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My edition of the earliest book devoted to East Anglian folklore, Bogie Tales of East Anglia (1891) by Margaret Helen James, has just been published. Bogie Tales is an important folklore collection which pre-dates the better-known collection of Suffolk folklore by Eveline Gurdon (published in 1893), but this first book devoted to East Anglian folklore has almost entirely disappeared from view. Very few copies survive, and the book is so rare that copies have been known to sell online for over £1500. It is possible that the book was a flop and the publisher pulped it – either that, or it was a very limited print run. Indeed, Bogie Tales is so obscure that, until 2017, even the identity of its author was unknown, since she wrote under the name ‘M. H. James’. It was only when Andrew Lohrum and Rosemary Pardoe discovered an obituary for the indexer Margaret Helen James (1859-1938) identifying her as the author of Bogie Tales that the author’s true identity became clear. Margaret James was the eldest daughter of Henry Haughton James, a maltster in Aldeburgh and Woodbridge who was a younger brother of Herbert James, Rector of Great Livermere and father of M. R. James. Margaret was therefore a first cousin of M. R. James. Her younger sister Minnie James was also famous, as the first female librarian of a national library and the leading advocate of women in librarianship.
Bogie Tales is the result of James’s own folklore collecting fieldwork on the Suffolk coast between Lowestoft and the Orwell Estuary, supplemented by material from the Waveney Valley (on both sides of the Norfolk/Suffolk border near Beccles and Bungay) collected by an anonymous male collaborator. Owing to the rarity of the book, some of the material in her collection has never made it into any subsequent books or articles on East Anglian folklore. Unfortunately, however, other material in Bogie Tales was shamelessly plagiarised by Morley Adams, whose 1914 book In the Footsteps of Borrow and Fitzgerald contains sections lifted verbatim from James’s work, with no credit given to James whatsoever. Worse still, Adams claimed to have collected some of this folklore. Even today, Adams is still credited with material collected by James because so few have had the opportunity to read Bogie Tales.
This new critical edition of Margaret James’s Bogie Tales of East Anglia is intended to put this right, and to restore James to her rightful place as a pioneering folklorist of Suffolk and Norfolk. I shall be writing more soon about M. H. James and her Bogie Tales for the Folklore Thursday website