Mudcat Café message #3939772 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #162666   Message #3939772
Posted By: GUEST
27-Jul-18 - 04:59 AM
Thread Name: New Book: Folk Song in England
Subject: RE: New Book: Folk Song in England
I've been reading this thread with some interest - the polite bits, that is - but made no contribution so far because my knowledge of folk songs, as opposed to folk tunes, is minimal. However, I think the question of the literacy or illiteracy of the working class (for want of a better phrase) - with a bearing on the transmission of songs - in the 19th century and before, is not a straightforward, black & white issue.

It would be a grave error to assume that, up until such-and-such a period, working class people were largely illiterature. Many undoubtedly were, but a surprising number were not. I'm lucky enough to have family records which throw some light on this. My father's family were mainly generations of Lancashire miners up until the 1920s, and my mother's family were East Anglian agricultural labourers and blacksmiths for a similar period. Quite apart from the signatures or "X" marks on marriage and death certificates, denoting an ability to write or not, we have a treasure trove of letters written in Norfolk and sent to Canada between 1837 and 1890 by relatives of ancestors who had left as part of the great emigration of the 1830s.

The letters, luckily, have been kept and transcribed. They were written, in the main, by carters, labourers, smiths and the like. There is one in particular which is fascinating - written by the widow of a labourer in 1858 (at the age of 80). By contrast, much of the documentation on the Lancashire side of the family reveals a high degree of illiteracy.