Doc Rowe and his Archive

October 2023 sees a concerted effort to raise funds for the completion of a documentary film about the legendary folklorist’s collections and with hopes to raise enough money to build a digital archive which spans over 50 years of collecting. Many of these traditions documented include those from East Anglia as well as across the country.

Doc Rowe

Rob Curry, co director of the film company Fifth Column Films (The Ballad of Shirley Collins & Way of the Morris) tells EATMT about his (and co director Tim Plester’s) plans to help Doc to share his archive as widely and as freely as possible.

My co-director Tim Plester and I are currently making a film about the folklorist Doc Rowe and his incredible archive. Since the mid-1960s, Doc has been visiting and documenting seasonal events up and down the country, and has built up an extraordinary document of English tradition, not least in East Anglia. Be it Molly Dancing, Straw Bears, skipping in Alciston, dicing for bibles in St Ives or quaffing cakes and ale in Bury St Edmunds, Doc has been there and recorded it.

We’re currently running a crowdfunding campaign (from 19th October 2023) to digitise a substantial portion of his priceless video material, so it can be permanently saved for posterity. You can donate HERE for this campaign.

For our part, in between making our first film, ‘Way of the Morris’, which tells the story of the Morris revival in the 1970s in Tim’s home village of Adderbury in North Oxfordshire, and our second, ‘The Ballad of Shirley Collins’, which offers a deep dive into the traditions of East Sussex, we ourselves ventured out to the heart of East Anglia, in search of the mercurial tradition of Dwyle Flonking. The result was a short film called ‘Here We’m Be Together’, but the film did not turn out the way we expected it to. We went in search of the origins of this tradition, which claimed to be depicted in Bruegel paintings from the 16th Century, but which felt more modern than that. We did indeed track down the origins, to a village in Suffolk in the 1960s, but decided that the myth was more exciting than the facts, and focused instead on the game itself. Having filmed the “Dwyle Flonking World Championships” in the grounds of Ludham Bridge’s Dog Inn, we happened upon a chance encounter with a fruit and veg seller around the corner, who had a shed with an honesty box outside his house. Some of you may know Ken Allen, but for those that don’t, the film will introduce you to a true, homespun, raconteur, who, fortunately for us, had taken part in Dwyle Flonking on numerous previous occasions (once dressed in drag).

Ken had no interest in the origins of Dwyle Flonking, it was just part of the local fabric, and something he simply took part in, unquestioningly. And it is this that resonates with all the customs Doc has documented and participated in. He sees them as expressions of community, as ways for people to connect and interact and celebrate themselves and their environment. In this way, he captures the continuity between the vast range of seemingly divergent traditions he has visited, be it burning Viking ships off the north coast of Scotland, beating the living hell out of your neighbours at the various Shrovetide football games of The North East, weighing gooseberries in North Yorkshire or dancing abut with hankies in The Cotswolds.

We set out to make this film because we wanted to draw attention to the significance of Doc’s archive, both to the communities he’s documented, but also to the vernacular history of the British Isles. We are now near the end of the process, but still need to access a small portion of the material Doc currently has stored upon film and video cassettes in his storehouse in Whitby. Rather than restrict ourselves to advocating for the collection, we thought we’d use this as an opportunity to be a part of saving it for future generations, and are therefore running a campaign not to raise money for the film, but to digitise the entirety of his audio-visual material related to seasonal events, so it can be permanently archived and also (ultimately) be made available for public viewing. Please do take a look at our fundraising campaign, share far and wide, and be a part of it if you can. Collectively, we will have done those who come after us a very huge service!

Crowdfunding Campaign Link HERE

Fifth Column Films and their teaser Doc Rowe Archive film HERE