Copper Archive (the papers of folk singer Bob Copper)

Scope and Content

The main sections of the archive are as follows

Personal Life

The first section brings together items that document Bob Copper's life away from his singing and writing career. The various notepads found in this section contain a mix of rough notes and diary entries. Bob didn't consistently keep a day to day diary and many of his diaries stop halfway through. Bob also liked to insert rough notes, press cuttings and other items into his notepads, the significance of these items is not always clear. Bob belonged to some clubs throughout his life and correspondence relating to those club memberships are also found in this section. Highlights include documentation relating to the honorary degree from the University of Sussex in 2000

Correspondence - Thematic

Bob Copper's correspondence is organised into two sections, though there is some overlap between these categories. This first section contains correspondence with individuals or organisations with whom Bob had ongoing contact. He kept these letters separate from the rest of his correspondence which is ordered chronologically. Bob also kept items together that related to a particular theme, for example, correspondence relating to the recording of the Copper Family CD: 'Coppersongs', as well as financial papers and household bills. Items within these files are in no particular order.

Correspondence - Chronological sequence

Following on from the thematic sequence is a chronological list of Bob's correspondence from the late 1940s to 2004. There is a very small quantity of letters from the 40s, 50s and 60s. Although the arrangement is chronological, in many cases dates can only be established by inference. Quite often there are items interleaved with a set of correspondence with no obvious relation, but an concerted effort has been made to keep the correspondence and these objects in the order that Bob kept them

Principle writings

This section comprises drafts, notes and correspondence relating to Bob's five books; A Song for Every Season, Songs and Southern Breezes, Early to Rise, Across Sussex With Belloc: In the Footsteps of "The Four Men", Bob Copper's Sussex, The Copper Family Song Book. Also included in this section are texts, both in typescript and handwritten, of unpublished works. Many manuscripts remain unidentified and these are collated at the end of the section along with miscellaneous other writings.

Songs and Performances

This section gathers together items relating to Bob's performing career including songs that were collected in the 1950s, radio plays and other live performances. There is a large amount of material relating to Christmas.


Published articles and notes relating to Bob's home village of Rottingdean.

Jim Copper, ,

The collection contains a small amount of items relating to Bob's father Jim. Jim Copper had a big influence in the folk revival in the 1950s and was the subject of a BBC Home Service programme 'The life of Jim Copper'. This section includes recordings of this programme and other notes farming life in the early 20th century.


Bob Copper made several trips to the USA during his lifetime.The section contains correspondence and details about various performances the Copper family made in the States.

Administrative / Biographical History

Bob Copper (1915-2004) was the patriarch of the folk singing Copper family from Rottingdean, England. The Copper family's tradition of unaccompanied harmony singing has been passed down through the family for generations. Originally kept alive in the oral tradition, the songs were first written down by Kate Lee, one of the founders of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, having heard James 'Brasser' Copper (Bob Copper's grandfather) and his younger brother Tom singing their old songs in the Black Horse in Rottingdean. Brasser's son Jim and his son, Bob, preserved the songs so they could still be sung by the family today.

Bob's father, Jim, was the bailiff of a large estate, and as a boy Bob helped with farm chores. He left school at 15, went to work in the village barber's shop and then became a soldier, briefly serving in the Life Guards before joining the West Sussex constabulary.

The 1950s saw the Copper family shoot to fame when the BBC made a programme on the life of Jim Copper. Jim had been listening to a BBC Home Service programme called Country Magazine in which someone had sung one of "our" songs, "only he got the words wrong". Bob wrote to the presenter Francis Collinson, who came down to Rottingdean, where he recorded several songs from Jim and Bob at the Central Club in Rottingdean which Bob had bought with his wife Jean, whom he married in 1941.

Bob was asked by the BBC to collect songs from Sussex and Hampshire and many of these were published as Songs and Southern Breezes in 1973. Bob began his career as an author when the first of his books A song for every season was published in 1971. Bob's books reflect his love of the old English country life.

Bob Copper received an honorary degree from the University of Sussex in 2000

Access Information

Items in the collection may be consulted for the purpose of private study and personal research, within the controlled environment and restrictions of The Keep's Reading Rooms.

Acquisition Information

The archive was donated in April 2005 by the Copper family

Other Finding Aids

An online catalogue is available on The Keep's website .

Archivist's Note

Prepared by Karen Watson, February 2008

Conditions Governing Use

COPIES FOR PRIVATE STUDY: Subject to copyright, conditions imposed by owners and protecting the documents, digital copies can be made.

PUBLICATION: A reader wishing to publish material in the collection should contact the Head of Special Collections, in writing. The reader is responsible for obtaining permission to publish from the copyright owner.