Pioneering Folk Song Collector, Musician and Author
Lucy Etheldred Broadwood, born on 9th August 1858 into the famous family of piano manufacturers, was a passionate collector of folk-songs and one of a group of Victorian songhunters who fuelled a revival of interest in Englands traditional music at the end of the nineteenth century.
As a child she had moved to the family home at Lyne on the Surrey-Sussex border, where she developed her love of country songs, feeling enormous empathy for these tunes which did not adhere to the conventional harmonies of the Victorian drawing-room. The pure English folk-tune is exceedingly simple, usually only eight bars long, she explained, yet it has perhaps the most beautiful, original and varied cadences to be found in music.
A gifted pianist and singer in her own right, she could have embarked on a professional career, but instead, as a spinster from a prosperous family, she was free to pursue both her classical musical interests and her passion for folk-songs. According to a friend, single life, with the freedom to live as she pleased, suited her admirably. She was known as a brilliant talker, full of both wit and humour, with a decidedly feminine penchant for rich deep colours and luxurious fabrics and a dread of modern science.
Her family background equipped her with the ideal skills needed to note down folk-songs and trace their origins. It is not given to many to have the literary culture, the scholarly accuracy and the artistic imagination to see the folk song as a whole, wrote fellow folk-song enthusiast and composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. She was following the example set by her uncle John Broadwood, who had been captivated by the carols sung by the tipteers or mummers who came to Lyne at Christmas-time. His 1843 collection Old English Songs stood out for publishing the music exactly as he had heard it.
She and her peers believed that songs from the oral tradition needed to be written down in case they died out, and the emphasis fell on collecting in the field. Beginning close to home, she turned to gardeners, artisans, game-keepers, shepherds, rustic labourers, gipsies, sailors, fishermen, workers at old-fashioned traces such as weaving or lace-making and the like, as well as domestic servants, especially nurses.
Eventually she travelled as far as Devon, Ireland, Scotland and Lincolnshire, staying either with friends and family and listening to young and old wherever they would sing for her, whether on a windswept hillside or in a sweltering orchid-house. A Surrey hedger, looking like a Viking, has sung across a hedge at me, emphasising the tragic points of his ballad with vicious snaps of his shears, she recalled.
In 1893, in partnership with the music critic and writer J A Fuller Maitland, she published the influential English County Songs. With her sensitive piano accompaniments, the songs were suddenly accessible to the amateur pianists of the drawing-room. This was followed in 1908 with a second volume English Traditional Songs and Carols, mostly the result of her own fieldwork.
However Lucys most important legacy to the folk-song movement was in her contribution to the newly formed Folk Song Society, founded in 1898. She took up editorship of the societys Journal in 1904, which consequently developed a reputation for accuracy and scholarship. From then on until her death in 1929 she dropped her fieldwork to concentrate on editing other collectors submissions to the Journal. She was also on the musical selection committee for the Leith Hill Musical Festival from its foundation in 1904.
Lucy collected songs in Surrey, such as at Dunsfold in 1898 when she recorded in her diary that she heard ‘a number of old men singing after a supper of beef, pudding, beer and tobacco’.
In a lecture she gave in 1905, Lucy described how she came across one of her more famous finds, ‘King Pharim’. She said ‘Wild gipsy tramps by the name of Goby, well known in Sussex and Surrey, had sung at Lyne at Christmas time. The elders of the household noted the words of their songs, but not the music’. One day in 1903, Lucy heard her 4 yearold nephew, Evelyn Broadwood, humming ‘something that startled me, unmistakably an English folk-tune.’ When asked what it was, little Evelyn replied ‘the Bogey-men’s Christmas song’. This turned out to be ‘King Pharim’, a carol not heard elsewhere in the country.
She proved to be the ideal person to bridge the gap between the worlds of art music and folk-song, and Lucy herself led a life that bridged these two worlds, easily moving between town and country, from the sophisticated concerts and recitals that she would host in London to the fields and farm buildings that cradled her treasured folk music.
Click here to read more about Lucy Broadwood’s connection with Cecil Sharp, England’s most prolific folk music and dance collector and the acknowledged father of what is now widely known as the First Folk Revival.
Lucy and Ethel Smyth
Lucy was a forward thinker and admired the musical works of Ethel Smyth. In her diary for 18 July 1902, Lucy records:
Isobel [Manisty] took us to the Opera where we heard 1st performance of Miss EM Smyths very clever opera: Der Wald (her own libretto) and Bunnings dull opera also. (Surrey History Centre Ref. 6782/16)
Some years later on 25 June 1909, she hears Ethel Smyths opera ‘The Wreckers’, a dark tale of love, betrayal and revenge set in a poor Cornish community, describing it as clever and interesting. (Surrey History Centre Ref. 6782/22).
The Privacy of Friends
Lucy’s personal papers are held at Surrey History Centre (Refs. 2185/LEB/- and 6782/-) and contain references to the wide circle of artists, writers and musicians with whom she socialised. Lucy’s sexuality is not known; she never married and writes of several female friends with great tenderness but her diaries are ambiguous regarding her human passions. However, they contain references to the wide circle of artists, writers and musicians with whom she socialized, many of whom were gay or bisexual. She records many of her famous Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans (LGBT) friends and was clearly sensitive to the legality of their situation.
Lucy has been featured in our LGBT History Month gallery not as a historic LGBT personality but as the friend and confidante of the famous baritone James Campbell McInnes and his lover, the composer Graham Peel. From her diaries and letters it would appear that she allowed her flat in Victoria to be a meeting place for James Campbell McInnes and his lover, the composer Graham Peel.
As well as caring for their privacy, she also helped McInnes rehearse his work and introduced him to her musical and social circle, all of whom are noted in her diaries. In 1911, experiencing personal crisis, McInnes ended his relationship with Peel and married Angela Mackail (grand-daughter of Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones). Lucys diaries show her upset and she deliberately avoided the wedding, remaining at home playing Bach.
The marriage was short-lived, although McInnes bisexuality was not publicly declared at the time. He became a heavy drinker, was unfaithful with one of their servants and this led to a widely reported divorce in 1917. McInnes died in 1945 and left two sons, one of whom was Colin MacInnes (1914-1976), author of The Outsiders and other accounts of London urban squalor, racial issues, bisexuality, drugs, and decadence, in the 1950s.
Lucy and the Suffragette Movement
It is not known whether Lucy sympathized with the Suffragette Movement. Her sister, Bertha Marion Broadwood (1846-1935), certainly was not a fan, being a committee member of the Dorking Branch of the Womens National Anti-Suffrage League.