The Gypsy Collections ca. 1860-1998

Author: Katy Hooper
Held at: University of Liverpool, Special Collections and Archives
Reference and contact details: GB 141 GLS & SMGC
Title: The Gypsy Collections
Dates of Creation: ca.1860-1998
Extent: 226 archive boxes and 35 bound volumes
Language of Material: The material in the collection is written in English, various Romani dialects, and some German .
Name of Creator: Robert Andrew Scott Macfie & Gypsy Lore Society
Level of Description: collection

Biographical/Administrative History

Gypsy Lore Society

In May 1888 David MacRitchie, a qualified accountant from Edinburgh who had given up his profession in favour of his intellectual pursuits, sent out a circular announcing the newly formed Gypsy Lore Society. The circular expressed that the aim of the society would be " ...investigating the Gypsy question in as many-sided a manner as possible ". The first period of the society lasted only four years when, in 1892, having published only 3 volumes of the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, lack of funds paralysed its activities. MacRitchie, though, was determined to revive the Society and, despite the fact that many of the contributors had died, he began in 1906, to discuss with John Sampson the feasibility of this proposition.

It was a Liverpool man that they chose to take on the unenviable task of rousing the Society and Robert Andrew Scott Macfie proved the perfect choice. He began by sending out circulars; notices and letters of which he diligently kept the copies which today form a major part of the archive. In 1907 the first volume of the JGLS New Series was issued which included a prefatory note by David MacRitchie announcing the Society as "More vigorous than ever" and "devoting itself with renewed energy to Gypsy study in all its various phases" ( JGLS New series 1907. Within the early period of the Society Macfie increased the membership from below 100 to over 200 and even made the Society financially viable for a short time. With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 the Society languished once again and on his return from four years' service Macfie was an exhausted man finding himself unable to follow up his dreams for the Society.

The hiatus ended in 1922 when the Society had its third new start. With the initial backing of Messrs J and W Ferguson, this chapter of the Society did prove a success, continuing for the next fifty-two years with the input of such noted Gypsy scholars as E.O. Winstedt, T.W. Thompson, F.G. Ackerley, R A S Macfie, who resumed his post as Secretary and Editor in 1932 until his death in 1935, H.J. Francis and Dora Yates. Dora Yates had assisted Macfie with the editing and production of the JGLS from 1907 and on his death in 1935 became Honorary Secretary. Although she had undertaken the majority of the editorial control since Macfie's death, it wasn't until 1955 that Yates officially became the editor of the JGLS. It was she who brought the Gypsy Lore Society to Liverpool University Library, continuing her work for the Society from her office in the University even after her retirement in 1945. Her death in 1974 ended what remains as the longest run of the Society which, with Liverpool no longer as its base produced a sporadic fourth series and, in 1977, re-located, re-emerging as the Gypsy Lore Society North American Chapter. The Archive of Gypsy Lore Society, though, remains at Liverpool University and proves a unique testament to the Society and those figures who dedicated much of their lives to carrying on its work.

Robert Andrew Scott Macfie

Robert Andrew Scott Macfie (1868-1935) was Honorary Secretary of the Gypsy Lore Society 1907-1914, and editor of the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society 1907-1914 and 1933-1935. He was educated at Cambridge, Edinburgh and Göttingen Universities before joining Messrs. Macfie and Sons sugar refining business, which his family had owned and operated in Liverpool since 1838. Macfie spent a short while abroad when serving in the Army but returned to Liverpool to become one of the first members of the distinguished University Club. Macfie's association with the Club brought him into contact with the group of brilliant scholars who were at the time building up the University College, a number of whom were also keen Gypsiologists.

In 1907 John Sampson and David MacRitchie persuaded Macfie to revive the Gypsy Lore Society. For the next 30 years Macfie was the inspiration for the Society and acted as Secretary and editor for many years. He became one of England's leading authorities on Gypsies and their language, recording vast quantities of dialect, folk tales and songs from various bands of Gypsies in Britain, including the Lovari (or 'German') Gypsies who visited England in 1906 and the 'Coppersmith Gypsies' who came into the country in 1912. In the summer of 1913 Macfie travelled through Bulgaria in the company of a band of gypsy horse-dealers and subsequently wrote a lively account of this adventure for the Gypsy Lore Society entitled "With Gypsies in Bulgaria".

During the First World War, Scott Macfie joined the Liverpool Scottish Regiment as Quartermaster-Sergeant, serving in the trenches as a member of the British Expeditionary Force, and was awarded the Military Medal. After his return from the war, ill-health forced Macfie to retire to the Yorkshire Dales and in June 1935 he died. On his death Macfie's library was bequeathed to the Gypsy Lore Society and has been preserved by the University of Liverpool as a unique collection of Gypsy Lore.

Scope and Content

The Gypsy Lore Society Archive held in the Special Collections and Archives of the Sydney Jones Library includes over 10 000 letters relating to Gypsy matters and the GLS plus some manuscript material, dating from ca. 1888-1973 .

The Scott Macfie Gypsy Collection contains items collected by Robert Andrew Scott Macfie 1868-1935 . At the time of its presentation, the Collection contained more than 450 books and 280 articles (not including reprints from the Journal ), and broadsheet edicts, pamphlets in Russian, German and Hungarian, plays, press cuttings, theses and dissertations, sheet music plus manuscripts, drawings, sound recordings, photographs, slides and glass negatives. The collection is maintained as an active collection, with a small number of items added each year, bringing the current total of books in the Collection to almost 2500.


The Gypsy Lore Society and the Scott Macfie Gypsy Collection are two separate fonds, however due to the complementary nature of the archives they have been included here as one Collection level description.

The Gypsy Lore Society Archive is arranged into groups of

  • Correspondence
  • Administrative materials
  • Gypsiologist papers

The Scott Macfie Gypsy collection is arranged into groups of

  • Photographs
  • Illustrations
  • Artifacts
  • Audio-Visual Material
  • Manuscripts
  • Newspaper Cuttings


The collection consists of two separate fonds, the Gypsy Lore Society Archive (GLS) and the Scott Macfie Gypsy Collection (SMGC)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Gypsy Lore Society Archive was bequeathed to the University of Liverpool Library by Dora Yates' will after her death in January 1974 . Duplicate copies of material were sent to the University of Leeds Library

The Scott Macfie Gypsy Collection, on the death of Scott Macfie in 1935, his sister and executrix Marion Sheila Scott Macfie donated the Collection to the Honorary Secretary of the Gypsy Lore Society, Dr Dora Yates , who in turn presented the Collection to the University of Liverpool Library on the 4th November 1935 "to be kept intact for all time as a reference library for gypsy students throughout the world". the collection also contains much material collected by other members of the Gypsy Lore Society.

Custodial History

The Gypsy Lore Society Archive was maintained by Dora Yates; after her death it remained with the University of Liverpool. The Scott Macfie Gypsy Collection was initially bequeathed to Dora Yates who then donated the collection to the University of Liverpool.


A small number of items are expected to be added each year.

Processing Information

This collection level description was encoded by Roy Lumb in EAD 2002 for inclusion on the Archives Hub, using the existing descriptions created by Katy Hooper.

Access Conditions

Access is open to bona fide researchers.

Copyright / Reproduction

Reproduction and licensing rules are available on request.


In the Gypsy Lore Society Archive the copyright in the Lee Family Correspondence is the property of the Lee family. Researchers must apply in writing to the Head of Special Collections and Archives to request permission to quote material from these papers. All correspondence will be passed to the Lee family representative who will be responsible for granting permission to publish material from these papers.

Copies in Other Formats

Microfilm copies of the Gypsy Lore Society letter books (Ref. GLS A.26-A.30) and Scott Macfie press cuttings bound volumes (Ref. SMGC K1-K29 and K34-35) are available.

Finding Aids

Finding aids are available in the reading room for both the Gypsy Lore Society Archive and the Scott Macfie Gypsy Collection.

Related Material

The Dora Yates Archive contains papers relating to the non-Gypsy activities of Dora Yates. The John Sampson Archive contains papers relating to the non-Gypsy activities of John Sampson.

Associated Material

The Brotherton Collection, University of Leeds Library

Further details of other relevant collections are available on our website .


van de Heijining, Miranda Two societies: on Rais, Rawnies and the Gypsy Lore Society, 1888-1938, Doctoral Thesis, University of Nijmegen Lee, Ken Orientalism and Gypsylorism , in Social Analysis 44(2), 2000 pp 129-156 Ackerley, Frederick George Friend of all the world: a memoir of Robert Andrew Scott Macfie, in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society 1935 (3rd Series) XIV (Special number) Yates, Dora A catalogue of the Gypsy books collected by the late Robert Andrew Scott Macfie sometime editor and secretary of the Gypsy Lore Society Liverpool University Press 1936