The Gypsy Collections

Scope and Content

The collection consists of two separately-catalogued but interlinked parts, the Gypsy Lore Society Archive (GLS) and the Scott Macfie Gypsy Collection (SMGC)

The Gypsy Lore Society Archive held in the Special Collections and Archives of the Sydney Jones Library includes over 10 000 letters relating to Gypsy matters and the Gypsy Lore Society, administrative material and the papers of individual gypsiologists, dating from c. 1888-1973 .

The Scott Macfie Gypsy Collection contains items collected by 1868-1935 Robert Andrew Scott Macfie and other members of the Society. At the time of its presentation in 1935, the Collection contained more than 450 books and 280 articles (not including reprints from the Journal), and broadsheet edicts, pamphlets in Russian, German and Hungarian, plays, press cuttings, theses and dissertations, sheet music plus manuscripts, drawings, sound recordings, photographs, slides and glass negatives. The published books and pamphlets, sheet music and sound recordings are separately catalogued. See Gypsy Collections webpages

Administrative / Biographical History

Gypsy Lore Society

In May 1888 David MacRitchie, a qualified accountant from Edinburgh who had given up his profession in favour of his intellectual pursuits, sent out a circular announcing the newly formed Gypsy Lore Society. The circular gave the aim of the society as ...investigating the Gypsy question in as many-sided a manner as possible. The first period of the society had lasted only four years when, in 1892, having published only three volumes of the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, lack of funds paralysed its activities. MacRitchie was determined to revive the Society; despite the fact that many of the original contributors had died, he began in 1906 to discuss with John Sampson the feasibility of this proposition.

Robert Andrew Scott Macfie, a Liverpool man, was their choice to take on the unenviable task of rousing the Society. Copies of the circulars, notices and letters he sent out form a major part of the archive. In 1907 the first volume of the JGLS New Series was issued with a prefatory note by David MacRitchie describing the Society as "More vigorous than ever" and "devoting itself with renewed energy to Gypsy study in all its various phases" (1907JGLS New series). Within a few years Macfie increased the Society's membership from below 100 to over 200 and even made the Society financially viable for a short time. With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 the Society languished, and Macfie, on his return from four years' service, was exhausted and unable to provide the impetus for a fresh start.

The hiatus ended in 1922. With the initial backing of the brothers James and William Ferguson, the next chapter of the Society was a success, continuing for the next fifty-two years with the input of such noted Gypsy scholars as Eric Otto Winstedt, T.W. Thompson, F.G. Ackerley, Macfie, who resumed his post as Secretary and Editor in 1932 until his death in 1935 , H.J. Francis  and Dora Yates. Dora Yates had assisted Macfie with the editing and production of the JGLSfrom 1907 and on his death in 1935 became Honorary Secretary. Although she had had editorial control since Macfie's death, it wasn't until 1955 that Yates officially became the editor of the JGLS. It was Yates who brought the Gypsy Lore Society to Liverpool University Library, continuing her work for the Society from her office in the University even after her retirement in 1945. After her death in 1974, the Society, with Liverpool no longer as its base, produced a sporadic fourth series of the JGLS. In 1977 the Gypsy Lore Society, North American Chapter was formed.

Robert Andrew Scott Macfie

Robert Andrew Scott Macfie (1868-1935) was Honorary Secretary of the Gypsy Lore Society 1907-1914 , and editor of the 1907-1914Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society and 1933-1935 . He was educated at Cambridge, Edinburgh and Göttingen Universities before joining Messrs. Macfie and Sons sugar refining business, which his family had owned and operated in Liverpool since 1838. Macfie spent a short while abroad when serving in the Army but returned to Liverpool to become one of the first members of the distinguished University Club. Macfie's association with the Club brought him into contact with the group of brilliant scholars who were at the time building up the University College, a number of whom were also keen Gypsiologists.

In 1907 John Sampson and David MacRitchie persuaded Macfie to revive the Gypsy Lore Society. For the next 30 years Macfie was the inspiration for the Society and acted as Secretary and editor for many years. He became one of England's leading authorities on Gypsies and their language, recording vast quantities of dialect, folk tales and songs from various bands of Gypsies in Britain, including the Lovari (or 'German') Gypsies who visited England in 1906 and the 'Coppersmith Gypsies' who came into the country in 1912. In the summer of 1913 Macfie travelled through Bulgaria in the company of a band of gypsy horse-dealers and subsequently wrote a lively account of this adventure for the Gypsy Lore Society entitled "With Gypsies in Bulgaria".

During the First World War, Scott Macfie joined the Liverpool Scottish Regiment as Quartermaster-Sergeant, serving in the trenches as a member of the British Expeditionary Force, and was awarded the Military Medal. After his return from the war, ill-health forced Macfie to retire to the Yorkshire Dales and in June 1935 he died. On his death Macfie's library was bequeathed to the Gypsy Lore Society and was presented to the University of Liverpool.


The Gypsy Lore Society Archive (Gypsy Lore Society) and the Scott Macfie Gypsy Collection (SMGC) are catalogued as separate archives but are interlinked and complementary: for example, many photographs now included in the Scott Macfie Collection were originally sent with letters in the Gypsy Lore Society Archive.

The Gypsy Lore Society Archive is arranged into groups of:

  • Correspondence: GLS A1-35, GLS I-XLIII
  • Administrative materials: GLS XLIV-LII
  • Gypsiologist Papers: GLS B-G

The Scott Macfie Gypsy collection is arranged into groups of:

  • SMGC 1: Photographs
  • SMGC 2: Illustrations
  • SMGC 3: Manuscripts
  • SMGC 4: Music
  • SMGC 5: Newspaper cuttings

There are also collections of printed items (including the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society) and audio-visual material kept separately, and catalogued with the classmark SPEC Scott Macfie in the online library catalogue.

Access Information

Access is open to bona fide researchers, unless otherwise indicated.

Acquisition Information

The Gypsy Lore Society Archive was bequeathed to the University of Liverpool Library by Dora Yates's will after her death in January 1974 . Duplicate copies of material were sent to the University of Leeds Library.

The Scott Macfie Gypsy Collection was donated to the Honorary Secretary of the Gypsy Lore Society, Dr Dora Yates, on the death of Scott Macfie in 1935, by his sister and executrix Marion Sheila Scott Macfie. Dora Yates in turn presented the Collection to the University of Liverpool Library on the 4th November 1935to be kept intact for all time as a reference library for gypsy students throughout the world. The collection also contains much material collected by other members of the Gypsy Lore Society.

Other Finding Aids

Finding aids are available in the reading room for both the Gypsy Lore Society Archive and the Scott Macfie Gypsy Collection.

Alternative Form Available

Microfilm copies of the Gypsy Lore Society letter books (Ref. GLS A.26-A.30) and Scott Macfie press cuttings bound volumes (Ref. SMGC 5) are available.

Separated Material

Records for the Scott Macfie book collection, incorporating the libraries of several Gypsy Lore Society members, may be found in the catalogue of Liverpool University Library and the records can be searched as a group under the local call number SPEC Scott Macfie.

The Brotherton Collection, University of Leeds Library

Further details of other relevant collections are available on the Special Collections & Archives website.

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction and licensing rules are available on request.

In the Gypsy Lore Society Archive the copyright in the Lee Family Correspondence is the property of the Lee family. Researchers must apply in writing to the Head of Special Collections and Archives to request permission to quote material from these papers. All correspondence will be passed to the Lee family representative who will be responsible for granting permission to publish material from these papers.

Custodial History

The Gypsy Lore Society Archive was maintained by Dora Yates; after her death it remained with the University of Liverpool. The Scott Macfie Gypsy Collection was initially bequeathed to Dora Yates who then donated the collection to the University of Liverpool.


There are occasional accruals of material relating to former Gypsy Lore Society members.

Related Material

The Dora Yates Archive  contains papers relating to the non-Gypsy activities of Dora Yates.

The John Sampson Archive  contains papers relating to the non-Gypsy activities of John Sampson.

The Georg Althaus Collections include photographs and papers of Hanns Weltzel, a member of the Gypsy Lore Society.

Corporate Names