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The British Library Bagford Collection

The Bagford ballads (shelfmark C.40.m.9-11) consist of three volumes (all c. 14” in height but of various width and thickness). The contents have likely been bound and rebound by the British Library, and each volume contains at the front a handwritten table of contents. The collection at first appears to be a surprising mixture of ballads and other printed materials, collected by John Bagford for his own personal use (as opposed to the parts of the Roxburghe collection that Bagford assembled for Robert Harley—though his training was a shoemaker, Bagford served as something of an entrepreneur who located broadside ballads for various customers, including Samuel Pepys, upon request). In The Broadside Ballad in Early Modern England: Moving Media, Tactical Publics (2020), Fumerton details Bagford's eclectic collecting practice, positing that he was first interested in the history of print, before being drawn more fervently to broadside ballads. Thus, the first volume of his personal ballad collection consists of a variety of printed scraps and materials, sometimes oddly trimmed, only 70% of which are broadside ballads. The snippets of print would appear to have been collected as exempla of various kinds of black-letter typeface before Bagford became entirely focused for the rest of the volume (and most of his collection), beginning with item #28, solely on black-letter broadside ballads. His second volume of 178 items consists almost entirely of broadside ballads, while his third volume veers more into broadside poems than ballads. This mash-up of genres that occurs in the third volume reflects the abundance of single-sheet verse of many kinds that appeared by the middle of the 17th century, often seemingly in imitation (and likely competition for the market) of earlier broadside ballads. Additionally, Bagford complicated his collection by cutting ballads apart, as did Pepys and Roxburghe (or their assistants), and in a few instances this resulted in reversed halves of pages (possibly such mix-ups were the result of re-bindings, but the British Library may have simply respected the original mis-orderings).

Because of the importance of the Bagford collection, EBBA has chosen to archive all of the items Bagford included, although those that are not technically ballads are noted as such in the "Public Notes" field of relevant citation pages (caveat: it is sometimes hard to make the call when looking at broadside verse as to whether it is, in fact, a broadside ballad, but we look for specific features such as typical ballad titles, tune titles, and a singable measure to familiar ballad tunes). These items that we deem are not “really” broadside ballads are not transcribed, but images are presented for users to assess Bagford's collecting practices for themselves. Ultimately, the collection comprises 410 unique items. The Bagford ballads were published by Joseph Woodfall Ebsworth (whose name resonates throughout this archive, primarily as the editor of the last six volumes of the Roxburghe ballads) as The Bagford Ballads: Illustrating The Last Years of the Stuarts, in two volumes (1878).