The Manx Folk-Life Survey Archive

Scope and Content

The Manx Folk-Life Survey Archive is a multi-format ethnographic record consisting of a range of media including, guidelines, sound recording lists, blank questionnaires, publicity leaflets, correspondence regarding initial setting-up, field names materials and books for Andreas-Lezayre, Lonan-Santon, contributors' notebooks, contributors' files, subject files, original source material, building plans, photographs and negatives and sound tape-recordings. The audio material comprises of approximately 30 hours of recordings in Manx Gaelic (c.70%) and Anglo-Manx (c.30%). There is also an extensive store of material objects connected to the Survey. The Manx Folk-Life Survey field notes and audio recordings contain over 800 interviews with approximately 400 informants, augmented by material written by some informants themselves on specific themes and topics.

Administrative / Biographical History

The idea of collecting memories of Manx traditional life began in 1938; the Director of the Manx Museum William Cubbon was inspired by the work of the Irish Folklore Commission (IFC) and its collecting of ‘folk-memory.’ In 1948 the IFC visited the Isle of Man to record the remaining speakers of the Manx language. Its representative Mr Kevin Danaher made 26 double-sided 12 inch discs of conversations, hymn readings, and recitations from more than a dozen native speakers. His findings highlighted the Island’s wealth of folk-life material, and cemented the idea of conducting a Manx Folk-Life Survey (FLS). The aim of the FLS was to 'record as much as possible of the life and crafts of the Manx community before the present century' ( Manx Museum & National Trust Report, 1950). The Survey was to 'build up a picture of Manx traditional life as it survived fifty years ago, and earlier. We aim to gather a mass of unrecorded information about buildings, crafts, tools and utensils, agriculture and fishing, dress and ornament, customs and beliefs, together with details of the people then alive and incidents in their life. Following the lead of pioneer workers in Scandinavia, we have adopted the name 'Folk-Life' as the best compendious term to define the scope of this Survey. We are not concerned with the formal and official aspect of the Island's past history, with the laws and constitution, public events and historical figures. This is material that has been adequately collected and written about already' ( Manx Folk-Life Survey: Its scope and outline of material, FLS).

Mr Leslie Quirk undertook the beginning of this systematic collection, with approximately thirty recruited volunteers. The volunteers would meet at intervals to discuss their work with Museum representatives, and an eight-page prospectus defining the scope of the Survey was issued in November to help the collectors. The voluntary team of collectors travelled the Isle of Man interviewing contributors, making field notes and occasional tape-recordings, and then indexing to create an archive of memories and stories about the Isle of Man. Notable collectors included Charles Clarke, Eric Cregeen, Mrs Catherine E. Flanagan, Mr Neil Mathieson, Miss J. Margaret Stevenson, Mrs Grace Quilliam, Ms J. Quilliam, and Miss I. Margaret Killip. Collectors were instructed that 'information should be written down fully (and, where possible, in the actual words used) as soon as possible after obtaining it, if not at the time...Plans or rough sketches are valuable aids to verbal descriptions of implements or buildings, etc.' ('Recording The Passing Age how you can help The Manx Folk-Life Survey', 1950, FLS). Interviewees were also asked to write down their memories with the help of lists of questions. For the purpose of recording field names, roads, wells and other geographical features, Ordnance Survey maps were lent to surveyors. Contributions to the Manx Folk-Life Survey grew to include original (or copies of) photographs and documents, paintings and sketches and field-plans. The Survey also used information already gathered by a few Manx folklore scholars, notably the Speaker of the House of Keys A.W. Moore, Dr John Clague, Charles Roeder, Cyril I. Paton and W. Walter Gill.

The Survey drew an important distinction between folk-life and folklore, the former being very clearly what it aimed to collect: 'Folklore deals with the spiritual side of life - with beliefs and customs that give a certain religious and magical significance to the acts and objects of everyday life. Folk-life, on the other hand, directs one's attention not only to these beliefs and practices but to the normal occupations and material equipment of life.' ( Manx Folk-Life Survey: Its scope and outline of material, FLS).

Access Information

A small percentage of contributors' files are currently closed awaiting data protection review in 2015/16.

Advance notification of a research visit is advisable by emailing

Other Finding Aids

The archive includes a card-index to the Manx Folk-Life Survey created at the time of the Survey by collectors. The index has multiple subheadings under the main divisions of contributors; crafts & industries; distribution of shops and tradesmen; corporate life, domestic life, social life and various.

Archivist's Note

Biographical information gathered from two internal MNH reports, Manx newspapers and S. Harrison's (ed.) 100 years of Heritage (1986: 190-205). Isle of Man newspapers available online at

Fonds-level description created by Eleanor Williams (MNH Project Archivist), September 2015.


Proceedings of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society (Vol. V, no. IV) contains the article, "The Manx Museum’s Folk-Life Survey and Collecting Manx Field-Names'.