ANNE GEDDES GILCHRIST
Untold story of a vital figure in folk
The GILCHRIST COLLECTIVE on their new show about the song collector
A concert at the Dukes Theatre in Lancaster on 25th November 2023 will celebrate the song collector Anne Geddes Gilchrist, a remarkable Lancashire woman who became a significant figure in the folk music world of the early twentieth century.
Born to Scottish parents in Manchester in 1863, she spent much of her long life dedicated to collecting and studying folk music, specialising in songs and tunes, the majority of which came from her native county of Lancashire.
She earned the respect of her fellow collectors Cecil Sharp, Ralph Vaughan Williams and her good friends Frank Kidson and Lucy Broadwood.
Anne joined the Folk Song Society in 1905 and was on its editorial board by 1906. She served in that capacity for nearly 50 years, becoming an acknowledged expert and writing over 40 scholarly articles for publication in the Society’s Journal.
Her work was also important because, at a time when almost all the folk song collectors were scouring the Southern counties, she and Kidson focussed on the north of England with Anne alone concentrating on the north-west.
She developed an interest in songs and tunes at an early age, was trained in classical music and was inspired to collect folk songs after purchasing a copy of Sabine Baring-Gould’s, ‘Songs of the West’.
Independent, intelligent and articulate, her study of folk song encompassed her broad range of interests namely music, archaeology, botany, history and literature. In 1948 she received an OBE for services to folk music; 10 years earlier she had received the Gold Badge of the English Folk Dance & Song Society, which also dedicated one of its Journals to her.
Between 1898 and 1909 she amassed a considerable number of ballads, carols, street cries, nursery songs, singing games, hymns and dance tunes.
When the ‘Penguin Book of English Folk Songs’ was published in 1959, it contained six songs with the initials AGG (Anne Geddes Gilchrist) beside them.
These included ‘Rounding the Horn’ (aka ‘The Gallant Frigate Amphitrite’) and ‘The Greenland Whale Fishery’ which became classic folk club repertoire back in the day.
She collected these two songs from William Bolton, a colourful character and a retired sailor living in Southport in 1906.
In 1909 she visited the small villages of Barbon and Casterton, in those days part of Westmorland.
Here she particularly enjoyed the company of Mrs Carlisle, ‘an aged dame of spirit and character’ and collected some excellent songs, including ‘The Fall of the Leaf’ from James Bayliff, a carpenter and ‘The Green Bed’ from Agnes Collinson, the blacksmith’s wife.
The hamlet of Sunderland Point, near Lancaster, distanced somewhat from the industrial conurbations of Lancashire was a place Anne had visited on numerous occasions and knew well.
Here she noted down versions of ‘Brennan On the Moor’ from a fisherman, Mr Whitehead, ‘Brian O’Lynn’ from Mrs Edmondson and ‘The Little Gypsy Girl’ and ‘A Brisk Young Sailor’ from the prolific farmer’s wife Mrs Bowker.
She also acquired a couple of unusual pace-egging songs from ‘The Jolly Boys’ of Overton, a nearby village.
In 1907, when visiting her brother William in Sussex, Anne acquired some excellent songs from the locals in Blackham, including ‘Gentleman Soldier’ from a local dairyman, Mr Coomber and ‘Mother, Mother, Make My Bed’ from Mrs Ford, wife of the local village blacksmith. Both songs also featured in the ‘Penguin Book of English Folk Songs’.
The Gilchrist Collective (Peter and Barbara Snape, Brian Peters, Sue Burgess and Poppy Weatherall) was born out of a desire to celebrate Anne Gilchrist’s contribution to folk music and give prominence to the folk songs she collected.
Their show ‘Most Truly Yours, Aunt Anne’, (with special guests Lunetide and Heather Walker) tells her story for the first time, using narrative, lots of interesting images, and a rich and varied selection of the songs she discovered.
‘Most Truly Yours, Aunt Anne’ is at the Dukes Theatre, Lancaster on Saturday 25th November 2023 at 7.30pm. The CD ‘Most Truly Yours’ is available from www.thesnapes.org.uk
For more information contact Peter Snape on 07831 311028 or email@example.com
This is based on an article that appeared in Folk London 321, October-November 2022 www.folklondon.co.uk