Anne Geddes Gilchrist
1863 - 1954
Anne Geddes Gilchrist dedicated much of her life to collecting and studying folk music in England, specializing in songs and tunes from her home county of Lancashire. Known among folklorists of her time for her supporting role in England's Folk Song Society, she was one of several independent-minded women active in folk music's so-called First Revival between 1880 and 1914.
Exposed to folk songs through her parents' singing, Gilchrist was also fond of church hymns and the singing games she learned as a child at her grandfather's house in Cheshire during Christmas visits. Though as an adult she had 'put away childish things', her chance attendance at a public lecture by an English folk song collector later re-awakened her childhood memories and Gilchrist began actively studying and collecting folk songs. Between 1898 and 1909, she used contacts from her daily life to locate likely singers and musicians, documenting singing games such as 'In and Out the Windows' and 'Sally Waters' that she found at an orphanage in Southport where she and her sisters did volunteer work, gathering songs like 'Barbara Allen' and 'Green Gravel' in Sussex during visits to her brother who was a minister there, and persuading her aunts and uncles to sing songs like 'The Barring of the Door' and 'Cuddy Alone' for her. As a collector, Gilchrist amassed a considerable number of broadsides, Child ballads, carols, street cries, nursery songs, hymns, and dance tunes, among other types of folk music. She was especially proud of the shanties and sea songs she collected from an old sailor in Southport (the first published in the Folk Song Society's journal) and the seasonal Lancashire rush-cart and pace-egging songs she collected. Though not as large as other collections from the period, Gilchrist's work gained her the respect of her fellow folk music collectors.
At the urging of tune expert Frank Kidson, another north of England scholar, Gilchrist joined the Folk Song Society in 1905. In 1906, her colleagues there invited her to join the Editorial Board, an activity which became an important part of her life's work. She spent countless hours researching and writing notes (called annotations) about the songs and tunes published in the journal. Beside the thirty articles she wrote for a magazine called The Choir, she wrote more than forty articles for the society's journal between 1906 and 1950, the topics ranging from the history of individual songs such as 'The Bitter Withy' and 'Death and the Lady' to an overview of particular genres such as street cries and carols. Gilchrist's special areas of expertise were children's singing games and the history of tunes -- her expertise in these areas became so well known that other scholars often consulted her. In fact, her most widely influential articles delved into the history of hymn tunes that originated in traditional folk melodies. However, in the opinion of many scholars, it was Gilchrist's editing of major collections of Manx, Highland Scots, and Irish songs for the society's journal that was her most important contribution to folklore scholarship.
Gilchrist received many awards and honours during her lifetime in recognition of her selfless contributions to folk music. She received many commendations from the society at annual meetings and the Editorial Board dedicated the 1951 issue of the journal to her. Finally, three special honours of which she was especially proud cemented her standing in the world of amateur scholars -- the Gold Badge from the English Folk Dance and Song Society, a Fellowship in the Society of Antiquaries, and the Order of the British Empire.
After Gilchrist died, her executor sent her papers to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House. The collection includes not only the songs and tunes she gathered, but also her correspondence, the texts of her lectures and articles, and miscellaneous items ranging from poems to an old valentine.
- Shoupe, Catherine A. 'Anne Geddes Gilchrist: an Asssessment of Her Contributions to Folk Song Scholarship' in Atkinson, David and Ian Russell (eds) 'Folk Song, Tradition, Revival and Re-Creation' (2004), 253-265.