Ervin Beck and Paul Smith

[Roomer, 1985, Vol.5 No.6, pp.53-61]


In December 1974 the Centre for English Cultural Tradition and Language was kindly allowed to make a microfilm copy of the majority of Alex Helm's notebooks and files prior to their being deposited in the Manuscript and Rare Book Room of University College London. (For a listing of the items copied see Appendix I). Unfortunately as funds for this project were limited, we were unable at that time to copy the many thousands of index slips included in the collection. It is hoped, however, to complete the task at some later date.

To overcome the lack of an index to this collection and to ascertain the proportion of material derived from published sources, and therefore available from conventional library resources, in the late summer of 1981 we prepared a machine readable handlist to the contents of the collection. This handlist was generated by reading the microfilm copy and preparing a machine readable file on the University of Sheffield's computer.

The collection comprises approximately 3700 items and the resulting handlist provides a reasonably accurate guide to this material. However, as a bibliographical guide to sources used by Helm, it has many limitations. Firstly Helm frequently omitted to provide complete or accurate bibliographic citations for items and it has not been possible, as yet, to check all the materials in the notebooks against the original sources. Furthermore, certain of the bibliographies against which the handlist has been checked (see "REFS" below) do not always agree with Helm's citations or, indeed, with each other. As a consequence the handlist contains many gaps in information; these are indicated throughout by a double hyphen (--).


To aid interpretation of the handlist, the following is a brief explanation of the contents of individual lines on the machine readable file.

Fig. 1. Sample entries from the Handlist

HELM 12:10.
CITE 1:1 (1850), 258-59.
PUBL 1850

HELM 12:11-12.
PUBL 1904

HELM 12:13-14V.
CITE LONDON: N.D. [1882], p. 45.
PUBL 1882

HELM 12:14V.
CITE LEEDS; JULY 20, 1953.
PUBL 1953

HELM 12:14R-15V.
CITE --- ( 1948), 84.
PUBL 1948

1. Helm - (Number of the Helm Notebook and Page Number of Each Item)

In the sample entry in Figure 1 above, 12: l4R-l5V refers to Notebook 12, pages l4 recto to 15 verso. Throughout, Helm's numbering of pages is rather casual and at times inconsistent. In the first notebook, he writes on both sides of each sheet but numbers only the right-hand page - hence the "R" and ,'V" designations in the handlist. In most other notebooks, he writes only on one side of the page, to which he assigns a number. However, sometimes he writes on both sides, numbering each page; and sometimes he presents a multi-page chart, giving each page the same number. The most troublesome inconsistencies in page numbering are commented on in the "COMM" line. Other special numberings of pages are indicated thus on the "HELM" line:

[   ]  -  Indicates that page numbers, omitted in the notebooks, have been subsequently supplied by us.
[sic]  -  This calls attention to serious inconsistency in page numbers.
V or R  -  Indicates verso or recto page designations which have been added to Helm's numbers when he uses the reverse side of sheets.
A,B,C,etc.  -  Added to Helm's numbers, this indicates he inserted unnumbered pages between otherwise correctly numbered pages.

A special problem in the numbering of the notebooks is found in volume 16 and 19, both of which are divided into two parts. Helm's own numbering included no volumes 17 and 18 - although he occasionally referred to them in the index. However it appears that his usual practice was to regard notebook 16, part 1 as volume 16; notebook 16, part 2 as volume 17; notebook 19, part 1 as volume 18; and notebook 19, part 2 as volume 19. (See Appendix 1 - reels 1 to 14 for further details). For the purpose of this handlist we have used the part 1 and part 2 designations rather than the consecutive volume numbers.

2. CONT - (Special Materials Contained in Individual Items)

The terms listed under this heading function as a guide to special types of materials included in a notebook entry:

BIBLIOGRAPHY  -  This indicates that a long list of bibliographic references is included.
CHART  -  This shows that a schematised body of information, usually arranged in columns, with appropriate headings, is included.
DANCE  -  This indicates that more or less detailed description of dance movements, whether with or without accompanying diagrams, is included.
ILLUS  -  This indicates a drawing: it is not used to indicate a diagram for a dance figure.
MAP  -  Map.
MUSIC  -  This shows that musical notation, whether for song or dance tune, is incorporated.
SONG  -  This indicates that the text of a song is included. Songs within texts of plays are not given this separate designation.
TEXT  -  This indicates that a section of dramatic text is included. It always refers to the text of a traditional play and is never used for lines from other literature. No distinction is made between "complete" plays and fragments.

3. STIT - (Short Title of Item)

A short title without square brackets is the one provided by Helm. Square brackets enclose a title composed by the indexer, either to supply one where Helm has not given one or to give a more accurate indication of the contents of the item than Helm's title does. For example an editorial short title may indicate that an item contains notes on an essay rather than the whole essay.

Some attempt is made to distinguish "notes on" and "extracts from" other materials, as opposed to actual copies of printed essays or of other scholars' materials. However, the reference to "notes" or "extracts" is often subjective, since, without checking each individual item, it is difficult to distinguish notes and extracts from verbatim copies of originals. Very brief abstracts are usually regarded as "notes".

An unbracketed short title with "TEXT" in the "CONT" line usually points to a long, perhaps "complete", script, even though the notebook item may also include some notes from the original materials.

4. AUTH - (Author and/or Collector of the Item)

This line identifies the author of published or unpublished material. Pseudonyms usually have double quotation marks around them. For unpublished collected material, the 'author' is regarded as the person who wrote it down; usually (but not always) it also refers to the person from whose collection (see "TITL" below) Helm obtained it. Often, both the person who wrote it down and the person from whose collection Helm obtained the copy are difficult to determine.

5. TITL - (Title of Published Works or Unpublished Collections)

Published items:

If the material was published when Helm added it to his notebook, then the title of the essay or book is given, when available.

Unpublished items:

a. "HELM COLLECTION", refers to original material collected or written by Helm.
b. "HELM COLLECTION - COPY"; refers to Helm's notes on or copies of other people's unpublished materials.
c. "-- COLLECTION" (e.g. "RUDKIN COLLECTION"). This indicates materials collected or written by another scholar; in this case, E. H. Rudkin.

For a variety of reasons the assignment of an item to one "collection" or another is frequently difficult. Firstly Helm does not always indicate where he obtained his materials. Secondly it is difficult to ascertain whether his source actually maintained a "collection" and had the intention of preserving the material. Although Helm often described such materials as being in his collection, in order to distinguish between materials he collected as opposed to items others collected and sent on to him; we have always made the assumption that they kept copies in their own collection. However this may not always have been the case. Thirdly it is difficult to know whether an item came from one source but is actually now kept in one of the collections given official recognition in the bibliographies referred to in "REFS" below.

6. JRNL - (The Name of Newspaper, Magazine or Journal in which an Essay Appeared)

7. CITE - (Bibliographic Citation)

Published Items:

This includes, whenever possible, details of place, publisher, date of publication and page numbers.

Unpublished items:

For unpublished correspondence, the address of the author and the date of writing are supplied. For unpublished collected materials, place and date of collection are supplied whenever possible. However, since that information is often not given, the citation line frequently gives a date and/or place associated with the material. In such instances this could be misleading.

8. PUBL - (Year of Publication or Collection)

Published items:

This is normally taken from "CITE" above.

Unpublished materials:

Here the year they were collected or supplied to Helm is given.

9. REFS - (Material Incorporated in Existing Published Indexes of Ceremonial Customs)

This indicates if the item was used in one or more of, the following published sources associated with seasonal ceremonial customs:

ICD  =  "A Geographical Index of the Ceremonial Dance in Great Britain", by E. C. Cawte, Alex Helm, R. J. Marriott and N. Peacock, in JEFDSS, Vol.IX, No.1, 1960, pp.1-41.
ERD  =  English Ritual Drama: A Geographical Index, by E. C. Cawte, Alex Helm, and N. Peacock, London, The Folklore Society, 1967.
RAD  =  Ritual Animal Disguise, by E. C. Cawte, Ipswich, D. S. Brewer (for The Folklore Society), 1978.
JIG  =  The Jack in the Green: A May Day Custom, by Roy Judge. Ipswich. D. S. Brewer (for The Folklore Society), 1979
NOT USED  =  Items not used by the authors of any of the above four books.
(?)  =  Indicates we were unable to differentiate between various editions in the original source
(--)  =  Indicates we were unable to determine if this was or was not used.

Unfortunately, this is probably the most inaccurate category in this handlist, for the following reasons; firstly, even if an essay. book or collection is listed in some of the bibliographies named above, this does not mean that the material from anyone particular source used by Helm was used in the work. Secondly. as noted in the "TITL" above. it is often difficult to assign an unpublished item to the "right" collection - particularly the collection as named and used in the bibliographies listed above. This, no doubt, has led to some items from collections not being located in these bibliographies.

This category may therefore be of greatest value in pointing to items recorded by Helm but "not used" in these four major studies. The user is advised, however, to check further before taking the "not used" label as definitive.

10. COMM - (Additional Explanatory Comments)

This line provides an opportunity to include various kinds of information that might be of interest to a researcher. Most often, "COMM" supplies additional information or guesses, with regard to bibliographical details. For unpublished collected materials, it often gives the names of informants. This is particularly useful in cases where their information was written down by other people. Under this heading "CR" indicates cross-reference included by Helm in his notebooks. For example, "CR = 1:32" refers the user to notebook I, page 32, where related material will be found. Helm supplies many cross-references in the first few notebooks; none at all in the later ones.


Based on the handlist to the Helm Collection several special indexes and finding lists have been developed. These were all generated using the Famulus computer program and provide supplementary details not previously available to researchers. For example they provide listing of authors and their publications, articles located in specific journals and details of personal and institutional collections. To date the following indexes and finding aids have been processed. In each case the order of the information presented is given.

1. Author Index

Author, Short Title, Full Title, Journal, Citation, Helm Volume Number, Whether used in ICD, etc., Comments.

2. Chronology of Collection/Publications

Date of Collection/Publication, Author, Short Title, Full Title, Journal, Citation Helm Volume Number, Whether used in ICD, etc., Comments.

3. Index of Journal

Journal, Author, Full Title, Citation, Helm Volume Number, Short Title, Special Materials, Whether used in ICD, etc., Comments.

4. Material Incorporated in Existing Published Ceremonial Custom Geographical Indexes

Whether used in ICD, etc., Author, Short Title, Full Title, Journal, Citation, Helm Volume Number, Comments.

5. Index to Special Material Contained in Items

Type of Materials, Author, Short Title, Full Title, Journal, Citation, Helm Volume Number, Whether used in ICD, etc.

6. Special Collections Incorporated in Helm Collection

Collection Title, Helm Volume Number, Short Title, Author, Journal, Citation, Special Materials, Date of Collection/Publication, Whether used in ICD, etc., Comments.

7. KWIC Index to Comments

8. KWIC Index to Short Titles

9. KWIC Index to Titles

As noted above, in terms of bibliographic entries the handlist is far from accurate and our first priority is to check and complete all such entries. With this in mind consultation copies of the handlist are available in the Centre's Archives and any additions and corrections will be gratefully received. For further information regarding this project contact Paul Smith, The Centre for English Cultural Tradition and Language, University of Sheffield, Sheffield. S1O 2TN.

[N.b. - Paul Smith, having moved to the Memorial University of Newfoundland is no longer the contact for corrections. Please see the Helm website home page for up-to-date details.]



For each Helm Collection reel number we have indicated the materials the microfilm contains, the CECTAL accession number, the CECTAL handlist number and, where appropriate, University College London Manuscripts Department accession number.

Helm Collection Reels 1 to 14 (CECTAL Accessions - Reels 10-23)

31 notebooks containing information on ceremonies, customs and folk plays. The material in these notebooks is derived from three main sources:

1.  Helm's handwritten copies of printed and handwritten sources
2.  Correspondence to Helm
3.  Photocopies of printed items

The arrangement of the material is chronological in terms of the date of receipt by Helm. This was primarily because when Helm had gathered sufficient loose material together it was bound as a volume. However, certain sections are better organised than others in that he must have held back related materials which he was working on and then bound them together.

Reel No. Helm Notebook Nos. Nos. used in
the Handlist
UCL Nos.
1. I & II 1 & 2 A1 / 1 & 2
2. III & IV 3 & 4 A1/3 & 4
3. V & VI 5 & 6 A1/5 & 6
4. VII & VIII 7 & 8 A1/7 & 8
5. IX & X 9 & 10 A1/9 & 10
6. XI & XII 11 & 12 A1/11 & 12
7. XIII & XIV 13 & 14 A1/13 & 14
8. XV Pts. 1 & 2 15 Pts. 1 & 2 A1/15/1 & 2
9. XVI Pts. 1 & 2 16 Pts. 1 & 2 A1/16 & 17
10. XIX Pts, 1 & 2 18 Pts. 1 & 2 A1/18 & 19
11. XX, XXI XXII 20, 21 & 22 A1/20, 21 & 22
12. XXIII, XXIV, XXV 23, 24 & 25 Al/23, 24 & 25
13. XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX 26, 27, 28 & 29 A1/26, 27, 28 & 29
14. XXX, XXXI 30 & 31 Al/30 & 31


The Helm notebooks are not numbered consecutively and, in fact, no volumes XVII and XVIII exist. The index to the volumes, however, occasionally makes reference to both these volumes. Comparison of the index against the volumes indicates that Helm instituted the following practice:

Volume XV Parts 1 & 2     equates with Volume 15
Volume XVI Part 1     equates with Volume 16
Volume XVI Part 2     equates with Volume 17
Volume XIX Part 1     equates with Volume 18
Volume XIX Part 2     equates with Volume 19

All other volume numbers may be taken as being correct.

For the purpose of this study we have used the Part 1 and Part 2 designations rather than the consecutive volume numbers.

Helm Collection Reel 15 (CECTAL Accession - Reel 24)

A file of materials being the unbound contents of Volume XXXII of Helm's notebooks. Prior to the collection being handed over to U.C.L.. E. C. Cawte added several other loose papers to this file and bound it as a single volume.

Reel No. Helm Notebook Nos. Nos. used in
the Handlist
UCL Nos.
l5. XXXII 32 Al/32

Helm Collection Reel 16 (CECTAL Accession - Reel 25)

Nine files of miscellaneous correspondence and materials relating to specific topics and projects.

These items were not given specific numbers by Helm. In the handlist they have been referred to as Volume 33. Separate U.C.L. numbers have been assigned as follows:

Microfilm Sequence U.C.L. Nos.
File 1. Correspondence relating to Scotland and Northern Ireland. F2
File 2. Correspondence relating to Wales. F3
File 3. Correspondence relating to Folk Plays from various localities. F4
File 4. Correspondence and notes relating to Chapbook Mummers' Plays. F10
File 5. Correspondence and notes relating to Animal Disguise. F6
File 6. Miscellaneous correspondence from K. J. Holland. F7
File 7. Miscellaneous correspondence from the English Folk Dance and Song Society and The Folklore Society. F8
File 8. Miscellaneous correspondence and notes relating to English Ritual Drama: A Geographical Index. F9
File 9 Miscellaneous correspondence relating to publications. F11

Helm Collection Reel 17 (CECTAL Accession - Reel 26)

This material mainly consists of book and article drafts. lecture outlines and miscellaneous notes.

These items were not given specific numbers by Helm. In the handlist they are referred to as Volume 34. Separate U.C.L. numbers have been assigned as follows:

Microfilm Sequence U.C.L. Nos.
1. Keele Lectures. including footnotes. etc. D3
2. Keele Lectures. including footnotes. etc. [Different draft of first section] D8
3. The Life-Cycle Drama in England. [Draft for a proposed book] D7
4. The Life-Cycle Drama. [Draft for a proposed book] D6
5. The Life-Cycle Play. D5
6. The Primitive Morris. D17 & 18
7. The Revitalisation Ceremony in Ireland and Scotland. D1O
8. [Morris Dancing in Lancashire]. A6
9. The Preservation of Tradition D9
10. Mummers and Morris. D15
11. [Notes on Sir E. K. Chambers and his work on Folk Play]. D2
12. [Morris Dance]. A7
13. The Morris Dance in Wales. [Written c.1958 for a proposed book to celebrate the birthday of Maud Karpeles] D14
14. The Derbyshire Morris. [Written c.1958 for a proposed book to celebrate the birthday of Maud Karpeles] D14
15. The North Western Morris. [Written c.1958 for a proposed book to celebrate the birthday of Maud Karpeles] D14
16. Rushbearing- Folklife [?] D14
17. Mummers' Play - List of Sources - Appendix A D14
18. Morris - List of Sources - Appendix A. D14
19. Disguising - List of Sources - Appendix A. D14
20. List of Doubtful, Incomplete and Unexamined References (Excluding May).
21. Index of Dance and Associated Customs. D14
22. Rapper Paper. [Probably written by E. C. Cawte] D14
23. Draft Article on Ceremonial Disguise. (FLS)
24. [Notes on Various Customs]. D12

Helm Collection Reel 18 (CECTAL Accession - Reel 27)

A photograph album belonging to Alex Helm. This contains copies of original photographs mainly from other collections.

This item was not given a number by Helm. In the handlist it is referred to as Volume 35 and the assigned identification for U.C.L. is X.

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