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You are in: Norfolk > Places > Places features > Keeping Norfolk folk traditions alive

Folk musician Sandra Kerr at Queens Hill Primary and Nursery School in Costessey

Folk musician Sandra Kerr

Keeping Norfolk folk traditions alive

Children at Queen's Hill Primary and Nursery School in Costessey, Norwich, have been helping to produce a booklet of local folk songs. The project aims to unite communities through song and there is help from the friend of a saggy old cloth cat.

Traditional Norfolk folk songs are being remembered and celebrated by school children at a school in Costessey, Norwich as part of project to encourage group singing.

Norfolk County Council, in partnership with Sing London, have been working on the project since 2008 and plan to pull together a collection of local songs and the stories behind them to publish in a booklet.

Old and new songs

The idea behind the scheme is to bring communities together through shared song via the Norfolk Celebrating Talent programme – the countrywide programme to maximise the benefits from the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The children from the school have been learning traditional folk songs, as well as composing their own, with the help of Sandra Kerr, a music composer and the voice of Madeleine the ragdoll on the cult BBC children's series Bagpuss.

Sandra Kerr, lecturer in folk music at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, visited the Queen's Hill Primary and Nursery School on Tuesday, 27 January, 2009, to generate songs to be included in the booklet and to promote the awareness of Norfolk traditional music.

'Bagpuss, oh hear what I sing'

Many people will remember Sandra as a well-known ragdoll from the annals of children's TV past.

Bagpuss in the shop.

Sandra Kerr provided voices for Bagpuss

"I wrote music and acted in Bagpuss. I was Madeline the ragdoll, which everyone says is a good typecast, because she was so bossy," said Sarah.

"I was also several of the mice, played all the instruments in the series and sang all the songs," she added.

Norfolk has a rich history of folk songs and Sarah was keen to introduce the children to some of the county's great folk singers.

"Sam Long came from Winterton-On-Sea and he had been a fisherman all his life. He had hundreds of old folk songs, old songs he had learned from other fishermen and from people in his village," said Sarah.

Social cement

Sarah hopes that through educating Norfolk's youth about their musical heritage, it can bond communities together.

"Increasingly our society is fragmented and I think folk tradition can bring people together and act as social cement," said Sarah.

"The songs are about people everywhere and hopefully the children can identify with the stories, the characters and the work process.

"There are so many memories that come out of folk songs and children often say, 'Oh, my granddad was a fisherman'.

"If they can identify with that, I think there's a lot that goes on in terms of self esteem, understanding of local history and a feeling of belonging. I think that's what folk song has always done."

A sense of community

The booklet will initially be used in schools but it is hoped that it will be used by the larger community.

"We hope the booklet won't be put out just through schools, but community groups will use them in public events leading up to 2012," said Claire Gulliver, Norfolk Development Officer for the 2012 Games.

"We can engage people and residents in shared song, to bring people together in a sense of community.

"The Olympics isn't just about sport, it's about bringing people together and about culture and celebrating traditions."

Despite its rich cultural history, Norfolk's heritage is surprisingly un-celebrated.

"I didn't realise there were that many Norfolk folk songs," said Penny Sheppard, headteacher at Queen's Hill Primary and Nursery School.

"Being a Norfolk girl myself, it's quite criminal really.

"The idea with bringing in Sarah was that rather than just having a booklet and not knowing what to do with it, we wanted to actually work out how we can use folk songs within the school and volunteer to kick start the project."

Norfolk winter 2008/2009

"Windy Old Weather" at Happisburgh

Famous Norfolk folk songs

Although many traditional folk songs are regarded as being in the public domain with many regional variants, songs that specifically reflect Norfolk are in the running to be published in final booklet. They include:

  • Windy Old Weather – written about Happisburgh
  • Homeward Bound – written about King's Lynn
  • Blue Water Wherries – written about Lowestoft
  • Waiting For The Day – written about Lowestoft
  • Norfolk Harvest Song
  • A Cottage Well Thatched
  • The Thatcher – written by Mike King
  • Farmer's Boy
  • On Board a Ninety Eight
  • Bungay Roger
  • Newton Flotman Train
  • Just As The Tide Was Flowing
  • Bold Fisherman
  • Yarmouth Town
  • The Pretty Ploughboy
  • The Norfolk Turnippe
  • Butter and Cheese and All
  • The Outing – written about Dickleborough

From King's Lynn all the way down to Lowestoft, the selected songs reflect traditional life in the county and will hopefully be passed down for generations to come.

last updated: 03/02/2009 at 10:17
created: 30/01/2009

You are in: Norfolk > Places > Places features > Keeping Norfolk folk traditions alive

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