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The "Doc" Rowe Collection

The "Doc" Rowe Collection moves to Sheffield

Photo of "Doc" Rowe Folklorist "Doc" Rowe has had a long association with the South Riding area, and is, with Dave Burland, an honorary vice president of the Network. Doc is an extremely energetic and prolific collector and documenter of traditional culture of all kinds, and has, over the years, amassed an enormous archive of manuscript and printed materials, sound, film and video recordings, and photographs. Some of you will know that this important collection has been pretty much inaccessible in the last few years, as the search for a suitable permanent location for it continued; no easy task as Doc is constantly on the move, dividing his time between London and Glasgow (where he is currently setting up a digital archive and resource on Scottish traditional music at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama), and his various collecting activities.

We are pleased to announce that suitable space has now been found at Sheffield's Burton Street Project. Sheffield is a particularly good choice; not only is it located in the middle of the country, but it is already home to the National Centre for English Cultural Tradition and Language (NATCECT) which also houses important archives relating to dialect and folklife studies. With the additional launch by the Department of Music at the University of Sheffield of a first degree course in traditional music and culture to complement their existing postgraduate courses, the future is looking good for the Folk Arts in our region, both in practical and academic applications.

Update: Open Day at the Archive

Saturday 2 October 2004

The Doc Rowe Collection invites you to an open day at the Burton Street Project, Burton Street, Sheffield 6.

12 noon to 6 pm Visit the archive: guided tours for the curious
7.30 pm concert by the Sheffield Folk Chorale
9 pm ceilidh with Capelbility Band and guest callers, with displays by local dance teams, and further opportunities to visit the archive
Tickets £4 (concessions £3) available from
The Burton Street Project: 0114 233 2908
Ron & Jenny Day: 0114 247 0099
Members of the Sheffield Folk Chorale
Proceeds to The Doc Rowe Collection and The Burton Street Project

Doc writes on moving the archives:

Doc holding forth To many friends and colleagues (not to mention the writer himself) it seemed that the archive's exodus from Bristol might never happen. But happen it has and is now successfully in situ in Sheffield.

Exodus is quite an appropriate word really... and there were times in the move, that I suspect helpers would have happily faced Egyptian armies and even attempted to part the Red sea... instead of moving the seemingly never-ending boxes, files, tapes. Well, then again, perhaps it may have felt a bit like Dunkirk...

Paul Fretwell and Mark Gibbens drove a van down to Bristol on Wednesday 22nd August, then loaded hundreds of boxes, tapes and files and drove back. With additional help we unloaded the next morning and returned for the second load. This load took us nearly six hours to achieve - we got back to Sheffield around 3 o'clock in the morning. The final unload was comparatively painless... thanks to the wonderful effort from the team.

Obviously there was constant temptation to dip into some of the labelled files as we were moving them - so it seemed almost poetical that the last archive box brought into space decided to have its bottom drop out (no jokes, please!) On to the newly carpeted floor spilled pictures of Sam Larner, Fred Jordan, a young Martin Carthy, Johnny Doughty... mingling with a folder of letters from Charles Parker and Ewan MacColl... and then there were pictures of Handsworth sword dancers and the Burry Man...

Anyway, there are still a number of items left in Bristol but all the irreplaceable documents, photos and recordings - those unique items - are all now safely in Sheffield.

Fortunately (or not), I've always been the eternal optimist but I have to admit that, more recently, had it not been for the constructive and positive collaboration I'm sure I would not have managed. It's also difficult to put into words the overwhelming sense of relief now that the collection is relocated and the intense feeling of gratitude for the help and support from individuals in the region. So, thank you all, folks.

Unloading: L to R: Pat Malham, Dave Staithes, Gerry Bates, Mike Steel, Jenny Day From the outset, I have to acknowledge much grateful assistance from members of the SRFN and very special thanks to Ron and Jenny Day who have given me such strong and constant encouragement - with practical as well as emotional support. It's difficult to recall the number of times that so many friends in Yorkshire have lifted me from a state of gloom, doom and disorder - not to mention the dreary and isolated railway and bus stations!

As many of you know my affection for, and association with, Sheffield dates from when I lived here up to the mid -1980s. This area has always felt home for me and that, with the increased local interest in traditional music, dance; the development of SRFN and the constant, unstinting professional and personal support have encouraged the move.

The new space in Burton Street has an ideal constant cool temperature and is clean, dry and dark. It's partitioned into several units by way of three interior walls. We recently knocked down half-of-one of these walls (er... deliberately, that is! ) to create an adequate meeting and work-space. Similarly, new lighting, electrical sockets, new doors and carpeting have been put in. This is all thanks to the generosity of funding from Sheffield City Council, Folk in South Yorkshire (FISY), SRFN and the physical efforts of individuals.

What next?

The tapes, photographs and negatives will be isolated in one subsection and kept at good archival conditions. Ultimately these will all be digitally transferred and will be instantly accessible. There is adequate wall space which will shelve field-notes, files, runs of journals, reference and display material.

After the many moves and lack of attention over the past couple of years the box files shows obvious signs of fatigue and age (that's not to mention the collector!) After a prescribed and essential rest for the boxes, the first task will be to check and sort all their contents, the files and filing cabinets. These all need their contents rationalised as many were packed with additional and sometimes unrelated material for the ease of moving.

A last vanload of (relatively) unimportant items - cabinets, shelves and tape decks - is still in Bristol and has yet to be collected. More recently recorded and filmed material (over the past two years) needs to be physically added to the collection - and these are all in London at present. An existing computerised database will be set up to check the collection and can also provide an instant overview of some of the content.

There are a number of people offering their time to help sort and index - all I hope is that each will be able to work on specific areas of material that interests them, so that they will bring their own knowledge and, hopefully, obtain more.

We are establishing a charitable trust status so that we can apply for funding - for staffing, sorting and further archiving, implement a programme of digitisation of the original pictorial, recorded and written material. This will be of key importance to safeguard and make easy access to the collection.

A specific website can now be developed to describe the collection - although access to the archive itself will obviously be restricted for a while. The other good news is that we have decided - at the appropriate time - to have an "archive warming party". So watch this space.

A brief history

The collection, which has developed over the past thirty odd years, was until five years ago located in three separate sites in London but then moved to Bristol. One aspect of the move was that it caused confusion - because the house was large and conspicuous in its Georgian splendour - many thought that I now had a patron, was earning money or had come into a fortune! Sadly, none was true!

It also soon became obvious that, despite being a very large house, it clearly was not suitable for expansion due to continuous collecting, constant updating and addition of material. Similarly, a domestic dwelling was neither realistic in terms of security or having controllable conditions suitable for archival materials. In fact the century started with a domestic flood on 1st January - but fortunately it was mainly replaceable equipment and books that were ruined.

The archive collection was moved into a two story facility, in the oddly (or was it appropriately) named "Dead Horse Studio" which was attached to back of Smiles Brewery. The final and exhausting move took place at the height of summer and all seemed well set up to be able to access and work on the collection. The state of the guttering and the outside wall, however, had not been noticed and we later realised that due to the poor state of the pointing of the wall that damp would be a problem. Any ideas of making the material accessible was soon forgotten and again was safely re-packed. Around this time, Johnny Adams set up the Doc Rowe Collection Support Group on the web and I am thankful to those many people - literally from all over the world - who sent contributions to assist in paying the rental. This of course, was also equally depressing because I was unable to offer access to much of the material.

In the meantime there were many suggestions of places to move to. Many were unrealistic, either because of space, facility and particularly cost. When the Burton Street Project presented itself it was seen as ideally suited - not only the security and facility potential but, also the fact that by cleaning up and renovating part of the old school building we would be contributing mutual and reciprocal help for future of the community project.

"Doc" Rowe, October 2002.

A shorter version of this piece appeared in South Riding Folk Network News no. 37 (Autumn/Winter 2002-3)

See also:     Doc's honorary doctorate     The Doc Rowe Collection Support Group

Preparations at Burton Street (1) Preparations at Burton Street...
Preparations at Burton Street (2) Preparations at Burton Street (3)

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