This article foregrounds discrepancies between vernacular singing in England and the work of London’s Folk-Song Society during the 1890s. Figures such as Lucy Broadwood, Kate Lee, and Hubert Parry acted as gatekeepers through whom folk culture had to pass in order to be understood as such. Informed by colonialist epistemology, socialist radicalism, and literary Romanticism, what may be termed the “folkloric imagination” concealed the very thing it claimed to identify. Folk song, thus produced, represents the popular voice under erasure. Situated as the antidote to degeneration, burgeoning mass consumer culture, and escalating urbanization, the folk proved to be the perfect tabula rasa upon which the historiographical, political, and ethnological fantasies of the fin de siècle could be inscribed. Positioned as a restorative bulwark against the shifting tides of modernity, the talismanic folk and their songs were temporal anachronisms conjured up via the discursive strategies that attempted to describe them. Increased attention should hence be paid to singers such as Henry Burstow and the Copper brothers of Rottingdean in order to rescue their histories from the conceptual apparatus of folk song.

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