Folk Music and Ballad Collecting in Britain

An interactive timeline showing printed collections of folk music in Britain since 1600.

An online learning resource showing key printed collections of traditional music and song since the Early Modern period. Includes short collector biographies, information on historical context and links to audio/visual material and facsimile editions of collections.;xNLx;

1557-01-01 00:00:00

Stationers Company receive charter

Stationers' Company gain exclusive rights to all printing in England. Ballads not explicitly included until 1637.

1591-01-01 00:00:00

Birth of Thomas Ravenscroft

Musician, music theorist and collector of canons, rounds, street cries and ballads.

1603-03-24 00:00:00

Union of the Crowns

James VI of Scotland becomes James I of England uniting the Scots and English monarchies.

1609-01-01 00:00:00

Thomas Ravenscroft: Pammelia

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1609-01-01 00:00:00

Thomas Ravenscroft: Deuteromelia

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1611-01-01 00:00:00

Thomas Ravenscroft: Melismata

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1624-01-01 03:04:05

Ballad Partners formed

A cartel or 'conger' of leading publishers: a group of six publishers: Cuthbert Wright, John Wright, Edward Wright, John Grismond, Thomas Pavier and Henry Gosson.

1642-08-22 00:00:00

First English Civil War

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1648-05-08 00:00:00

Second Civil War in England

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1649-01-20 00:00:00

Trial and Execution of Charles I

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1649-01-31 00:00:00


England is governed by a series of republican governments.

1650-11-07 00:00:00

John Playford: The English Dancing Master

Playford's collection of 'country dances', with instructions and tunes. Registered with Stationer's company, first edition 1651 - in print until 1738.. Follow the link for an online facsimile of the first edition.

1656-01-01 00:00:00

Ballad Partners establish Ballad Warehouse

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1660-05-29 00:00:00


Charles II restores Stuart dynasty to British throne.

1662-01-01 00:00:00

John Forbes: Songs and Fancies

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1670-01-01 00:00:00

Birth of Turlough O'Carolan

Nobber, Co. Meath

1694-01-01 00:00:00

Stationers lose charter

Limits removed on printing - no longer need to be licensed to Stationers Company.

1700-01-01 00:48:48

Henry Playford - Collection of Original Scots Tunes (full of the Highland Humours) for the violin: Being the first of the Kind yet Printed

Henry Playford, son of John Playford, publishes a collection of Scots dance tunes. Much of the material is part of a common stock shared by both England and Lowland Scottish musicians.

1706-01-01 00:00:00

James Watson: A Choice Collection of Comic and Serious Scottish Poetry

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1706-09-22 00:00:00

Treaty of Union between Scotland and England agreed

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1710-03-21 00:00:00

Birth of James Oswald

Crail, Fife.

1711-01-01 00:00:00

Addison - Spectator articles on Chevy Chase

Politician, court poet and classical scholar, Addison (May 1, 1672 – June 17, 1719) writes, 'an ordinary song or ballad that is the delight of the common people, cannot fail tp please all such readers as are not unqualified for the entertainment by their affectation of ignorance'. (Quoted in Kidson and Neal 1915, 3).

1715-01-01 00:00:00

Jacobite Uprising

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1719-01-01 00:00:00

Allan Ramsay: Scots Songs

Ramsay 'a founder member of the Jacobite Easy Club in 1712, became its acknowledged 'laureate', and immersed himself in the 'old racy vernacular ditties' which were enjoyed by the capital's 'middle and lower classes' in private, as part of a gesture of defiance against 'the repressive tendencies of the Kirk', and against the strange tradition of Latin versifying which dominated seventeenth century Scots polite culture.' (Harker 1985, 9).

1719-01-01 00:00:00

Thomas D'Urfey: Wit and Mirth, or, Pills to Purge Melancholy

Browse through a facsimile edition here:

1723-01-01 00:00:00

Ambrose Philips (?) - A Collection of Old Ballads

Compiled from old broadsides found in the stores of commercial ballad sellers.

1724-01-01 00:00:00

Allan Ramsay: Tea-Table Miscellany

A collection of songs to be sung or read in fashionable company - dedicated to 'ilka lovely British lass'.

1724-01-01 00:00:00

John and Willam Neal: A Collection of the Most Celebrated Irish Tunes Proper for the Violin German Flute or Hautboy

Includes tunes by Carolan.

1724-11-01 00:00:00

Allan Ramsay - The Ever Green, a 'Collection of Scots Poems Wrote by the Ingenious before 1600'.

Follow up to the Tea-Table Miscellany aimed at a predominantly male audience: 'any SCOTS Man, who despises the Fopery of admiring nothing but what is either new or foreign, and is a lover of his Country' (Harker 1985, 10).

1725-01-01 11:21:55

Allan Ramsay - The Gentle Shepherd

A Scots Pastoral that transfers 'Arcadia' to the Scottish Lowlands. Suggests that rustic ignorance (and the culture of witch hunting) could be cured by education.

1725-01-01 15:35:00

William Thomson - Orpheus Caledonius

Uses without attribution a large portion of Ramsay's Miscellany - hugely popular in London market. Gives traditional airs arranged for flute and bass accompaniment. The collection also attributes several tunes to David Rizzio, the Italian courtier murdered as the suspected lover of Mary Queeen of Scots in 1566. This attribution is removed in a later edition of 1733.

1727-03-22 10:56:17

Birth of Niel Gow

Inver, Perthshire

1728-01-01 08:21:50

John Gay - The Beggar's Opera

First ballad opera - hugely successful. Offsets the simple and straightforward 'British' character of the ballad tune against the artificial trend for Italian music in London. Spawsn a number of imitators, including a ballad opera version of Ransay's Scots' pastoral The Gentle Shepherd.

1734-01-01 08:21:50

British Musical Miscellany: or The Delightful Grove: Being a collection of celebrrated English and Scotch Songs: by the best masters: set for the Violin, German Flute, the Common flute, and harpsichord.

One of a small number of collections highlighting the notion of a shared 'British' common melodic mood - linked to national charcater set agaisnt European influences (particularly the Itialian hegemony.

1735-01-01 20:07:21

Thomas Blackwell: An Enquiry into the Life and Writings of Homer

1738-03-25 00:00:00

Death of O'Carolan

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1740-01-01 00:00:00

James Oswald: Curious Collection of Scots Tunes

Published Edinburgh. First collection of Scots Tunes to include Gaelic titles. alongside Lowland repertoire.

1742-01-01 08:21:50

James Oswald - Second Collection of Curious Scots Tunes

Oswald's follow up to Curious Collection of Scots Tunes attaches the name of David Rizzio to several tunes - at a time when anti-Italian sentiment runs high. Backlash ensues.

1746-01-01 09:28:37

Dress Act 1746

Prohibits 'Highland Dress' such as the kilt, except in the army. Response to the Jacobite uprisings of 1689-1746.

1748-12-27 00:00:00

William Marshall

William Marshall 27 December 1748 – 29 May 1833 Born in Fochabers, Banffshire, in the North East of Scotland Served the Duke of Gordon and his wife for most of his life. He published two collections in his lifetime, and one was published posthumously: “A Collection of Strathspey Reels with a Bass for the Violoncello or Harpsichord” in 1781, “Marshall's Scottish Airs, Melodies, Strathspeys, Reels, &c. for the Piano Forte, Harp, Violin & Violoncello” in 1822, and “ Volume 2nd of a Collection of Scottish Melodies Reels Strathspeys Jigs Slow Airs &c. for the Piano Forte, Violin and Violoncello” in 1855.

1752-10-02 00:00:00

Joseph Ritson Born

Joseph Ritson born Stockton-on-Tees, Co. Durham.

1753-01-01 17:07:15

Thomas Warton: The Union, or Select Scots and English Poems

A collection of Scots and English Ballads - inspiraton for Percy's cultural 'union' in 'Reliques'

1760-01-01 00:00:00

James Macpherson: Ossian

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1765-01-01 00:00:00

Thomas Percy: Reliques of Ancient English Poetry

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1769-01-01 00:00:00

David Herd: Ancient and Modern Scots Songs, Heroic Ballads &c

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1769-01-02 00:00:00

Death of James Oswald

knebworth, Herts.

1772-01-01 13:16:23

Robert Fergusson, 'Elegy on the Death of Scots Music'

Fergusson indicates a shift from a funtional to an origins based definition in his poem, writing: Now foreign sonnets bear the gree, And crabbit queer variety, Of sound fresh srpung frae Italy, A bastard breed! Unlike that saft-tongu'd melody, Which now lies dead.

1773-01-01 00:00:00

Johann Gottfried Herder: Essay on Ossian

First use of the term 'volkslied'.

1773-02-01 02:34:56

Birth of Edward Bunting

Coalisland Co. Tyrone, Ireland

1774-01-01 13:16:23

William Tytler - Dissertation on the Scottish Music

{raises Italian composers but argues that 'a Scots song can only be sung in taste by a Scottish voice'. Dismisses notions that Scots music owed its origin to an Italian (Rizzio) arguing instead, like Lord Kames, for Tassoni's claim that James I (1394-1437) was in fact the originator of the style.

Folk Music and Ballad Collecting in Britain

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