This is part of a project inspired by the work of one of the most influential oral historians of the 20th century, Eric Radcliffe Cregeen (1921–83). He recorded people from many walks of life and made major contributions to the Manx Language and Folklife Surveys; the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, and to the Archives of the School of Scottish Studies (Special Collections at the University of Edinburgh). Meticulous in his methodology, Cregeen kept detailed fieldwork journals, which he anticipated using for further research and in preparation of publications. Sadly that was not to be, as he died in 1983 at the age of 61.
"Cregeen kept detailed fieldwork journals"
While most of the tape-recordings were made in Scotland, Cregeen’s roots were in the Isle of Man. He did not grow up there but was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, where his father was a Methodist clergyman. However, both parents were Manx; his mother’s people, the Radcliffes, were from Peel, where his grandfather had a smiddy, and his father’s family were from the south of the island.
Throughout childhood and adolescence, Eric and his siblings spent school holidays on the island, “at home” among their own people. During these formative years Eric developed a passion for the Manx language, social history and culture, and he began to write down information gleaned from local folk, particularly the older generation, and to make lists of Manx vocabulary. In 1935, he won a scholarship to the Leys School, Cambridge, and in 1939 went on to university. He studied History and Latin at Christ’s College and became an avid reader of Anthropology. With academic rigour he could combine all these disciplines while drawing from his own experience to practise and perfect the skills of an oral historian. His studies were interrupted by the war, however, and Eric (a conscientious objector) worked on farms. After the war he resumed university and during the holidays headed for the Isle of Man. As his journal of 1948 shows, ties to the island seemed stronger than ever:
April 1: I walked along the quay and the shore road - black, cold night, pierced by a few stars, a brilliant planet, the light of the lighthouse and a few blueish lamps along the quay. The sea was thudding heavily on the shore – I cdnt. see it in the blackness. There wasn’t a person on the streets, but I felt as I walked that I was at home. Here my forebears farmed and fished, wrought iron and built houses, lived and died obscure but known in a small community. Here a man meant something. Here people live close to elemental things - winds, earth, the sea - and they become themselves elemental and simple and eternal by sharing in this life.
Mrs Lily Cregeen, custodian of her husband’s journals, initiated this project with Grace Notes Scotland, a Scottish charity “dedicated to handing on tradition”. Under the title ‘The Cregeen Journals: Sustainability, Land-use, Language and Culture’, the project has been led by folklorist Dr Margaret Bennett, former lecturer at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Scottish Studies.
Eric R. Cregeen’s journals, written between 1939 and 1982, kept a record of his ideas, travels, and fieldwork carried out in the Isle of Man and the West Highlands of Scotland. They include notes on local culture, social history, features of landscape and archaeology; his development of research methods; and accounts of visits made in the quest to document the way of life and traditions of people on the Isle of Man and the West Highlands who lived off the land and the sea.
As the journals collectively amount to almost 4,000 pages, it was essential to engage a team to digitize and transcribe them in order to conserve the collection for future generations and for further research. A bid to Heritage Lottery Fund secured 90% of the funding for the project, which was carried out over 20 months and, upon completion, achieved the following aims: • Page by page digital images of the unpublished fieldwork journals.
To date, 2019, the 9 volumes of the Cregeen Journals may be consulted via several libraries and other centres, including: