Richard Blakeborough and John Fairfax-Blakeborough Yorkshire Folklore Collection

Ref: ACT/97-005

Title: The Richard Blakeborough and John Fairfax-Blakeborough Yorkshire Folklore Collection

Scope: The collection includes copies and extracts from the notebooks of Robert Hird and David Naitby, together with fieldwork collected by Richard Blakeborough; original dialect rhymes and sketches; published folklore articles and folktales; the correspondence and papers of Richard Blakeborough and John Fairfax-Blakeborough.

Dates: 1750-1820; 1868-1974
Level: Fonds
Extent: 5 boxes
Name of creator: Richard Blakeborough and John Fairfax-Blakeborough

Administrative / biographical history:

The collection includes copies and extracts from the notebooks of Robert Hird and David Naitby, together with fieldwork collected by Richard Blakeborough; original dialect rhymes and sketches; published folklore articles and folktales; the correspondence and papers of Richard Blakeborough and John Fairfax-Blakeborough.

Richard Blakeborough (1850-1918), collector of folklore and author, was born in Ripon, North Yorkshire, on January 24th 1850, the son of Richard Blakeborough, a jeweller and clock maker. He was descended on his mother’s side from the Fairfax family and was also distantly related to the Brontës. Blakeborough was educated at St. Agnesgate Grammar School, and from his childhood acquired a keen interest in nature and the lore and legends of his county of birth. After leaving school he assisted his father in his business but was allowed later to fulfil his ambition to become a doctor.

As a folklorist, Blakeborough’s most important contribution was in the collection of folklore and dialect in the North Riding of Yorkshire. In the early 1870s he copied large portions of the manuscript notebooks of David Naitby (1774-1838) and Robert Hird (1768-1841), who were themselves North Riding collectors and had obtained material dating from the seventeenth century and earlier. Blakeborough was not, however, an armchair scholar, and he obtained his information (including the Naitby and Hird items) by fieldwork, as he noted in his ‘Oddments Gathered from All Manner of People at Various Times, Dating from 1865’. A small part of the vast amount of material he amassed is contained in his books Wit, Character, Folklore and Customs of the North Riding of Yorkshire (1898), Yorkshire Toasts, Proverbs, Similes and Sayings (1907) and the posthumous The Hand of Glory and Further Grandfather’s Tales and Legends of Highwaymen and Others (edited by his son, John Fairfax-Blakeborough, and published in 1924). Further examples from his collections appear in his extensive newspaper articles. As with other nineteenth-century collectors, he adapted the language slightly for publication, or even ‘suppressed’ (his own word) certain lines or whole verses where he regarded the original as being ‘too free’.

Blakeborough’s dialect recitations and writings were equally important aspects of his enthusiasm for Yorkshire lore and speech. Two volumes of the former, based largely on his character Mrs. Waddleton, appeared in 1921 and 1924. The Waddleton sketches were humorous dialect readings, sometimes commenting on contemporary events, such as ‘The Relief of Maficking’ or ‘The Sufferjettes’. In a serious vein were his dramatic poems in the Cleveland dialect T’ Hunt o’ Yatton Brigg (1899) and Aud Nan o’ Sexhow. Other works included a novel, More than a Dream, and the comedies Tomboy, Auntie and Downhill, which were toured by the Dacre Company.

Richard Blakeborough was a member of the Folklore Society and the local (Ripon) archaeological society, and was, for a time, curator of the Ripon Scientific Society. In his last years he lived in Norton-on-Tees where he died on April 23rd 1918. He left one son, Major John Fairfax-Blakeborough. An older child, Derrick (‘Rick’), had died in July 1899.

Major John Fairfax-Blakeborough (1883-1976), folklorist and writer, was born on January 16th 1883 in Guisborough. After leaving school he spent three months in a broker’s office but his inherited interest in writing led him to join the staff of the Middlesbrough Evening Telegraph (later the Evening Gazette). At twenty-one he became a freelance writer, specialising in country sports and horseracing. From childhood, Fairfax-Blakeborough had been keenly interested in horses, racing and hunting and he gained practical experience of horses in a three year spell at a training stable in Cleveland, in addition to his two days a week of hunting.

During the First World War he served as a Major in the 15th/19th King’s Hussars, being awarded the Military Cross. After the war he became a racing judge at Sedgefield and remained a licensed Turf official until shortly before his death. At the same time, he became secretary of the Cleveland Bay Horse Society, a post he held for twenty years, later becoming the Society’s president. He also owned, rode and raced his own horses.

John Fairfax-Blakeborough was the author of 112 books on the history of horse racing, Yorkshire folklore and the Cleveland Bay (horse), among the best known of which are Yorkshire Days and Yorkshire Ways (1935) and The Spirit of Yorkshire (1954, written with his son Richard Noel John Fairfax-Blakeborough). He also wrote regular columns for the Darlington and Stockton Times (for 54 years) and Yorkshire Life. He died at his home, Low House, Westerdale, Whitby, on January 1st 1976.

  • Source: By purchase, in April 1982.
  • System of arrangement: By category
  • Subjects: Folklore
  • Names: Blakeborough, Richard; Fairfax-Blakeborough, J. (John), 1883-1976; Naitby, David, d. 1838; Hird, Robert, 1768-1841
  • Conditions of access: Available to all researchers, by appointment
  • Restrictions: None
  • Copyright: According to document
  • Finding aids: Listed