Thomas Fairman Ordish (1855-1924): A Lasting Legacy

Paul Smith, Department of Folklore, Memorial University of Newfoundland


For folklorists, Thomas Fairman Ordish’s claim to fame was that in the latter part of the nineteenth century he undertook the first major investigation of British traditional drama. Possibly because neither Ordish nor the Council of the Folklore Society, who latterly supported the venture, realised the enormity of the task, his projected book based on this material never appeared. He did, however, publish several influential articles on the topic.[2] After his death in 1924 his papers on traditional drama passed into the hands of the Folklore Society in London. Although it was forgotten and overlooked for many years, examinations of this material in the 1950s by Alex Helm[3] and Margaret Dean-Smith[4] led to the establishment of "The Ordish Collection".[5] In turn, this fed a revival of interest in traditional drama which continues today. This essay consolidates our knowledge about Ordish the man, outlines some of his more significant associations and associates, and examines how his research and projected book came to be the catalyst for the Ordish Collection.

© 1997, Paul Smith. Contact: Last updated: 21/03/2008