Catalogue of the Archive of Iona and Peter Opie, c.1930-1999

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Svenja Kunze and Sarah Thiel
2017


Catalogued with the generous support of the Wellcome Trust

This is the first edition of the catalogue. Further material will be added in subsequent editions as the result of ongoing cataloguing work.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
A   Children's papers and covering correspondence c.1947-1989
    A.1   Children's papers and covering correspondence pre-1960 c.1949-1981
    A.2   Children's papers and covering correspondence from 1960 c.1947-1989
    A.3   Camberwell Public Libraries Essay Competitions c.1951-1961
    A.4   Other related material c.1950-1982


Archive of Iona and Peter Opie

c.1930-1999, with earlier collected material

Abstract:
Working papers of Iona Opie (b. 1923) and Peter Opie (1918-1982), folklorists and book collectors, with some personal and family papers.

Extent: 40 Linear metres
Language(s) of Material: English

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Opie 1-46. Futher shelfmarks to be added.

Introduction

Iona Opie (b. 1923) and Peter Opie (1918-1982) were a husband-and-wife team researching childhood folklore. They started their work in the 1940s, when the birth of their first child sparked off their interest in nursery rhymes. Over more than four decades, they extended their research into many other areas of children’s culture, including children's literature, play and games, children’s language, customs, beliefs and superstitions.

The Opies were avid collectors, and over the decades amassed one of the world’s largest collections of children’s books and printed ephemera, covering children’s literature from the 16th to the 20th century. The Opies' collection of children’s literature – over 20,000 pieces – was donated to the Bodleian Library in 1988.

However, in researching children’s culture, the Opies not only relied on books published for children. Instead, they also wanted to collect the oral traditions of childhood – the rhymes, songs and games, the language and customs of the playground – and in doing so, they took the approach of the collecting these from the children themselves.

In November 1951, the Opies placed an advert in The Sunday Times, seeking help from teachers in collecting children’s lore and language - the idea being that schoolchildren would answer a set of questions about counting out rhymes, local superstitions, cheers, slang and abbreviations, and return these ‘suggestionaires’, as the Opies called their survey sheets, via their teachers. Over the years the method evolved into asking open questions, or encouraging the children to freely describe their games and playground activities, hobbies and preferences. The teachers were instructed not to direct or aid the children when writing these papers, and even to leave the spelling unchecked. From the 1950s through to the 1990s, the Opies received thousands of replies from children from schools all over the UK, often with accompanying letters from the teachers describing the local playground culture from their perspective, and sending in school journals, photographs, newspaper clippings and other background information. With some of their correspondents, the Opies stayed in touch over years, allowing them to trace the development of games and playground crazes at a particular school or in a particular area over time.

To process and analyse their data, the Opies developed a daily work routine at their home in West Liss, Hampshire: Iona Opie would sort and analyse the incoming information and compile working materials, adding survey responses, secondary literature and bibliographical notes. Peter Opie would then write up the results in a first draft, on which Iona Opie would comment on the basis of her data, and so on. This produced an ever-expanding system of working files, each one relating to a particular game, activity or custom. Iona Opie's meticulous approach to data management was crucial to keeping physical and intellectual control of the complex and extensive collection of research material.

Neither of the Opies had an academic background, as they were very much private researchers and authors, not associated with any academic institution. However, the Opies published more than 20 books – anthologies of traditional nursery rhymes, songs and fairy tales, as well as observations and analysis of children’s play and games in the street and in the playground, and the lore and language of schoolchildren - which were critically acclaimed for their contribution to folklore and childhood research, as well as being popular with non-academic readers. Amongst many other honours and awards recognizing their work, Iona and Peter Opie both received honorary MAs from the University of Oxford in 1962.

After Peter Opie's death in 1982, Iona Opie continued to work on the many books that were still projected, before retiring in the 1990s from more than 50 years of childlore research.

cf. Opie, Peter Mason (1918-1982) in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Scope and Content

The Opie Archive ['Opie Working Papers'] currently comprises:

Restrictions on Access

The Opie Archive is currently being catalogued, with work scheduled to finish in June 2018.

Please note that whilst we are trying to accommodate urgent researchers’ requests for access wherever possible, sequences of the Opie Archive will become temporarily unavailable whilst preservation and cataloguing work is being carried out. If you need to consult material from the Opie Archive before June 2018, please contact us with generous advance notice so we can advise on the availability of the material in question and make the necessary arrangements.

Restrictions on Access

Material of a sensitive personal or corporate nature is closed.

Acquisition

The bulk of the archive was donated by Iona Opie in various tranches between 1991 and 2006. Some additional manuscript material was transferred to the archive from the Opie Collection of Children's Literature at the Bodleian Library in 2017.

Preferred Form of Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Library [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, where available, e.g. MS. Opie 1, fols. 1-2, or else followed by shelfmark and file or folder number, e.g. MS. Opie 47, folder 1].

Related Material

The Opie Collection of Children's Literature (16th to 20th century children's books and printed ephemera) is held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

The British Library, London, holds the Opie Collection of Children's Games and Songs (sound recordings made by Iona Opie during her field research).

Personal name(s) (NCA Rules)

Opie | Iona Margaret Balfour | nee Archibald | b. 1923 | book collector and historian of the lore of childhood
Opie | Peter Mason | 1918-1982 | book collector and historian of the lore of childhood

Subject(s)

Book collecting
Children's literature
Folklore and children

A   Children's papers and covering correspondence c.1947-1989

Biographical/Historical

As part of their early research in nursery rhymes, the Opies had started in 1946 to write to the newspapers and magazines, such as The Sunday Times or The Times Literary Supplement, to ask readers to send rhymes and songs they remembered from their childhood.

When, after the completion of The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (1951), the Opies turned their attention to the lore and language of school children, they again wrote to The Sunday Times to seek help from readers in collecting “any accounts of skipping, ball bouncing, or counting-out rhymes, catch rhymes, riddle rhymes or tongue-twisters; also popular sayings, nominees, back chat, youthful oaths, and other joys, seemly or unseemly, traditional among schoolchildren from seven to fourteen.” ( The Sunday Times, 4 Nov 1951) Amongst the replies were many letters by teachers offering help, prompting the Opies to develop their first questionnaire ‘The Oral Lore of School Children’ in order to collect the accounts of childlore in a more systematic way, and directly from the children. This questionnaire evolved throughout the 1950s, and yielded thousands of individual replies.

Over the years, the Opies developed a large network of contacts from all over the UK. These contacts were usually teachers who would ask their pupils to answer the questionnaires. Each of the contacts was assigned an individual reference number by the Opies, linking to a series of notebooks which contain the correspondents contact details and information on their activity, when last contacted, which material received etc. These reference numbers played a crucial role in keeping intellectual and physical control of the ever growing collection of research material.

After the completion of The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren in 1959, the Opies' research interest shifted from a focus on language and verbal traditions towards games and playground activities, which is also indicated by the use of a new questionnaire ('The Games and Crazes of Schoolchildren') from 1959/1960. This new questionnaire, used throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, produced a second large fund of children’s papers, which the Opies used as the raw material for their books on children’s games, in particular for Children’s Games in Street and Playground, published in 1969.

Many of the children’s papers are copied out or clipped, as the Opies used to excerpt descriptions of rhymes, games or activities of particular interest and add them into their subject-based working files. These files will be added to the archive as B. Working papers as part of ongoing cataloguing work.


Scope and Content

Children’s papers sent in reply to the Opies' questionnaires, ranging from a simple list of yes/no answers to short essays freely describing customs and beliefs, sayings and terminology, chants and rhymes, games, crazes and activities. The children's papers, grouped by school, usually come with covering letters and notes by the teacher or other Opie contact who collected the material, and often with additional material such as school magazines and prospectuses, newspaper cuttings, maps and photographs. The material also contains some (semi-)personal correspondence with the contacts, e.g. Christmas cards or personal news. The series also includes original children’s papers obtained from other sources, chiefly a large number of children’s entries to essay competitions, dating from the 1950s and early 1960s, run by the Camberwell Public Libraries in south London.

Arrangement

The children's papers and covering correspondence in reply to Opie questionnaires are arranged as found in two main sequences: A.1 material collected before c.1960, and A.2 papers from c.1960 onwards. A third sequence of children's papers (A.3) comprises a collection of children's essays originally submitted to essay competitions run by the Camberwell Public Libraries. A.4 comprises other source material of children's rhymes and games, as well as papers relating to the setting up and running of the Opie questionnaires.


A.1   Children's papers and covering correspondence pre-1960 c.1949-1981

Scope and Content

Children's papers with covering correspondence, mainly 1951-1959, in reply to the Opies' 'The Oral Lore of School Children' questionnaires. Also includes some later correspondence with the initial contacts.

Arrangement

Arranged by Opie reference number, largely keeping the original arrangement of the material. The Opie reference numbers are quoted in square brackets.


Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Opie 1-13

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1951-1959
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 1
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 464 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1952-1959
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 2
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 596 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1951-1958
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 3
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 612 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1949-1960 mainly 1951-1953
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 4
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 547 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1952-1955
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 5
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 500 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1951-1957
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 6
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 647 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1952-1964 mainly 1952-1954
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 7
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 636 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1952-1981 mainly 1952-1953
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 8
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 638 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1952-1960 mainly 1952-1953
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 9
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 628 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: 1953-1955
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 10
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 659 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1954-1968 mainly 1954-1955
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 11
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 677 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1954-1969 mainly 1954-1957
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 12
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 665 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1951-1957
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 13
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 403 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

A.2   Children's papers and covering correspondence from 1960 c.1947-1989

Scope and Content

Children's papers with covering correspondence, mainly 1960s and some 1970s replies to the Opies 'The games and crazes of schoolchildren' questionnaire, including a large number of contributions collected at catholic (primary) schools in the wider London area by teacher-trainee students of Maria Assumption Training College in c.1962. Also includes some earlier and later material without an Opie reference number, which was filed with the sequence. Presumably this material was collected directly by Iona Opie at local schools, or on travels.

Arrangement

Arranged alphabetically by place name, largely keeping the original arrangement of the material. The Opie reference numbers are quoted in square brackets.


Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Opie 14-33

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1960-1964
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 14
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 585 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1960-1974
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 15
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 417 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1958-1968
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 16
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 493 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1960-1973
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 17
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 440 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1960-1973
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 18
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 487 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1947-1988 mainly 1960-1969
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 19
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 593 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1960-1963
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 20
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 499 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1960-1981 mainly 1960-1962
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 21
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 587 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1960-1962
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 22
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 527 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: 1962
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 23
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 600 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: 1962
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 24
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 504 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1960-1962
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 25
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 612 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: 1959-1976
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 26
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 378 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1960-1989 mainly 1960-1973
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 27
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 445 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1960-1971
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 28
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 601 leaves

Scope and Content

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1962-1965
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 29
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 353 leaf

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1951-1963 mainly 1960-1963
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 30
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 482 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1959-1963
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 31
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 509 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1959-1964
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 32
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 402 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Children's papers and covering correspondence
Date: c.1952-1971 mainly 1960-1962
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 33
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 513 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

A.3   Camberwell Public Libraries Essay Competitions c.1951-1961

Biographical/Historical

In March 1955 the Opies wrote to the Camberwell Public Libraries [Opie reference 834] to enquire if they could use the essays written by children on the subject of 'Comics' for the libraries' 1954 Junior Essay Competition as background information for their research on the lore, language and games of school children. The library not only gave the 'Comics' essays to the Opies to keep with their collection of children's papers, but also sent the essays on the other 1954 competition topics, as well as essays from previous years. The Opies later also received the essays from the 1955, 1956 and 1961 competitions - hundreds of essays each year.

The essays were originally submitted to one of the Camberwell Public Library branches, usually via a school in the south London area (then the Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell). Most of the children writing were between 9 and 12 years old, but there are also some essays by younger children (age 6-8) and by teenagers (age 13-14 and very few age 15-16).

Few of the essays are dated, but they can be attributed to competition years via the topics. The Camberwell Public Libraries Essay Competition topics, as represented in the Opies' papers, were:

1951: 'What I did on November 5th', ' The best way to spend a winter evening'; 1952: 'Why I like television', 'Three books on a desert island', 'What I want to be when I leave school'; 1954: 'Comics', 'My friends and why I like them', 'All about my neighbourhood'; 1955: 'My camping holiday', 'Who I would like to be, and why', 'One Pound to spend, and how to spend it'; 1956: 'Why I like Camberwell', 'The country I would most like to visit', 'A visit to the moon', 'My favourite hero'; 1961: 'The games I play with my friends'.

The competitions in 1951 to 1956 seem to have started in autumn each year, with a closing date in the next year. Most of the essays from the 1954 competition, for example, would have been written in November or December 1954, or in January 1955.


Scope and Content

Children's essays submitted to the annual essay competitions run by the Camberwell Public Libraries, with some related correspondence between the Opies and the Camberwell Public Libraries Chief Librarians.

Arrangement

The original arrangement, a mixture of arrangement by essay topic, competition year and/or library branch, has been kept. Individual pages or essays obviously misplaced during previous use have filed back in the appropriate place. Original notes to separate groups of essays, e.g. by age group or topic, have been left in place as found.


Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Opie 34-43

Camberwell Public Libraries Essay Competitions 1951 and 1952
Date: c.1951-1952
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 34
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 560 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Camberwell Public Libraries Essay Competitions 1952 and 1954
Date: c.1952-1955
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 35
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 644 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Camberwell Public Libraries Essay Competition 1954
Date: c.1954-1955
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 36
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 430 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Camberwell Public Libraries Essay Competitions 1954 and 1956
Date: c.1954-1958
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 37
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 510 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Camberwell Public Libraries Essay Competition 1956
Date: c.1956-1957
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 38
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 489 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Camberwell Public Libraries Essay Competition 1956
Date: c.1956-1957
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 39
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 573 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Camberwell Public Libraries Essay Competitions 1955 and 1956
Date: c.1955-1957
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 40
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 610 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Camberwell Public Libraries Essay Competitions 1955 and 1956
Date: c.1955-1957
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 41
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 600 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Camberwell Public Libraries Essay Competition 1955
Date: c.1955-56
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 42
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 640 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Camberwell Public Libraries Essay Competition 1961
Date: c.1961
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 43
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 593 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

A.4   Other related material c.1950-1982

Scope and Content

(Children's) papers on rhymes and games obtained from other sources, and papers and correspondence relating to collecting the children's papers, including drafts of the Opies' questionnaires.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Opie 44-46

Material relating to 'Bairn Rhymes of the North'
Date: c.1959-1960
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 44
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 355 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Other source material of children's rhymes and games
Date: c.1950-1982
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 45
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 775 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:

Papers concerned with the setting up and running of the Opie school lore surveys
Date: c.1951-1977
Shelfmark: MS. Opie 46
Language(s) of Material: English
Extent: 262 leaves

Scope and Content

Comprises:


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