In the beginning

In the late 1990s, Professor Clive Upton at the University’s School of English and Dr Oliver Pickering from Special Collections realised the need to preserve the Survey of English Dialects, carried out between 1951 and 61, and the records of the Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies (IDFLS).

They undertook a three-year project between 2002 and 2005 to assemble and catalogue all the sound recordings, photographs, notebooks, folklife files and other materials that had been collected over the years. This resulted in the creation of a rich and diverse archive – the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture – housed at the Brotherton Library. The creation of the LAVC meant that all the materials from the SED and Folk Life Survey were gathered together, electronically catalogued, and most importantly, permanently protected. They could now be used for future research.

Two people standing in front of farm buildings

What is in the archive?

Whether you’re new to dialect and local traditions or something of a specialist, there is something for everyone in the LAVC. Highlights include:

  • The Survey of English Dialects (SED) – a mammoth information gathering exercise that took place between 1951 and 1961 to record the language, traditions and lifestyle of people in 313 localities.
  • Audio recordings, printed items, manuscripts and over 2,000 photographs relating to the above survey’s locations and participants.
  • Over 800 audio recordings made by the University of Leeds’s Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies (IDFLS) and printed material from their reference library. The IDFLS was founded at the University of Leeds in 1964, to continue the research carried out by the SED and connect the dots between dialect and traditional rural culture. The Institute ran the Folk Life Survey which, like the Survey of English Dialects, aimed to document rural practices before they were changed or lost as a result of mobility and modernisation. The Institute closed in 1983.

Together this material provides a fascinating and valuable record of the dialect, culture, beliefs and way of life of our ancestors across England in the 19th and 20th centuries. This collection can now be enjoyed from the comfort of your own home through this website – a key output of the National Heritage Lottery-funded Dialect and Heritage Project.

A person and a car

How to search the Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture

The Leeds Archive of Vernacular Culture is available to search online! This short video is designed to help you navigate the archive and work out how to search for the things that interest you - let us know what you find!

How to search the Archive


Hard of hearing or need a transcript? Access it here.