Ethel Rudkin

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Ethel Rudkin
Ethel Hutchinson

Died21 September 1985 (aged 91–92)
Notable workLincolnshire Folklore
HonoursCoote Lake Medal

Ethel Rudkin (1893 – 21 September 1985) was an English writer, historian, archaeologist and folklorist from Lincolnshire. She pioneered the collection of folk material, particularly from Lincolnshire, and her collections are now part of several public institutions, including the North Lincolnshire Museum.


Ethel Hutchinson was born in 1893 in Willoughton, Lincolnshire.[1] Her parents were Richard and Ethel Hutchinson; her mother's family were originally from Suffolk.[2] As a young woman she was employed both as a governess and a groom by the same family.[2]

In 1917 she married George Rudkin from Folkingham,[3] and according to her obituary in Folklore had "a blissful but tragically brief marriage until his early death in 1918".[2] George had served as a commissioned officer in the Machine Gun Corps during the First World War and died in the influenza epidemic.[4] He was also awarded the Military Cross.[3] The North Lincolnshire Museum holds a handbag containing her wedding flowers and letters from him.[5] After George's death she returned to Willoughton to live and care for her parents.[2]

In later life, Lucy Arliss moved in with Rudkin, assisted her on archaeological digs and they lived together for the rest of Arliss' life.[2] In 1972 she and Arliss moved to a cottage in Toynton All Saints, near Spilsby.[2] Arliss died a few years later.[2] Throughout her life, friends knew Rudkin by the nickname 'Peter'.[2]


Rudkin was interested in the traditions and folklore of Lincolnshire and began to collect stories and objects that reflected those interests, against the wishes of her parents.[2] It was during this time in the 1920s and 1930s that much of her collecting took place.[1] In 1927 she assisted C. W. Phillips to revise ancient monuments for ordnance survey maps.[4] In 1931 she joined The Folklore Society, where her work on Lincolnshire was encouraged, in particular by Margaret Murray.[2] In 1936, Rudkin published her book Lincolnshire Folklore, with an introduction by Murray.[2] In the same year, her seminal essay Black Dogs was published in the journal of the Folklore Society.[2] Other articles included calendar customs, witches and stone-lore.[1] During the 1930s she was also active in the Lincolnshire Local History Society, who were hoping to establish a county museum.[6] In 1931–32 she excavated a medieval building close to Willoughton.[7]

Plough jag (North Lincolnshire Museum)

Folk music was an additional interest of Rudkin's and she collaborated with Robert Pacey on A Lincolnshire Songbook.[8] In later life she recorded traditional songs she had learnt as a child.[9] In addition, she also collected Plough Plays, building an archive which became one of the finest in England.[10] As well as the plays themselves, Rudkin spoke to the performers and made her own notes based on those discussions.[10] In 1952 she published a copy of The Later Bassingham Plough Play, which she worked on from a manuscript held in the North Lincolnshire Museum.[11]

By the 1970s, Rudkin was increasingly interested in the south Lincolnshire fens.[2] By the time of their move to Toynton All Saints, Rudkin had such a large collection of objects that she had to rent a windmill to store them.[2] She also began excavating at Eresby manor during this time,[2] as well as the brickworks at East Keal.[4] She also made a study of pottery and pottery kilns from Toynton All Saints and Bolingbroke.[12]

In 1977 a weekend celebration was held in Horncastle to celebrate Rudkin's life and her contributions to the history of Lincolnshire and the study of folklore in the county.[2] Hosting researchers was an important part of her life and many students worked with her over the years.[2] One such student was the archaeologist Hilary Healey.[13]

Rudkin died on 21 September 1985, aged 92.[2]


Coote Lake Medal awarded to Ethel Rudkin (North Lincolnshire Museum)



  • Lincolnshire Folklore (E P Publishing, 1974)[16]
  • Notes on the History of Toynton All Saints and Toynton St Peter (Old Chapel Lane Books)[17]


  • 'An account of the Haxey hood game 1932' Folklore (1932)[18]
  • 'Roman sites north of Lincoln: notes on several known and unknown' Lincolnshire Magazine (1932)[19]
  • 'Collecteana' Folklore (1933)[20]
  • 'Lincolnshire Folklore Witches & Devils' Folklore (1934)[21]
  • 'The Black Dog' Folklore (1938)[22]
  • 'Will O'the Wisp' Folklore (1938)[23]
  • 'Willoughton, Lincolnshire' Folklore (1939)[24]
  • 'Folklore of Lincolnshire, especially the low-lying areas of Lindsey' Folklore (1955)[25]
  • 'The Medieval Salt Industry in the Lindsey Marshland' Lincolnshire Architectural and Archaeological Society Reports and Papers (1960)[26]


Initially Rudkin's book Lincolnshire Folklore was not popular, but over time it came to be appreciated; when it was re-published in 1976 by E P Publishing, it sold out immediately.[2] In 1984 A Prospect of Lincolnshire was published.[27] This Festschrift, which honoured Rudkin's interests and scholarship, was edited by Naomi Field and Andrew White.[2]

The Black Dog book, owned by Ethel Rudkin at North Lincolnshire Museum

In 1938, Rudkin published what became a seminal paper on the mythology of the Black Dog in Lincolnshire and is one of the most complete for any region of England, including songs, sightings and folktales.[28] By 1958, the folklorist Theo Brown was referring to Rudkin's "famous article" in her own research.[29] One interesting aspect for folklorists today is that Rudkin did not just record malevolent appearances of the dog, but also times when people reported that the dog was protecting them from other apparitions.[28] Rudkin claimed that the phenomenon was viewed in a more positive light in Lincolnshire than in other counties.[28] She also recorded instances of 'black dogs' named and known by local communities.[30] In fact, she was the first researcher to empirically categorise 'black dog' sightings.[31]

The academic study of the Harry Potter series has also drawn on Rudkin's work on the Black Dog motif.[32]

Rudkin's research is referred to in a wide variety of research papers, including: on the Green Man;[33] landscape history as cultural practice;[34] and portents of death.[35]


The diaries of Ethel Rudkin (North Lincolnshire Museum)

Rudkin's papers and archives are held by Lincolnshire Archives, and include her archaeological notebooks, notes on her collections, photographs, diaries and correspondence.[36] Holdings at North Lincolnshire Museum consist of archaeological and historical objects she collected, these include: a Neolithic jade axe from Wroot; witch balls; and a hobby-horse from a plough jag team.[37] They also include fifty-five plough pebbles from the Scunthorpe area.[38] A gad whip owned by Rudkin is in the Caistor Heritage Trust collection.[39] Many of the large objects collected by Rudkin are at the Museum of Lincolnshire Life, which began to be acquired in 1966 by curator Brian Loughborough.[10]


  1. ^ a b c "Ethel Rudkin". Oxford Reference. Retrieved 13 November 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Brown, Theo (1 January 1986). "Obituary: Ethel H. Rudkin, 1893–1985". Folklore. 97 (2): 222–223. doi:10.1080/0015587X.1986.9716384. ISSN 0015-587X.
  3. ^ a b "George Henry Rudkin". South Lincolnshire War Memorials. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  4. ^ a b c Temple, Mark (2012). "Ethel H Rudkin". The Lincolnshire Poacher. Winter.
  5. ^ "Folklore at North Lincolnshire Museums". Humber Museums Partnership. 11 September 2020. Retrieved 13 November 2020.
  6. ^ Wilson, Catherine (1 January 2002). "'I've got a brand new combine harvester … but who should have the key?' Some thoughts on Rural Life Museums and Agricultural Preservation in Eastern England". Folk Life. 41 (1): 7–23. doi:10.1179/flk.2002.41.1.7. ISSN 0430-8778. S2CID 162026151.
  7. ^ "Heritage Gateway - Results". Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  8. ^ "A Lincolnshire Song Book – Library | University of Leeds". Retrieved 13 November 2020.
  9. ^ "The Owls and the Mice". Retrieved 13 November 2020.
  10. ^ a b c Cass, Eddie (1 January 2002). "J. M. Carpenter, Ethel Rudkin and The Plough Plays of Lincolnshire". Folk Life. 41 (1): 96–112. doi:10.1179/flk.2002.41.1.96. ISSN 0430-8778. S2CID 161628970.
  11. ^ Pettitt, Tom, and Peter Meredith. "The Later Bassingham Plough Play: Con-Textualizing a New Text." Folk Music Journal, vol. 11, no. 4, 2019, p. 44+. Gale Academic OneFile, . Accessed 14 November 2020.
  12. ^ "Interest Groups :: Archaeology Features". Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  13. ^ "Hilary Healey". Retrieved 13 November 2020.
  14. ^ "The Coote Lake Medal". The Folklore Society. Retrieved 13 November 2020.
  15. ^ "The refuseniks and the honours they turned down". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  16. ^ Rudkin, Ethel H. (1973). Lincolnshire folklore (1st reprinted ed.). Wakefield: EP Pub. ISBN 0-85409-992-1. OCLC 1242718.
  17. ^ Rudkin, Ethel H. (2001). Notes on the history of Toynton all Saints and Toynton St Peter. Pacey, Robert. (2nd ed.). Burgh le Marsh: Old Chapel Lane Books. ISBN 0-9515806-4-7. OCLC 828199581.
  18. ^ Rudkin, Ethel H. (1 September 1932). "An Account of the Haxey Hood Game". Folklore. 43 (3): 294–301. doi:10.1080/0015587X.1932.9718450. ISSN 0015-587X.
  19. ^ Rudkin, E. H. (1932). Roman sites north of Lincoln: notes on several known and unknown. Lincolnshire Mag 1. Vol 1.
  20. ^ Rudkin, Ethel H. (1933). "Lincolnshire Folklore". Folklore. 44 (3): 279–295. doi:10.1080/0015587X.1933.9718504. ISSN 0015-587X. JSTOR 1256429.
  21. ^ Rudkin, Ethel H. (1 September 1934). "Lincolnshire Folklore Witches and Devils". Folklore. 45 (3): 249–267. doi:10.1080/0015587X.1934.9718561. ISSN 0015-587X.
  22. ^ Rudkin, Ethel H. (1 June 1938). "The Black Dog". Folklore. 49 (2): 111–131. doi:10.1080/0015587X.1938.9718739. ISSN 0015-587X.
  23. ^ Rudkin, Ethel H. (1 March 1938). "Will O' the Wisp". Folklore. 49 (1): 46–48. doi:10.1080/0015587X.1938.9718726. ISSN 0015-587X.
  24. ^ Rudkin, Ethel H. (1 September 1939). "Willoughton, Lincolnshire". Folklore. 50 (3): 317. doi:10.1080/0015587X.1939.9718188. ISSN 0015-587X.
  25. ^ Rudkin, E. H. (1955). "Folklore of Lincolnshire: Especially the Low-Lying Areas of Lindsey". Folklore. 66 (4): 385–400. doi:10.1080/0015587X.1955.9717498. ISSN 0015-587X. JSTOR 1258804.
  26. ^ Rudkin, E. H. and Owen, D. M. (1960). The Medieval Salt Industry in the Lindsey Marshland. Lincolnshire Architectural and Archaeological Society Reports and Papers. Vol 8, pp. 76–84.
  27. ^ A prospect of Lincolnshire : being collected articles on the history & traditions of Lincolnshire in honour of Ethel H. Rudkin. Field, Naomi., White, Andrew, 1948–. Newland: F.N. Field & A.J. White. 1984. ISBN 0-9509821-0-5. OCLC 47674681.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  28. ^ a b c Quaile, Sheilagh (1 January 2013). ""The black dog that worries you at home": The Black Dog Motif in Modern English Folklore and Literary Culture". The Great Lakes Journal of Undergraduate History. 1 (1): 37–61. ISSN 2563-2124.
  29. ^ Brown, Theo (1 September 1958). "The Black Dog". Folklore. 69 (3): 175–192. doi:10.1080/0015587X.1958.9717142. ISSN 0015-587X.
  30. ^ Roads to paradise : eschatology and concepts of the hereafter in Islam. Günther, Sebastian,, Lawson, Todd, 1948–, Mauder, Christian. Leiden. December 2016. p. 1118. ISBN 978-90-04-33313-0. OCLC 960741779.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
  31. ^ Carr, Kiersten, "Hellhounds and Helpful Ghost Dogs: Conflicting Perceptions of “Man’s Best Friend” Encoded in Supernatural Narrative" (2018). All Graduate Plan B and other Reports. 1337.
  32. ^ Green, Amy M., 'Interior/Exterior in the Harry Potter Series: Duality Expressed in Sirius Black and Remus Lupin' Papers on Language and Literature; Edwardsville Vol. 44, Iss. 1,  (Winter 2008): 87–108.
  33. ^ Satchell, John. "The Green Man in Cumbria." Folklore, 1999, p. 98. Gale Academic OneFile, . Accessed 14 November 2020.
  34. ^ Matless, D. (2008). Writing English Landscape History, Anglia, 126(2), 295–311. doi:10.1515/angl.2008.046
  35. ^ Frisby, Helen (4 May 2015). "'Them Owls Know': Portending Death in Later Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-century England". Folklore. 126 (2): 196–214. doi:10.1080/0015587X.2015.1047176. ISSN 0015-587X. S2CID 161376066.
  36. ^ "Ethel Rudkin". Lincs to the Past.
  37. ^ "Ethel Rudkin – Folklore Museums Network – Folklore, Museum". Folklore Museums Network. Retrieved 13 November 2020.
  38. ^ B. Sitch, 'Plough pebbles from Holderness[dead link]' Journal of Medieval Section of Yorkshire. Archaeological Society 2, 2015, 11–19
  39. ^ "Gad Whip; C1820; L/CAICH/2010/99 on eHive". eHive. Retrieved 14 November 2020.