Sold by Daniel Wright, musical instrument maker, next door to the Sun Tavern, near Brooke Street, in Holborne, 1709.& quot; Wright and the elder Walsh appear to have been, in a great measure, rivals, and as Walsh, in his early day, copied more or less closely the titles of Henry Playford so Wright did the same by Walsh. Wright for instance issued "The Monthly Mask of V ocal Music," which is precisely the same title as Walsh used for a similar work, and Wright for this same work has engraved a rough copy of one of Walsh's pictorial title pages. Wright also published a "Merry Musician," and a "British Mus ical Miscellany, or Delightful Grove," titles which Walsh had used before him. I have also found that he made direct copies of the small oblong dance books, which Walsh issued about 1714, etc. Did more examples of Wright's publications exist further ins tances might be pointed out. So far as I have yet found Daniel Wright, the elder, did not use any sign or emblem for his shop, th ough his son, when he set up in business for himself, used at least two different ones. It is probable that Daniel Wright, the el der, gave up business or died sometime near the year 1734. Meanwhile his son Daniel had, perhaps about 1725, established himself in St. Paul's Church Yard, at the sign of the " Golden Bass," which may, or may not, have been the shop J. Clarke and J ohn Hare had held under the sign "The Golden Viol." For some years the Wrights published works in conjunction and the se have the two names and addresses on the imprint. About 1735 Daniel Wright, junior, changed his sign to the "Violin and Fl ute" but as he was still on the north side of St. Paul's Church Yard it is probable that he did not remove from the premises . I have not found out when he ceased business, but it was most likely before 1740.

Whether the whole or part of his stock-in-trade was bought by John Johnson, of Cheapside, I am unable to say, but Johnson cert ainly re-published two volumes of Country Dances in oblong 8vo, which were entitled "Wrights' Compleat Collection of Celebra ted Country Dances," vol. 1st and 2nd. The preface to volume one is signed D. Wright, and the two volumes are advertised on one of Wrights' books.


*Kidson, Frank British Music Publishers, Printers and Engravers (London: Hill, 19000)

**Humphries, Charles & Smith, William C. Music Publishing in the British Isles (London: Cassell, 1954)

Other useful websites

The Dancing-Master, 1651-1728.

The Village Music Project.

The Humors of Whisky.