Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture, (Survey of English Dialects, and the Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies)

Scope and Content

The Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture comprises the combined multiple media holdings of the archives of the Survey of English Dialects (ca. 1946-1978) directed by Harold Orton, and the University of Leeds' Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies (1964-1983) directed by Stewart Sanderson. These contain printed, manuscript and photographic paper items, sound recordings held on gramophone disc, open reel and cassette audio tape formats, glass plate and plastic transparencies, video tapes, 16mm and 35mm films.

The subject areas covered include custom and belief, traditional narrative, children's traditions, traditional music (vocal and instrumental), traditional drama and dance, material culture, crafts and work techniques, language and dialect.

Administrative / Biographical History

The dialectologist Harold Orton (1898-1975) was born in Byers Green (County Durham). Following service in the Durham Light Infantry during the First World War, he studied dialectology at Merton College, Oxford University, before taking up teaching positions at Uppsala University, Armstrong College (Newcastle upon Tyne), and the University of Sheffield. Whilst based at Armstrong College, he was instrumental in a survey of Northumbrian dialects. During the Second World War Orton was seconded to the British Council. In 1946 he became Professor of English Language and Medieval Literature at the University of Leeds. In collaboration with Swiss colleague Eugen Dieth (1893-1956) he instituted the English Dialect Survey. The majority of fieldwork for the Survey was conducted between 1950 and 1961 in over 300 mostly rural localities. The Survey publication programme included an Introduction (1962), four volumes of Survey of English Dialects Basic Material (1962-1971), A Word Geography of England (1974), and the Linguistic Atlas of England (1978). Orton was instrumental in the establishment of the Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies at the University of Leeds, having recognised the interdisciplinary nature of the study of dialects and folklore/folk life. The Institute opened in 1964 under the directorship of folklorist Stewart Sanderson (1924-2016), who was previously based at the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh. The Institute's remit included the ongoing collection of research and other materials relating to dialect, folklore, and folk life, including a Folk Life Survey; and teaching and research in various aspects of these subject areas at undergraduate and postgraduate level. The Institute was closed in 1983 due to University budget cuts.


The Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture comprises the following seventeen subfonds (subcollections). This arrangement is derived principally from the identification of the provenance, form and function of these individual collections, but does retain within each any original arrangement, where it has been possible to identify such an order. In some cases it has been necessary to impose an arrangement (again based on form and function), where no pre-existing system has been apparent.
- Orton Corpus
- Survey of English Dialects
- A Word Geography of England
- The Linguistic Atlas of England
- Maps
- Institute Staff Papers
- Student Research Papers
- Non-Student Research Papers
- Non-Institute Surveys
- Folk Life File
- Archivists' Papers
- Sound Recordings
- Photographic Collections
- Film
- Video
- Artefacts
- Printed Collection

Access Information

Some parts of this collection have not been listed in detail and access may be restricted under the Data Protection Act and other relevant legislation. Please consult the relevant part of the catalogue for specific details. Where a detailed record does not exist, please contact Special Collections. Upon receipt of your request, a member of the team will discuss your requirements with you and review relevant material accordingly.

Items within this collection may include the expression of opinions and/or terminology that would now be considered unacceptable and may cause offence. However, these original terms and phrases continue to be included as they preserve historical accuracy and provide social and historical context. These terms do not reflect the views or opinions of the University or its staff and we apologise for any offence that their use may cause.

Conditions Governing Use

Material in this collection is in copyright. Photocopies or digital images can only be supplied by the Library for research or private study within the terms of copyright legislation. It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain the copyright holder's permission to reproduce for any other purpose. Guidance is available on tracing copyright status and ownership.