Cumbria Crack

Descendant of John Peel gets PhD following folk song thesis

Sue Allan

[A]n ancestor of the famous Caldbeck huntsman John Peel received her PhD in History from Lancaster University on Wednesday having completed a thesis on folk song from across the county.

It took freelance writer and researcher Sue Allan, 65, who lives in Wigton, ten years, part-time, to complete the degree as she was forced to take breaks when ‘life got in the way’ dealing with family and health issues.

Born and bred in the county, Sue has been involved in folk music for more than 40 years as a singer, dancer and musician as well as a researcher into Cumbrian musical traditions.

And, fittingly, Sue is the 5 x great niece of the famous huntsman immortalised in the famous folk song ‘D’ye ken John Peel…’

“Cumbria’s folk music, is a greatly under-researched area and my thesis ‘Folk song in Cumbria: A Distinctive Regional Repertoire’ shone a light on the large number of folk songs from, or performed in, the county since the late eighteenth century – more than 1,000 references to more than 500 individual songs, many of which are hunting songs and songs in Cumbrian dialect,” says Sue.

Since completing her PhD in early 2017, under the watchful eye of supervisors Professor Angus Winchester and Dr Thomas Rohkramer, Sue has given papers at three national conferences, some of which will be published and one is a chapter of a book ‘Music and The Idea of North’ to be published later next year.

Her next project will be a book of traditional Cumbrian music, dance and song.

Best known today in Cumbria as a regular contributor to Cumbria Life magazine, Sue currently contributes monthly arts and culture features and helps judge the magazine’s Culture Awards. She is also as a presenter/interviewer at county literature festivals ‘Words by the Water’ in Keswick and ‘Borderlines’ in Carlisle.

Previous posts include 12 years as the Project Officer at Eden Arts, freelance researcher at Border and Tyne Tees TV and production assistant at BBC Radio Cumbria.

Sue’s passion though has always been folk music, ever since she first sang in folk clubs at age 15, going on to co-found Carlisle Morris and Throstles Nest women’s morris teams in the 1970s and play for some 22 years in north Cumbria’s popular Ellen Valley Band, who often used local tunes and dances.

Alongside performance, she has continued researching and writing about the music, customs and dialect of Cumbria, with important milestones being the publication of archive recordings of Cumbrian song as the CD ‘Pass the Jug Round’, and the collecting of clog/step dances and Cumbrian carnival morris dances – including one from Wigton performed by both her mother and grandmother.

Further information on Sue’s Academia website:

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