Many thanks to all those who attended our inaugural meeting on 18 August 2020. It was great to see so many people from such varied backgrounds. There were lots of great contributions making it clear that folklore is a vibrant field of study, engaging young and old, from all walks of life.
It was good to hear from attendees about their interests and aspirations - apologies that we couldn't hear from everyone. Thanks also to the hundreds of people who have supported the FMN so far but could not attend the meeting on the 18th.
We started to envisage the possible connections that could stem from this network - between creatives, academics, NGOs, funding bodies, heritage and museum sites, community groups, and enquiring minds generally. It was also really exciting to consider how the Folklore Museums Network could facilitate a change of perspective on folklore within the museum sector. It was evident that folklore has a mass popular appeal and can play a key role in place-making, tourism, public engagement and the exploration of identity.
We did not cover organisational structure - this will be a separate meeting in the (near) future. Whilst the possibility of grant-funding is a clear benefit of charitable status, a committee and membership etc., there is so much that we can do in the meantime. The future looks promising, thanks for your support and enthusiasm.
To keep up the momentum, please do consider writing a blog for the website:
Blogs (of around 300 words and a picture) could take the form of:
A study of a museum object that intrigues you
A museum that you like/your museum that approaches folklore in an interesting way
A book you’ve read that makes you think differently about folklore
An explanation of a theory of folklore/book/artwork/piece of music etc. that you think is relevant to displaying/thinking about folklore in museum collections
Why not contribute a short biography with a rundown of why you’re interested in the network and what you're working on at the moment? This would be a good way to connect with people in the short term…
Email your blogs to email@example.com
Thanks and best wishes,
Ironstone mining began in Redcar and Cleveland in the 1840s. By 1872 some 1,648 miners arrived to the East Cleveland villages, migrating from Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland and Norfolk and even as far as the Cornish tin mines. With this migration came various superstitions and folklore from the coal and tin mining traditions.
The Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum’s (https://ironstonemuseum.co.uk/) collection of ironstone bibles reveals possible connections between artistic expression and the mining traditions of protection whilst underground. Creating small hand held art works out of local materials appears common across all mining communities, and objects like this were probably created as souvenirs and heirlooms to sell to local folk for a profit. Many would include special messages to loved ones. The ironstone bibles decoration vary, they are often gilded, sometimes including flowers or a simple border around the edge. Some are inscribed with daisy wheel patterns, but it is not known if this was meant for protection.
Working as an ironstone miner was a dangerous job, underground in dark and dirty environments so it was understandable that miners were prone to some superstitions when it came to their working life. Miners worked for long hours and the miner’s wife would often choose to work first thing in the morning, this was to avoid being seen by the men while on their way to work. Miners believed that if they saw a woman before going off to work something bad may happen to them in the mine. Whistling in the mines was forbidden and coined as 'the music of the Devil'. Omens of death included a howling dog beneath the window of a house and the crowing's of a cockbird in the still hours of the night. A popular saying in most villages was 'A whistling woman and a crowing hen Are neither fit got God not men'. Many early ironstone miners believed in the existence of underground spirits possibly from sparks down in the pit. Elves, pixies and gnomes are even said to have lived deep underground playing tricks on the miners and stealing their food.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to know more about their collections.
Jonny Hannah is the lead artist on Museums Northumberland's Northumberland Folk project.
I was commissioned by Museums Northumberland in July 2019 to create four exhibitions inspired by folklore in the fair county of Northumberland. I’d made many artworks in the past inspired by folk heroes, folk devils, folk songs & ballads. It’s an area I’ve loved for a long time. In our google-saturated world of the 21st century, Folk has always been an antidote to this. So many of the stories & tales are unanswered, inconclusive. Does Nessie exist? Of course she does, but the delicious uncertainty is every bit as exciting as the question.
One of the key parts of Northumberland Folk, as it quickly became known, was community participation. I didn’t really want a hundred of versions of the Bamburgh worm tale, great story that it is. So I began working out how to gather tales that for me, come under the category of ‘Urban Folklore’. Folk, is often perceived as something that happened a long time ago, in a deep, dark wood, as the peasants milled around, clueless. But I knew even growing up in Fife in Scotland, how folk was ever changing, growing & being added to. Mike Wilkie, known as Moog, lived a few streets away from me, then one day, he was gone. As far as I know he’s never turned up. What happened to him? This, I firmly believe is folk. The scary big house, just near our secondary school had all sorts of tales attached to it. There was talk of orgies. But we’d go there to play the collection of broken pianos housed in one of its outbuildings. And Dunfermline was a prominent place for folk music, with a legendary club called the Howf, where a young Billy Connolly & Gerry Rafferty would perform. But then when punk cam along, our town gave birth to the Skids, which I would happily also call Folk; the music of the people, played by them.
So I began trying to get the ‘urban folk’ stories from the good folks of Northumberland. I devised story cards for them to fill out, went busking in the streets with my special, customised guitar & started to hand them out. And the tales I got back were great. From stolen & resold milk bottles to make a few pence on the side, to a recipe for a cocktail celebrating a (fairly) local football hero (the slice of lime pulled all the other ingredients, like cheap cider & old whisky, together brilliantly). One story told of a certain public phone box (remember them?) in Bamburgh, where a call from a failing marriage gave birth to another successful one. So, romance, intrigue, the odd ghost, and a man called ‘Sticky’, & much more besides.
These stories are not in the books, until I make the book, or in my case… newspaper. So, as well as having many of these stories in my exhibitions, alongside more obvious tales such as the brave hero Lizzie Storey, & the amazing muscles of Jimmy Strength, a new newspaper (title undecided, possibly The Northumberland Folk Courier), will be published to mark the public start of the project next spring. Who knows, there may have to be two editions of the paper, as the stories keep coming. During the bleakness of lockdown, a true folk hero, Jack Charlton passed away. I know almost nothing about football, but I know Big Jack is well worth featuring. There will also be a separate publication celebrating the women from the area. As can often happen, the history books cut the women out. So, I’m going to do the opposite. From historical characters like the strong Josephine Butler, to women I’ve met along the way. I sat down with Marjorie Mountain, at the The Old School gallery in Alnmouth, one afternoon, at a time when I was having doubts about the project, & the way I was gathering information. But that conversation, by the ex-school mistress, sorted me out. Marjorie described the folks of Northumberland, having gone through more than their fair share of industrial upheaval, as ‘stoic & brave’. And then in an equally poetic manner, saw the landscape of this part of England, as ‘handsome, wild & free’. And there I had it, almost a sub-title for my entire project; Northumberland Folk; stoic, brave, handsome wild & free.
And more recently, I’ve gone right back to the start, & been obsessively drawing the dragon & brave knight from the ancient tale of the Bamborough Worm. But it’ll sit well with stories of found WWII Luftwaffe mascots & a giant ringworm… I hope. Even if it is all incongruous, & more akin to a car-boot sale, that’s what Folk can often be. Try as we might to control & curate it, it’s by the people, for them, & I’m delighted to say there’s no telling where that’ll end up. But four museums in Northumberland is a good place to start…
By Diane A. Rodgers, Co-founder of the Centre for Contemporary Legend and Senior lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University.
Folklore is a living, evolving part of our everyday lives and is present in the cultural artefacts that surround us. Significant elements of this cultural fabric are film and television, streamed into homes via a number of devices and from across many different countries and decades. My research interest lies in how folklore is communicated onscreen in this way, not only by what is represented on screen, but how and in what contexts. Examination of such texts can suggest to us how customs and rituals change over time and evolutions of belief and attitude, which directly affect how people may experience relevant archive material.
For example, consider the representation of Voodoo in Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) or shrunken heads in numerous cinematic examples, including Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice (1994). Texts like these may be the very first experience many people have with concepts about such physical artefacts, before having come into close contact with them in a museum and, perhaps, even before questions about racism or colonialism are raised for them (the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford recently removed its famous collection of shrunken heads as part of a decolonisation process).
Dried cats such as those exhibited at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle, traditionally placed in buildings for luck or to ward off evil spirits, can be given a more sinister dimension of magic by film and television. For example, ‘Baby’ an episode of Nigel Kneale’s 1976 television series Beasts, features a couple finding a dried creature in an urn, bricked up in a wall. In this case, however, rather than bringing any kind of luck with it at all as an apotropaic device, this dried curiosity has in fact been imbued with an extremely unpleasant curse.
People’s encounter with such exhibits are likely already coloured in some way by (potentially problematic) onscreen representations and it is vital to study the way folklore is presented in popular media because of this. Museum exhibits can educate and reshape common understanding, providing unique and additional contexts to such material as an experience in themselves. I am a fan fan of both Powell and Pressburger’s classic wartime film A Canterbury Tale (1942), in which characters stay in the Hand of Glory Inn and The Wicker Man (1953) in which Edward Woodward wakes up to a hand of glory burning by his bedside. Imagine my delight, then, when I happened across a ‘real’ hand of glory at the Whitby town museum collection some years ago. I look forward to more such future encounters, magical or otherwise!
Diane A. Rodgers
The Peacocks were a distinguished family of scholars who lived at Bottesford Manor and worked in North Lincolnshire during the later 19th and early 20thcentury. They were Edward Peacock (above left), and his seven children: Adrian, Edith, Florence, Julian, Mabel (above right), Maximillian and Ralf. Although a farmer, Edward was primarily an historian, who published numerous works from serious academic studies to popular novels. He educated and passed on his enthusiasm to his children.
Although based on studies of this area, most of the Peacocks’ work is of national importance. Edward’s two dictionaries of local dialect terms were ground breaking. A third volume compiled by Mabel and Maximilian, was eventually pieced together by Eileen Elder. Adrian wrote widely on agriculture and natural history, Florence was an historian and poet, Julian a genealogist, and Mabel the most widely recognised writer in Lincolnshire dialect. Maximilian was a collector of dialect and natural history observations.
The Peacock Family Archive is now part of the North Lincolnshire Museums collections. It consists of agricultural records, domestic records, common-place books, lesson books, drawings, photographs, diaries, personal correspondence and Lincolnshire dialect cards. An incredibly rich resource, it shines a light on the views and lives of people who lived in the local area from the early 18th century to the early 20th century.
The photographs here show Edward and his daughter Mabel, two of the people we have to thank for recording the local dialect.
Post written by Rose Nicholson, Heritage Manager for North Lincolnshire Museums, which includes North Lincolnshire Museum and Normanby Hall Country Park. Please go to the Members Area for contact details.
Ethel Rudkin (1893-1984) was a pioneering archaeologist, historian, folklorist, recorder of oral tradition, and collector of ‘bygones’, who lived and worked in Lincolnshire. She has been described as one of the last of the ‘old style’ antiquarians.
Ethel Hutchinson was born in Willoughton, and married George Henry Rudkin in 1917. He became a commissioned officer during the First World War, but tragically died in 1918. As a child Ethel visited the Peacock Family at Bottesford Manor with her parents, and this clearly fostered an interest in folklore and dialect for which she is best known. Her 1936 publication, ‘Lincolnshire Folklore’, is the best-known account of the subject in this area. It can be viewed as forming a direct succession to the work of Edward and Mabel Peacock.
Bob Paisley, Ethel Rudkin’s friend and editor of her fascinating diary has this to say of her legacy: “Due to her wide ranging interests, Rudkin never viewed individual subjects in isolation, and often discovered unique connections between folklore and tradition, archaeology and history. She was willing to pass on her discoveries and influenced a new generation of Lincolnshire archaeologists and historians.”
As well as copies of all her publications, the Rudkin Collection at North Lincolnshire Museum consists of notes, photographs, ephemera, her library of folklore and history books and archaeological small finds from throughout Lincolnshire and including comparative material from abroad. The star archaeological object is a Neolithic jade axe from Wroot. There is also a small collection of folklore objects, including a wooden hobby horse from a plough jag team and witch balls. Poignantly we also have one of Ethel’s handbags, which contains the flowers worn in her hair at her wedding to George and a handful of letters received from him whilst away serving during the First World War.
The Coorg Battle Talisman. This object was created in India to protect the wearer in combat. The attendant stories about the item, gleaned from contemporary newspaper accounts, family tradition, and the museum accession register illustrate, with bloody immediacy, the circumstances in which many objects in UK museums were collected during the British occupation in India.
On April 3, 1834, Captain Robert Gordon from Kirkcudbright marched with a division of British and Indian troops into Coorg, southern India. Their objective was to depose Chikka Veera Rajendra, the ruler of that kingdom, who had ceased – according to the British – to be ‘a dependent ally of the East India Company’.
6000 men armed with rifles and Howitzers marched on Coorg. The Coorg resistance was brave but in vain. With minimal casualties the British forces routed the Rajah’s strongholds. Hundreds of Coorgs were killed. One of the dead carried this talisman with a Persian charm inscribed into the bronze:
‘He [the wearer of the talisman] is the Victorious, O Holy and Almighty God, the confirmation of Thy glorious command hath sent this wretched and insignificant person to make war against the enemy, but apart from the aid and favour of the Holiest and Most High I have no father. Therefore my sustenance depends wholly upon Him.’
This talisman or kavacha was probably bought from a sadhu or holy man. When carried into war the proper way to wear a protective talisman was over the heart or over the buttocks. The talisman addresses Madheva or Shiva. Robert Gordon picked it off the corpse of the soldier and later donated it to the Stewartry Museum in his home town.
Chikka Veera Rajendra was defeated, but he marched out of Coorg alive and very wealthy. His lands were forfeit but he received a monthly pension of £6000. In 1852 he and his daughter sailed to England. He pursued a case in the English courts to recover his fortune, but in vain. His daughter, Gowramma, was baptized by the Archbishop of Canterbury with Queen Victoria as her godmother.
Post written by Peter Hewitt, Museums Officer for Collections, Dumfries & Galloway Museums Service, founder of the Folklore Museums Network.
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