Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Ettlinger's interest in churches

1965.5.1 32-35 Photographs of Oxfordshire churches, by Ingegard Vallin. Donated by Ettlinger

1965.5.1 32-35 Photographs of Oxfordshire churches, by Ingegard Vallin. Donated by Ettlinger

1965.5.1.36-7 Thatched churches, Lincolnshire and Oxfordshire. Cuttings from Country Life circa 1951

1965.5.1.36-7 Thatched churches, Lincolnshire and Oxfordshire. Cuttings from Country Life circa 1951

1965.5.1.400-1 Sheila-na-gig St Michael's Church, Oxford

1965.5.1.400-1 Sheila-na-gig St Michael's Church, Oxford

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

According to Ettlinger herself, her interest in English churches began very soon after she arrived in England from Germany in 1938. In 1962 she wrote:

During the last twenty years, I have searched in Oxfordshire villages and small towns for tangible evidence of old beliefs or customs and have found that an incomparably larger number have been preserved in churches than in the open countryside and in secular buildings.[Ettlinger, 1962:160]

She seems to have often travelled with a friend:
'I would like to thank here my knowledgeable friend, Mrs Julia Stone, who for many years accompanied me.' [Ettlinger, 1969: footnote: 17] Nothing can be traced of Mrs Stone. She also names several people in the articles for helping her: they include Lord Raglan [1], Professor Brandon [2] and Lady Cox [3]

Her obituary comments:

In the 1960s she toured churches in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, noting all items of folkloric interest for articles in this journal (Folklore, 1962, 1967, 1969). Her interest in monuments and associated legends inspired a valuable paper on 'Seven Children at One Birth' (1970).

Her working card catalogue has several categories dealing with churches:

  • Chapel (Bridge)
  • Chapel (Thatched)
  • Churches, England
  • Church Architecture
  • Church Art Sculpture
  • Church Furniture
  • Church Bread-Charity
  • Church (Misericords)
  • Relics (Church)
  • Church Reliquary
  • Church (roofbosses)
  • Church (spire)
  • Church stables
  • Church weathervane

Under which she placed various postcards, photographs and cuttings relating to the sub-headings. Examples of such cards can be seen on this page.

It is clear that, although her family was Jewish, her interest in wider religious issues and in folklore in general made her interested in church architecture, carvings and monuments. She reported that her interest was in 'religious folklore' which she believed to be the same interest as that identified by Paul Drews, a German theologian, in 1901. [Ettlinger, 1962:160]

She first published her findings in 1953 in the Annual Record of the Oxfordshire and District Folklore Society. Each year she would publish a further report in this record until 1962 under the heading 'Monuments of Folklore in Oxfordshire'. She commented that 'their gradual publications has proved [sic] a great boon for I have received most helpful criticism.' [Ettlinger, 1962:160] Looking at these articles it is clear that they are a preparatory work for her three papers in Folklore on folklore in Oxfordshire Buckinghamshire and Berkshire churches. She basically runs through the county villages and towns alphabetically listing the things she found interesting in the churches.

Her paper on Oxfordshire churches was first given as a talk at a meeting of the Folk-lore Society on Wednesday, 11 April 1962, at University College London, at 7.30 p.m., under the title, 'Folklore in Oxfordshire Churches', it was illustrated by slides. Questions and discussion followed and the meeting closed at 9 p.m. The paper was then published, under the same title later that year by the society's journal.

In the paper, she seemed to wish to answer the question, 'why did the more or less talented anonymous craftmen [sic] prefer certain motifs? What personal or social influences worked upon them?' [Ettlinger, 1962:161] She found only one form of typical decoration in Oxfordshire churches, 'busts with linked arms, carved in stone on the capitals of the nave pillars'. [Ettlinger, 1962:161] She thought that these figures either commemorated medieval dances in churches or the support given by the minstrels to the building of the church. However, she did not feel that she had discovered much in Oxfordshire, 'discoveries were lamentably few, as Oxfordshire has been thoroughly explored by learned antiquarians.' [Ettlinger, 1962:160]

After she had published her paper on Oxfordshire she turned her attention to the adjacent counties, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire. As she lived in Oxford she may have been interested in working in counties that were easily accessible from home, though all three counties also contain many fine early churches. The extension of her investigations she lays at a contact's door:

Whilst I was studying the church-lore of Oxfordshire, Mr P. Spokes,[4] of Oxford, kindly advised me to extend my investigations over Buckinghamshire and Berkshire in order to gain a better insight. I followed Mr Spokes' sound advice and visited Buckinghamshire churches after my paper on the 'Folklore in Oxfordshire Churches' had been published. [Ettlinger, 1967:275]

She lists the interesting things that can be found in the three counties' churches, particularly those that will interest her fellow folklorists. She also compares and contrasts these things between the counties, showing the features that they share in common, as well as the things that are different.

She was not only interested in English christian churches. The obituary for her, written by Dr Jacqueline Simpson states:
She was also fascinated by Celtic traditions, especially those embodied in the Catholic heritage of Ireland, wher she had travelled extensively and had sought out remote churches, holy wells and pilgrim centres. [Folklore 106 (1995):86]

Further Reading

Ettlinger, Ellen 1953-1962 'Monuments of Folklore in Oxfordshire' Parts I - X, Annual Record of the Oxfordshire and District Folklore Society (copies of this publication are held by the Oxfordshire Studies Centre in 2008 and in the Sackler Library [Sackler SAC Floor LG R.ii.130 Issues: (1 (1949)-(1965)) ]
Ettlinger, Ellen 1962 'Folklore in Oxfordshire Churches' Folklore, vol. 73 no. 3 (Autumn 1962): 160-177.
Ettlinger, Ellen 1967 'Folklore in Buckinghamshire Churches' Folklore, Vol. 78, No. 4 (Winter, 1967), pp. 275-292
Ettlinger, Ellen 1969 'Folklore in Berkshire Churches' Folklore, Vol. 80, No. 1 (Spring, 1969), pp. 17-36
Ettlinger, Ellen 1970 'Seven Children at One Birth' Folklore, Vol. 81, No. 4 (Winter, 1970), pp. 268-275
Simpson, Jacqueline 1995. 'Ellen Ettlinger, 1902-1994' Folklore, vol 106 (1995) p. 86

The Oxfordshire churches and villages that Ettlinger wrote about:

The following pages list the village churches that Ettlinger discusses in Monuments, or Folklore in Oxfordshire churches and the main features she highlights in each article

Village churches A-C

Village churches D-I

Village churches K-R

Village churches S-Z


[1] http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/75510
Lord Raglan is Fitzroy Richard Somerset, fourth Baron Raglan (1885-1964). He was keenly interested in Monmouth. 'Lord Raglan's interests ranged widely: he was seen as a folklorist and antiquarian as well as a student of myth and ritual in all societies.' President of the RAI from 1955-7.
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._G._F._Brandon Samuel George Frederick Brandon Became professor of comparative religion at University of Manchester in 1951. Graduate of the University of Leeds, ordained in 1932 after Anglican training, spent seven years as parish priest and enrolled as army chaplain in World War II before beginning academic career.
[3] I have not been able to track down Lady Cox
[4] http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/dept/scwmss/wmss/online/modern/spokes/spokes.html
'Peter Spencer Spokes MA Bsc FSA (1893-1976) worked for the National Buildings Record during the Second World War making a photographic record of properties. He went on to list buildings of architectural and historic merit in Oxford for the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. He later became a member of the extra staff at the Bodleian Library, where he remained for the rest of his life. From 1951 to 1973 Spokes worked as an Oxford City Councillor, holding the offices of Sheriff, Lord Mayor and Alderman and serving on various committees. Further details can be found in Ann Spokes Symonds, The Life of Peter Spencer Spokes (Oxford: Ann Spokes Symonds, 1996).'