Research - Cambridgeshire

All the manuscript notebooks of Ralph Vaughan Williams are kept in the British Library. They are available to read. Many are not kept on site and have to be ordered in advance. Fortunately the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library has digital copies and they are available online. Some of the songs have been transcribed.The links on this website go to transcriptions that I have done from the originals or the digital versions. The texts were nearly all missing, so I have had to make an educated guess as to appropriate texts that may have accompanied the songs. Many came from songs previously known to me, others came from the Bodleian Library website. If you can find a more suitable text or one you prefer, feel free to use it.

Ralph Vaughan Williams 1906-8

Ralph Vaughan Williams and his wife Adeline spent 1906 and 1907 on summer holiday in Meldreth. During this time he walked, cycled and used the train to travel to villages that were close to his holiday home and others that were as far as it was possible to travel within the county ( which in those days did not include Huntingdonshire and the Soke of Peterborough.)

In 1908 he was in Cambridge for a couple of days conducting an orchestral concert at the University. He travelled to the village of Orwell for one day as part of his research into the triennial Greek Play, the music for which he was commissioned.

Here is the full list of songs collected by RVW in Cambridge from 1906-1908.

List of songs


The first singer RVW encountered was Jim Austin of Little Shelford on 20th August 1906. The village is about 7 miles from Meldreth. Jim Austin sang three songs: The Keeper, God Rest You and The Sheffield Apprentice.

On 22nd August a visit to Fen Ditton, about 12 miles from Meldreth resulted in three songs from Llewelyn Mallion: Abroad as I was walking, Rosemary Lane and John Barleycorn.

A repeat visit on the 27th August resulted in his meeting two more singers. Mr Pampling sang Georgie and The Little Lowland Maid. Llewellyn Mallion's brother Harry Mallion sang A Cold Winter's Night (mp3), Irish Molly, Maria Martin, Van Dieman's Land, The Plains of Waterloo, The Cobbler and As I walked out. Although undated, a version of Gilderoy was collected from H. Mallion, quite probably the Harry Mallion mentioned earlier.

On 25th August Ralph Vaughan Williams travelled to Wilburton, a small village deep in the fens situated about 22 miles from Meldreth. He collected two songs from Mr Gothard: The lousy tailor collecting the refrain but omitting the text as he regarded it as not suitable for polite society and The Lost lady. On a repeat visit on 31st August he collected Bobbing around, The gay ploughboy, As I walked out,which I believe is a version of Lemany and Twankydillo(again omitting the text, just keeping the refrain) from the same singer.


Ralph Vaughan Williams returned to Meldreth the following summer. He visited many villages that were within easy walking or cycling distance, and included a visit to the workhouse at Royston. Although situated in Hertfordshire it took paupers from Cambridgeshire.

He also visited singers that had been collected from by others and whose names were known to him from the Folk Song Journal or from his friend and fellow collector Lucy Broadwood, the editor of the FSJ. 'Hoppy' Flack of Fowlmere had been published as the singer of a May Song and Vaughan Williams was able to collect more songs from him. The songs of Charlotte Dann had been sent to Lucy Broadwood by Ella Bull from 1904 onwards, so a visit to Cottenham resulted in four tunes (one with a partial text included).

On 12th July 'Hoppy' (Charles) Flack of Fowlmere sang Lord Ellenwater, May Song, The lost lady, The Yorkshire bite. A revisit to Mr Flack on 10th August resulted in Three days before Easter, Golden Glove, The red barn and Shannon side. Also Rolling in the dew, although the date is missing on the manuscript page. The song Geordie may also have been from Mr Flack.

On 22nd July 'Ginger' Clayton sang into a phonograph at Meldreth The trees they do grow high.The manuscript notebook has some text, but there is a full transcript in RVW's hand of the phonograph recording in Lucy Broadwood's papers(LEB/5/383).

On 30th July a short trip to Bassingbourn resulted in Lakes of Cold Fen and Adieu my lovely Nancy from John Valentine Harmon.

On a visit to Royston Workhouse on 31st July RVW met Mr Wiltshire of Fowlmere, a retired cobbler, who sang Green bushes, God rest you, May Song and Nine joys of Mary, one of the few Cambridgeshire songs that comes with a full text collected at the same time as the tune.

On 3rd August he visited Charlotte Dann in Cottenham and collected two tunes marked with a ? ( one of which I have identified as Lucy Wan) , The cuckoo and the nightingale with the text for the first verse and There is an alehouse.


On 13th June Ralph Vaughan Williams travelled to Orwell from Cambridge, where he was staying prior to conducting the university orchestra (Cambridge University Musical Society). The rector of Orwell was the son of the ate Greek scholar Robert Whiston and it was probably a research visit to discuss the triennial Greek Play ( Aristophanes' The Wasps) the music for which RVW had been commissioned.

In Orwell's Red Lion alehouse RVW met Billy Waggs ( William Wagstaff) and collected The lady looked out (a version of the Proud Pedlar) When I was a young man and The red running rue.

Cecil Sharp

Information to come

Ella Bull

Information to come