This website is a visual tour of the customs and traditions of the British Isles. There are thousands of them, of course, but this is confined to the customs which happen to have been covered by Collections Picture Library photographers over the last fifty years or so. There must be at least 400 customs included, rituals which occur in the same place and on the same date each year, known in the trade as ‘Calendar Customs’, plus an extensive gallery of folkish art, food, superstitions, habits, people, and things which seem appropriate. We are well aware that some well-known customs have been left out; nothing personal, it just means none of us has covered it and we have not shot anything specifically for this project. We have used about 25% of the custom pictures Collectionspicturelibrary.co.uk has on-line but no more than 0.2% of the custom transparencies, prints and illustrations the library has on file. We thought we would share with you (absolutely free!) something of the interest and joy of this intriguing subject. Enjoy your explorations. If you want to use any of the pictures follow the instructions on our main website
About two thirds of the pictures are by Brian Shuel. That’s me. I got into customs through designing and photographing folk record sleeves. My first custom was at Bampton on Spring Bank Holiday 1963 and my last the Bakers and Sweeps Football at Waltham Cross in 1993. The current custom ‘revival’ is not adequately represented. It depends how you count but I must have covered well over 150 perhaps 200, many of them more than once. In 1990 the Shuel family started Collections Picture Library (which deals with almost anything to do with the British Isles) and since then I have not been taking pictures much, being busy with other things. Most of the illustrations are from my own collection as well; I have been collecting antiquarian prints because I like them and they prove that many customs really are antiquarian. I have been encouraging our other contributors to keep us up to date; their photographs tend to be more recent than mine. Still if you think there are too many of my pictures here I’m the one who did most of the work and the family owns the library!
There are many ways of taking photographs. My own approach is objective and straightforward; all I want to do, in this or any other field of photographic work, is to find out what is going on and present it in the simplest possible way. These pictures are not intended, nor have they turned out, to be promotional in any way. Nor do any of us take customs too seriously. Some of them are truly ridiculous, but in general they are interesting, good fun, and tell us a lot about the people who live on our islands.
I have to take responsibility for the words as well, including all the picture captions. Opinions offered are mine; they are not always on message. If you don’t agree with them let’s hear from you.
If dates are given they are correct. Approximate dates (c1985, 1980s, etc) are as close as I can suggest with confidence. No date at all means I don’t know. I should point out that Collections is a commercial library and that publishers won’t use pictures which are ‘out of date’. Enthusiasts know that some custom pictures remain valid for decades, even centuries, but picture editors don’t so photographers tend not to date their pictures in the hope they will have a longer shelf-life. On the other hand photographs can be laid down, like wine, to mature into Important Historical Documents. My own earliest pictures are 50 years old (and getting better every day!)
The information has been gleaned from my own observations, my own ‘National Trust Guide to Traditional Customs of Britain’ (1985), Steve Roud’s ‘The English Year’ (2006), several other books and in particular Google/Wikipedia, who seem to know almost everything, though with wildly varying degrees of depth and accuracy. I think I am savvy enough in the custom field to recognise the real thing. Whoever wrote all that Christmas related stuff is brilliant. However a general rule is ‘Never trust anything a morris dancer, a promoter or a local authority website tells you’.
Some advice. This website is not searchable by keyword. It is intended to be read like a book. You can go right through (if you have the time and interest) by starting at the home page and just clicking on the ‘NEXT’ button until you get to the end. Otherwise you can click on any section in the index and take it from there. There are over 1000 pictures, many used twice and some three or even four times because they are at home in more than one section. Clicking on any picture gives you a larger version and the invitation to go on to our main website.
Collectionspicturelibrary.co.uk currently has 69,266 pictures on line. The keyword CUSTOM brings up 4,859 of them, too many to wade through. If you are looking for something in particular put in the actual name of the custom or place, but as a general suggestion for keywords try the section headings to this Custom website. You are welcome to explore the main website, of course.
Finally, back to this Custom website. We have made it as simple as possible but anyone who knows about these things will see that it was fantastically complicated to produce. I have to thank my son Simon for devising systems that even an old technophobe like me could cope with and making the site look so good. So we feel you should know that Simon Shuel is not a bespectacled teenage geek but the grown up Director of Collections Picture Library - and a website designer for hire. Roll up!