Alex Helm was born in Burnley, Lancashire, in 1920, becoming interested in folk dancing while at Burnley Grammar School. After training to become a teacher in York, and with Britain at war, Helm enlisted and was later commissioned in the Indian Army, rising to the rank of major. After the war, he married and lived in Kent for a year before moving to live and teach in Congleton, Cheshire. He assisted Margaret Dean-Smith, Librarian of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), in sorting and indexing, and at her suggestion, investigated the souling plays in Cheshire. He was a member of Manchester Morris Men. With E.C.Cawte, Norman Peacock and Roger Marriott, Helm set about devising a geographical index of seasonal customs. The morris and sword dance section was published in the Journal of the EFDSS in 1960. He died at an early age in 1970.
Helm amassed a very large and diverse collection of published and unpublished references to all seasonal customs, especially folk plays, including fieldwork notes (mainly through correspondence). The collection includes materials from his colleagues in the indexing scheme. The folk play section of the geographical index was published by Cawte, Helm and Peacock as English Ritual Drama in 1967 by the Folklore Society. Helm also wrote booklets on Cheshire and Staffordshire plays, and a Northamptonshire volume has still to be made public. He also wrote on chapbook plays.
The Helm Collection is held in the Special Collections of University College London Library.
Access can be obtained by contacting the Library.
See the rest of the Alex Helm section on this website for catalogue details.
See Eddie Cass, 'Alex Helm (1920-1970) and His Collection of Folk Performance Material', Folklore, 122, 1 (April 2011), 1-15.