I was interested to find myself at Cecil Sharp House for a meeting recently in Camden, London. The only dedicated folk arts centre in the world, Cecil Sharp House is the home of English Folk Dance and Song Society and opened in 1930. Named after the English folk dance and song collector Cecil Sharp (1859-1924) it now hosts a busy programme of folk events.
I was was thrilled to find some fantastic mid century folk posters whilst poking around the corridors on my lunch break, as well as some beautiful features to the building itself. I loved the graphic feel of these late 50’s and early 60’s poster designs for festivals at the Royal Albert Hall – clearly there was a large appetite for folk dance and song at the time.
These later designs from the tail end of the 1960s and the early 1970s show that psychedelia had hit by this time and the folk revival was also clearly in full swing. Having recently been reading the excellent Electric Eden specifically about this period in music culture, it was great to get a visual flavour of the time through these posters too.
The building itself is Grade II listed and has some fascinating features, such as this stunning angular mural by Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979) unveiled in 1954 after the building had been heavily bombed in the war
Lovely carvings near the entrance showing folk traditions like hobby horses
The 1970s in general saw a boom in people embracing a rustic approach to living – from making clothes, textiles and furniture, becoming self sufficient a la the ‘Good Life’, embracing folk wisdom and resurrecting old traditions. The posters above made me think about the covers of both of these books in my collection from the same era, exploring similar folklore related themes and with some beautiful bold colourways and in a similar lino printed style.
I regularly refer to this tome for some odd herbal facts
Discovering the Folklore of Plants by Margaret Baker. Originally printed in 1969 and reprinted in 1975 by Shire Publications, Aylesbury. Found at a car boot most likely
This folk dance book below was given to me by a local folk loving friend Iain and also looks to be in the same ‘Discovering…’ series as the tome above. I like the hand drawn elements to the cover and some of the photography inside of folk dance traditions is great. I wonder if some of these traditions have been kept since the book was printed.
Discovering English Folk dance by Hugh Rippon. Printed in 1975 by Shire Publications Ltd, Aylesbury
I’ve always been drawn to this period in history as well as to folk traditions in general so am lucky to live in Sussex, UK where there is still a burgeoning folk scene with many nights still running since the 70s and folk luminaries such as Shirley Collins live down the road and perform at the pub on the corner.
It’s a region where many of these customs are also still thriving, with numerous Morris and folk dancing troupes, historic and anarchic processions like Lewes Bonfire as well as pagan festivals like the Jack in the Green in Hastings. I really hope these valuable traditions get the chance to thrive and are sustained by the next generation since they are such important links back to the stories of our past.
Below is the best gent I met at last year’s Jack in the Green. Long may these weirdy wonderful English customs continue
English Folk Dance and Song Society
Cecil Sharp House,2 Regent’s Park Road, London NW1 7AY.
Nearest tube: Camden Town