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World’s biggest free digital archive to go live

World’s biggest free digital archive of English traditional folk music and dance tunes to go live

Unlocking hidden treasures of England's cultural heritage

The English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) will launch a new digital archive that will allow anyone anywhere in the world to explore traditional English folk music and dances tunes on Thursday 20 June.

Created in partnership with leading academic institutions, The Full English – – is an EFDSS project made largely possible with a £585,400 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). It brings together 12 major collections for the first time in the most comprehensive free searchable digital archive of English folk songs, tunes, dances and customs in the world.


Launch event

It will be officially unveiled at a special event at EFDSS’ London headquarters, Cecil Sharp House, on 20 June. Traditional English folk singer, collector, writer, researcher, and EFDSS President Shirley Collins MBE will give the keynote speech. Seth Lakeman, Martin Simpson, Fay Hield, Nancy Kerr, Sam Sweeney, Rob Harbron and Ben Nicholls will premiere new music and arrangements, commissioned by EFDSS with a grant from the PRS Foundation for Music, inspired by material Fay has found within The Full English archive.


The Full English digital archive

In a marriage between tradition and new media, more than 58,400 items from some of the country’s most important folk music collections – including manuscripts, notes and letters – have been conserved, catalogued and digitised, before being uploaded to a central digital archive.

Users can now browse through the collections of Harry Albino, Lucy Broadwood, Clive Carey, Percy Grainger, Maud Karpeles, Frank Kidson, Thomas Fairman Ordish, Frank Sidgwick, Cecil Sharp, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Alfred Williams and Ella Mary Leather wherever they are in the world.

They can search the online archive for free using the song or tune title, people's names, places, the collectors and using unifying numbers such as Roud numbers to find songs and music. It is hoped that further collections will be added in the future.

Malcolm Taylor, Library Director of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library (VWML), EFDSS’ library and archive based at Cecil Sharp House, has been the driving force behind the project since the idea originated in a discussion at a pub.

He said the digital archive was a major breakthrough in enabling free access to the world of the principal collections of English folk music, dance and culture.

“The launch of The Full English archive is a landmark in digital archives and for EFDSS. It will open up traditional English music to an international audience, making available for browsing and searching manuscripts of traditional song, music and culture that could once only be accessed by visiting archives or in edited printed versions. I hope it will inspire and inform a new generation of folk music and dance lovers.”

Lee Hall, the playwright and screenwriter behind Billy Elliot and War Horse, described The Full English as “possibly the most exciting and significant thing to happen to British folk music in at least a generation.”

“For decades, generation after generation of musicians, writers and scholars have made the long pilgrimage to archives like the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. The holdings are unique and extraordinary and it is no exaggeration to call them a national treasure house. So to make these invaluable collections available free online, accessible where you are is a seismic event for our common culture.

“Not only are the papers of the great collectors available wherever you are, they are searchable in a way that was unthinkable a few years ago. It is a hugely important moment for British folk music and a massive gift to the nation. To have access to the records of our common heritage will be an invaluable resource to countless people who would otherwise never have access to this information. It is typical of EFDSS and the VWML to be so innovative, ambitious and forward thinking. It will inspire whole new generations. It's a really brilliant thing to happen.”

The Full English is also made possible with support from the National Folk Music Fund, whose funding is given in memory of Ursula Vaughan Williams, and The Folklore Society.

EFDSS has worked in partnership with Clare College, The British Library, The Folklore Society, the Grainger Museum at The University of Melbourne, The Mitchell Library, the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, and the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre to amalgamate collections that are housed across the country.

The Full English digital archive will be accessible on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website from 20 June 2013.

Search The Full English collections
Browse The Full English collections

Find out more about the collections
Explore mini biographies of the collectors


The Full English learning programme

The Full English is also EFDSS’ largest participation project to date with a nationwide community and schools learning programme beginning in July.

Working through nine regional partners, there will be community projects including participatory events and concerts, archive and history projects alongside creative projects in primary and secondary schools and the wider community.
Find out more


Forthcoming events

The Full English Folk Marquee
Saturday 6 July
Parker’s Piece, Cambridge
More info

The Full English Discovery Day
Saturday 13 July, 11am – 4pm
The British Library
More info

Folk Song in England: study days
Nationwide, from autumn 2013
Each region of England will be celebrated in a series of day-long study days, led by renowned Folklorist Steve Roud, exploring a wealth of traditional folk songs.
Find out more

The Full English Tour
Nationwide, from autumn 2013
Seth Lakeman, Martin Simpson, Fay Hield, Nancy Kerr, Sam Sweeney, Rob Harbron and Ben Nicholls will perform new music and arrangements inspired by material Fay Hield has found within The Full English archive.
More info