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Judge, Roy Edmund (1929–2000), historian and folklorist, was born on 24 July 1929 at 79 London Road, St Leonards, Hastings, Sussex, the elder son of the two children of Albert Edmund Judge (1899–1970), a watchmaker, and his wife, Lilian Winter, née Woolnough (1900–1971). Most of his years at Hastings grammar school were spent in war evacuation at St Albans; in 1947 he won a place at St Catherine's Society, Oxford, to read history. Here he met his future wife, Betty Rose Jones (b. 1929), when folk dancing. His national service posting to nearby Cowley after graduation in 1950 enabled the relationship to continue; they were married in Tilbury on 30 July 1954 and over the following nine years had a daughter and two sons.

After national service Judge completed a postgraduate certificate of education and in 1953 began teaching at Dovedale secondary modern school, Peckham. While there he took a diploma in biblical and religious studies, and in 1958 he was appointed to Erith grammar school to teach history and religious studies. Pious even in his youth, he moved fully to religious education upon accepting appointment as lecturer in religious studies at Furzedown College of Education in 1963.

Judge's career to this date had been undistinguished, but in 1974 he took the opportunity of a sabbatical to pursue at the Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies at the University of Leeds the study of the Jack-in-the-green, the perambulatory bush which was the traditional May-day custom of sweeps in the nineteenth century, and which was maintained by Oxford University Morris Men at Oxford's May morning celebrations. Judge had joined the morris team (and also the London Pride team) in 1959, and become their archivist. Here he found his métier. His MA in 1975 became a book, The Jack-in-the-Green (1979). This brought a historian's skills to bear on earlier interpretations of the Jack which had gone beyond the evidence (if they had assessed it at all); in Judge's typically uncensorious words, ‘problems can arise when too much reliance is placed on … intuitive insight’ (The Jack-in-the-Green, 2nd edn, 84).

The work did not just bring sound historical method to folklore studies, it made use of the wealth of local sources that historians themselves were only just beginning to appreciate, including local newspapers and manuscript collections, printed ephemera, and school logbooks. He also looked beyond the historical sources to literature, art, and drama in works investigating the reception of folk custom in society and how that in turn influenced the ways in which early collectors approached the material when passive interest turned to active engagement.

In 1980 Furzedown closed, and Judge took early retirement to become a latter-day gentleman scholar. Two themes dominated his work over the next twenty years: the history of May-day customs and of the morris dance. The first formed the subject of his doctoral dissertation, ‘Changing attitudes to May day, 1844–1914’, submitted at Leeds in 1987, and developed in a series of lectures and articles. One demolished the myth that the plaited maypole dance was introduced to England by John Ruskin at Whitelands Teacher Training College in 1888; another showed that the impression of a timeless quality given by the Oxford May morning celebrations masks a history of continuous development and change over several centuries. His ‘May day and merrie England’ (Folklore, 102, 1991, 131–48) took the ‘visionary, mythical landscape where it is difficult to take normal historical bearings’ and provided those bearings, starting with the nature and sources of the ordinary person's knowledge of May day in early Victorian times and tracing its development over a hundred years.

The second strand of research concerned the history of the morris dance, and specifically of its revival. Here Judge showed that Cecil Sharp's encounter with morris dancers in Headington in 1899 was not an isolated event from which a revival sprang ab initio, but was merely the turning point in a convergence of currents in theatre, pageant, and antiquarianism which had been under way for most of the previous century. He revealed how representations of morris in nineteenth-century theatre—hitherto virtually unknown to scholarship—contributed to their development in ‘Merrie England’ pageantry, and how the quest for authenticity in re-creation led to the pageant master D'Arcy Ferris's revival of the Bidford morris and Percy Manning's similar reactivation of the Headington team shortly before Sharp met them. He also investigated how the knowledge and attitudes of Sharp and others developed in the early days of the revival.

Judge served as president of the Folklore Society from 1990 to 1993, but was not naturally an organization man. His strengths were his eirenic geniality, a characteristic ‘Why, bless you!’ whenever friends performed an unasked service, a hesitancy in putting forward his views, which did not undermine an animated and dramatic lecture style, and an unfailingly positive response to life which extended even to his prostate cancer, the diagnosis and subsequent spread of which did not prevent his continuing to work until the last few weeks of his life. He died at Guy's Hospital in London on 17 November 2000, surrounded by his family. His funeral service was held at St Swithun's Church, Hither Green, Lewisham, on 30 November, and was followed by committal at Lewisham crematorium.

Michael Heaney

Sources  

personal knowledge (2004) · private information (2004) · The Guardian (5 Dec 2000) · The Independent (11 Dec 2000) · Folklore, 112 (2001), 89–91 · Folk Music Journal, 8 (2001–5), 251–5 · d. cert.

Archives  

priv. coll. · Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, London, collection


Likenesses  

C. Sheffield, photograph, c.1985, repro. in Folk Music Journal, cover · A. Bennett, photograph, c.1990, repro. in Folklore, 90 · J. Gilpin, photograph, c.2000, repro. in The Independent · J. Gilpin, photograph, c.2000, repro. in Folk Music Journal, 251 · photograph, c.2000, repro. in The Guardian

Wealth at death  

under £210,000: probate, 8 Feb 2001, CGPLA Eng. & Wales