Photograph © Raymond Townsend

Using the Opie Archive

The Opie Archive aims to make the Opies’ archival collection discoverable through digitisation, and detailed cataloguing and indexing. It will bring together the different parts of their collection, currently spread between the Bodleian Libraries, Folklore Society Archives and the British Library, via a single interface. It is still a work in progress so not all features are fully developed.


At present, the Browse displays the Children's papers and covering correspondence, c.1947-1989, of the Archive of Iona and Peter Opie at the Bodleian Libraries [‘the Opie Working Papers’].
To ‘open up’ the next level, click on the + sign
To ‘close’ it, click on the - sign.
The Browse facility lists the material in a hierarchy, like a family tree, in the order in which it appears in the physical collection. By clicking on one level in the tree, you can ‘open it up’ and display its contents or the levels below it. The levels in the hierarchy are box, file, document or intellectual item. Examples of documents in the collection are an Opie questionnaire, questionnaire response, essay or letter. Items of folklore and language contained within these documents have been catalogued to a further level of detail as ‘intellectual items’.
To display the catalogue record at any point in the hierarchy, click on its title. At document and intellectual item levels, the catalogue record includes a thumbnail of the relevant page.
The thumbnail can be expanded to appear in a separate box from which it is possible to scroll through a multiple page document or item, zoom in and out, move around the image, view it full page, and download the image. The Bodleian attribution and shelfmark for each page is displayed below.
Note that the catalogue record for documents displays the name of the document creator (or contributing correspondent in the case of letters).
Only those pages which have been catalogued as documents and items can be viewed as digital images. Browsing the archive therefore shows which boxes and files have been catalogued in detail. Thus boxes 1-3, 9-10, 12 and 46 are currently available to search and browse on this website. More will become available as detailed cataloguing proceeds.


The Opie catalogue is an online database. Information about the materials in the collection is stored in ‘fields’. Catalogue records contain the details of an ‘Item’ (a specific rhyme, game, saying, etc.). In each record there will be a field which holds the Title of the item, another which holds the Date it was collected, another for the Name of the informant, and so on.

Simple search

Type in one or more words and click on SEARCH. It will search ALL fields in ALL records.
The main drawback is that the Simple Search does not specify which field the search term should appear in. For example, searching for ‘Oxford’ will find items collected in that place, but also anything collected from a person called Oxford, or the word ‘Oxford’ in the first line of a rhyme, or something published in the Oxford Times, and so on.

Advanced search

In the Advanced Search, you can specify which field your search term should appear in, and you can combine different fields in your search. For example, you can specify a rhyme in the Title field AND specify a location in the Place Collected field.
On the Advanced Search page, there are four boxes in each row:
(1) Leaving the left-hand box set to ‘Any field’ will search ALL the fields. You can change it, to select the field you need, by clicking on the down arrow within the box.
(2) ‘Contains all’ in the adjacent box is the default (i.e. the field must contain ALL the search words). Change this to ‘Contains phrase’ if you want the search words to be treated as a phrase.
(3) Type in the word(s) you want to search for in the next adjacent box.
(4) Change the search from AND, to OR, or NOT (see Operators below) in the right-hand box.
A complete list of fields, and what they contain is given in the table below.

Search tips

In any search you can use an asterisk to truncate a word. For example, typing in farm* will automatically find the words farm, farms, farmer, farming, farmwork, Farmington, and so on.
Putting words in double quotation marks forces the search engine to treat these words as a phrase. Typing in “cup and saucer” will therefore NOT find a record which includes ‘I broke my cup, I broke my saucer’.
If you type in more than one word in a search box, without quotation marks, the search engine treats this as an AND search and it will only find records with Word1 AND Word2 (for OR and NOT searches, see Operators below).


These help you to refine your search. The default setting between fields is AND, but you can change it to read OR or NOT. For example,
Title = Each Peach NOT Place collected = Oxford
will find all examples of Each Peach Pear Plum excluding those collected in Oxford.
Place Collected = Oxford OR Place Collected = Cambridge
will find material from both places.

Special considerations regarding place and date

Because of the nature of the material, and the way the Opies collected, there is an in-built problem with both geographical places and dates. We have assumed that if a child informant reports a game or rhyme, etc., they play/say it at that place and at that date. In this case, the Place Collected and the Place Played are the same, and the Date Collected and Date Played are the same.
However, adults often include their recollections of what they played and said then they were children in another location. In these cases, the place and date of collection (i.e. when the item was written down) are different from where and when it was actually done or said. This distinction is preserved as far as possible in the catalogue data. Otherwise, for example, a Welsh saying may be listed as being Scottish, a song not composed until 1960 may be indicated as extant in 1930, and so on. Children who have recently moved from one location to another present a similar problem.
Most users, in most cases, will be primarily interested in the Place played and the Date played, rather than Place collected and the Date collected.

Subject searching

We have indexed the items in the collection by subject, to allow for a wide range of search strategies. Subjects includes Subjects can also be concrete or intangible.
In some cases, the item being indexed is about the subject (a rhyme describing a cat is about a cat), but at other times the item features something (Hopscotch features hopping, grid-lines, a stone, numbers, etc.). In the thesaurus, no distinction is made between about terms and feature terms.
Index terms are given as plurals.
Subject terms are organised as a hierarchical thesaurus, like a family tree. The idea here is that BROADER (i.e. more general) terms include NARROWER (or more specific) terms. For example, dogs would appear in the following hierarchy:
The entry for Cats would have a similar hierarchy, as would Rabbits and Donkeys.
This makes it possible to search for Dogs or Cats specifically but if you search for Mammals, you will get both, and the other mammals as well.
Because natural language has many synonyms, variant spellings, abbreviations, and so on, we decide on ‘preferred terms’ (the words which are allowed to be used) and ‘non-preferred terms’ (those which are not), e.g.
Desserts USE Puddings

How to search by Subject

In the search box to the right of Add Subject +, you can simply put in a word (e.g. red) and click on Search
or, if you want guidance as to what words are used and how they fit into the thesaurus, click on the Add Subject + box to call up the subject thesaurus. If you scroll through the list, you will find that the word red has two BROADER TERMS, which represent the higher categories in which the word fits - namely ‘Colours’, and ‘Colours, Numbers and Symbols’. So, you might decide to search for colours, to find red, blue, green, etc. all at the same time.
Please note that the subject indexing is a work in progress so results may not be comprehensive.

Displaying your search results

On the Search page, you can specify how you want to see your results:
(1) List – selected fields only shown in a compact list. Click on the Title of the item you want to open up the Full Record and see the attached thumbnail image.
(2) Detailed list - Selected key fields in catalogue format, plus thumbnail of item. To see all the fields, click on 'Full Record'.
(3) Map – displays search results as ‘hits’ plotted on a map.

Sorting search results

At the Search page, you can also sort your hits, by various fields.


Main fields  
Title As given by the contributor or derived from the item; see below for Standard title
First line Of a song, rhyme or chant
Standard no. (e.g. Roud) The Roud Folk Song Index is a database which provides a standard numbering system for songs known by variant titles.
Generic term Genre or category of item (NB this is a work in progress so results may not include all examples). Represents the key user-oriented point in the hierarchical classification scheme (under development). See also fields Category (broad), Category (sub-category) and Category (specific term).
Place collected or played See Special considerations above
Person name There are four person name fields in the database, according to the person’s role(s) as document creator, correspondent (letters), informant or collector. Searching Person name searches ALL these fields Person fields. The names of groups (e.g. Standard II class) and entities (e.g. Times newspaper) have also been entered here
Person gender Deduced from person name, where possible; otherwise ‘unknown/unspecified’; groups may be male/female
Content An indication of the item’s form or style, such as a text (stylised content such as a chant or rhyme), terminology, description, passing reference (such as a game whose name is mentioned but is not described), artefact, and annotation (by the Opies)
Other fields  
Category (broad) The broadest level in a hierarchical classification of materials (under development)
Category (sub-category) The second level in a hierarchical classification of materials (under development), sub-dividing the Category (broad) field, and in turn sub-divided by the Generic term field.
Category (specific term) The lowest level in a hierarchical classification of materials (under development), sub-dividing terms in the Generic term field (see above)
Collecting method Method used to obtain the information, e.g. questionnaire
Document category The kind of document that contains the content
Id Id number of the item (for page id, see shelfmark below)
Title (standard) Standardised form of a variable title/variant spelling
Person (collector) See Person above
Person (correspondent) See Person above
Person (creator) See Person above
Person (informant) See Person above
Person (intermediary) See Person above
Person age Where this is stated or can be ascertained from the document
Person age status Whether the person is a child or an adult (often in lieu of age), where this is stated or can be inferred
Physical format How the document was made and the information is formatted on the page
Place collected Special considerations above
Place played See Special considerations above
Place collected (schools only)  
Place played (schools only)  
Question answered Provides the wording of a specific question on an Opie questionnaire, where the item is a response to that question
Setting (physical) Physical settings of games and play, when mentioned in item description
Setting (temporal) Times of the day and times of the year associated with games and customs, when mentioned in item description
Shelfmark The number given to the physical page at the Bodleian Libraries