Born in Brompton, Middlesex, Thomas Fairman Ordish was educated privately and by the age of 15 employed as a publisher’s clerk before moving on to same role at the Patent Office in London where he was to work for the rest of his life. During that time he developed passionate interests in such topics as London antiquities and social life, Shakespeare, early London theatres, and subsequently traditional drama. He was not a ‘professional’ academic but filled his leisure time by researching and writing on a variety of topics which interested him. The mummers’ play and sword dance drew him towards folklore and in 1886 he was elected a member of the Folklore Society in which he played an active part until 1909.
In 1918, at the age of 63, Ordish was forced to retire early through illness, possibly a victim of the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic. At that point he moved from London to live in Herne Bay, Kent. He died on 5 December 1924 in a nursing home in Leytonstone, Essex.
Ordish’s papers represent the first systematic collection of traditional folk drama materials in England. They are part of The Folklore Society collections housed at University College, London. The period covered is 1886 to 1923 and the principal geographical coverage is England.