Performer Statistics

This Directory provides raw data for further social enquiries and analysis, specifically: ages and occupations; literacy rates; social status; and legacies. Stripping out Sharp's various intermediaries and revival dancers leaves us the following picture of 696 traditional performers:

A. Ages and Occupations: Some informants changed jobs during their lives, as fortune and opportunity allowed, so their occupations in the 1901 and 1911 censuses are particularly referenced. However, various people drew their identity from many years in the same job - for example, George Wilcox of Meare was a police constable in several censuses but retired and became a hobby farmer in 1911. He is classed as a policeman, not a farmer. Likewise several people were basically publicans but also held land as a sideline - John Clatworthy in West Somerset; Jonathan Pearce and Benjamin Watts on the Mendips. They are not classed as farmers. 


Somerset only: 1,604 songs & 46 tunes* were collected from 347 performers (214 men and 133 women). Their average age was 62.03**. Of the 199 men with stated occupations – 

  1. Agriculture: 54 agricultural labourers and 28 related workers (carters, shepherds, 2 millers, 2 market gardeners etc); farmers 15. Percentage working on the land 48.8% of total jobs. 
  2. Manual labouring jobs: 43 (roadmen, quarrymen, miners, brickworkers, masons etc)  = 21.6% of total; 
  3. Retail/services: 9 (grocers, bakers, publicans, carriers etc) = 4.5%
  4. Crafts: 16 (shoemakers, thatchers, blacksmiths, carpenters) = 8%
  5. Sailors: 14 = 7%
  6. Others: 20 = 10.1%

Of the 52 women with stated occupations – 11 glove/shirt making; 10 domestic service inc cooks, cleaners, charwomen, maids; 8 laundresses; 7 agriculture (farming, flax weaving, withy stripping); 3 dressmakers; 2 each teacher, monthly nurse, draper, sack mender, shopkeeper; 1 each pub landlady, boarding house keeper, hawker. 

Non-Somerset905 songs and 369 tunes*; 349 performers (271 men, 78 women); average age 64.6**; Of the 245 men who stated an occupation –

  1. Agriculture: 89 were agricultural labourers and 21 were related workers plus 4 farmers. Percentage working on the land 46.5%.
  2. Manual labouring jobs: 51 = 20.8%.
  3. Retail/services: 10 = 4.1%.
  4. Crafts: 30 = 12.2%
  5. Sailors: 11 = 4.5%.
  6. Others 29 = 11.9%.

Of the 17 women who stated a waged occupation: 6 were charwomen/servants; 2 each agricultural labourers, milkmaids and hawkers; 1 each teacher, dressmaker, baker, silk throwster and nun.

* Children’s songs (numbering 172) by anonymous school children are excluded from the Directory, as are many songs and tunes sent to Sharp by post and therefore not actually collected by him. Dance figures (as opposed to dance tunes) have not been enumerated either in the Directory.

 ** Sharp did not record the ages of all performers – the number of Somerset performers with stated or researched ages was 339; the number of non-Somerset singers with stated or researched ages was 316.

Note: Life expectancy in 1901 for men was only 48 and for women 52.


Any social mobility study today would prominently feature educational provision and attainments. This is more difficult to apply to the Edwardian era. William Forster's Education Bill of 1870 provided universal elementary education in England and the school leaving age was raised to 12 in 1899. Given that the average age of Sharp's performers was just over 60, many of them missed out on a basic education.

The indicator used in this Directory is the performer's ability to sign his/her wedding register. Obviously some people never married and many wedding entries are not accessible for various reasons. But Somerset as a county has made available nearly all of its parish registers online and its archives reveal that 60 out of 347 Somerset performers could not sign their name on their wedding day - an illiteracy rate of 17.3%. This is clearly a minimum figure. 

The only other counties with a similar open access to wedding registers are Gloucestershire (11 out of 52 performers could not sign: 21% illiteracy) and Oxfordshire (7 out of 40: 17.5%). 

These figures are relevant to arguments surrounding 'unlettered' informants.

C. Social status: 

A person's social status or class is a mix of elements, assessable in various ways - occupation and material success (disposable income, legacy at death: see section D) and community role ('respectability') being perhaps most interesting in this Directory. But the decisive indicator extracted from the census material studied is simply whether or not any performers had enough disposable income to employ a servant in their own household. If they did, then one could confidently say that they were middle class.

The censuses of 1901 and 1911 were particularly examined and the figures are startling. Of Sharp's 347 informants in Somerset only 5 performers had personal servant(s). None of these 5 informants were prolific contributors of songs - they were George Templeman, tenant farmer of Hambridge (2 songs); Florence Kettlewell of Harptree Court (1 song out of politeness, really an intermediary); Fleetwood Stileman of Weston-s-Mare (4 shanties); Miss Doveton Brown of Clevedon (1 song); and Rev Peppin of Marston Magna (1 song, really an intermediary).

The results for Sharp's non-Somerset performers are very similar - just 5 people with servants - Miss Dobbyn of Bristol (just 1 song); Rev Heelis of Cumbria (3 songs); John Lake, farmer of Devon (5 songs); Clarke Lonkhurst, publican of Kent (1 song); Walter Birch, Sharp's brother-in-law (1 song). Nobody crucial. 

Of course, Sharp met many self-employed people - small farmers, artisans, some retailers but they all relied on family support for their businesses - rather than waged personal servants. The overwhelming impression is that Sharp's performers were working people, not people of leisure. This is important if you worry about the 'proprietorship' of folk-songs and folk-dances.

D. Wills and Legacies:

Research for this Directory did pick up the wills of Sharp's informants but these instances were rare - only 8.3% (29) of the (347) Somerset singers left legacies and only 8.6% (30) out of (349) non-Somerset performers.

Using the UK Inflation Calculator, it's possible to gauge the purchasing power of these legacies in today's terms as follows:- In Somerset 6 singers between them accounted for 70% of the total legacy money, namely 5 farmers - George Templeman of Hambridge, who left the equivalent today of £617K; John Jeffery of Isle Brewers 270K; Richard Thorne of Withypool 190K; James Lockyer of Middlezoy 176K; Charles Spiller of Pitminster 127K; plus market gardener Albert Crossman of Huish Episcopi 176K. The average legacy of the remaining 23 informants was a modest £30K in today's terms.

Likewise among non-Somerset performers, 2 Devon farmers stick out as wealthy individuals (in modern values) - John C Lake 260K and William Nott 334K. Yet Nott employed no domestic servants at all in 1901 - family self-sufficiency and steady accrual were clearly his watchwords! The average legacy of the remaining 28 informants was £51K in today's terms.

Final note: For any of Sharp's performers, personal trajectories could be quickly flattened by bereavement, illness or injury as well as old age. There was no 'Welfare State'. Lloyd George's Pensions Act of 1908 awarded 5/- per week to individuals over the age of 70. The average weekly wage of a Somerset labourer at the time was 15/-. 



Books by Author David Sutcliffe

Cecil Sharp and the Quest for Folk Song and Dance

A new biography of Cecil Sharp, written by David Sutcliffe

£20.00 + p&p

The Keys of Heaven - The Life of Revd Charles Marson

This is the first biography of the Revd Charles Marson.

£6.00 + p&p