Enid Porter (1909 - 1984) The Cambridge & County Folk Museum was set up in 1936 at a time when people were becoming aware that social history could be as interesting as the history of kings and queens, statesmen and generals. Social history that was deeply rooted in a locality with a distinctive environment and way of life, especially when that way of life was seen to be disappearing, had a special attraction. No doubt the motivation was often sentimental and romantic. Amateur collectors and enthusiasts held the field. In Britain folklorists journeyed to the remoter fringes of the country, to Wales and the Western Highlands, to record the language and customs that were dying out through contact with the modern world. The first folk museums were mainly in the uplands. But the founders of the Cambridge & County Folk Museum recognised that even in villages within an hour’s train journey from London, even in a town as cosmopolitan as Cambridge itself, distinctive traditions of living still survived. Cambridge memories and experiences were with Miss Porter from her earliest days. Although she was born and brought up in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, both her parents knew Cambridge very well. Her mother was from an old Cambridge family, and Enid paid visits to the family (‘numerous relations, who seemed to constitute half the population of Cambridge’) twice a year through her childhood, until she eventually came to live here herself. Her father, born in Bedford, had been a Non-collegiate student at Cambridge University. As such he would have lodged economically in the town, and he was one of the students who learnt the teacher’s craft by teaching in the Higher Grade School, Paradise Street, at the same time as studying for his degree. He would have learnt a lot about life in the poorer end of Cambridge at that time. Her father became a teacher at Southend High School, and aimed for the same sort of career for his daughter. Enid took a Modern Languages degree at University College London, and after training, took a post at a girls’ boarding school. It was not her own choice. She would have preferred, she said, at that time, to be a librarian. But that perhaps was because she could not envisage the career in which she was to be so successful. As a child, on visits to Cambridge, she had liked to wander in antique shops, wondering where the objects had come from and who had used them. She continued teaching through the war, and had a post at a training college, before her summer visit to Cambridge in 1947 brought to her notice an advertisement for a post at the Cambridge and County Folk Museum. Her family thought it would be ‘nice’ for her to be in Cambridge, but she must have seen immediately the fulfilment of her childhood imaginings. She began work that September, living in 3 Castle Hill, adjoining the four rooms in no.2 that constituted the Museum. She was to stay until her retirement in 1976. The museum collections even when she started were substantial, and she added to them sagaciously throughout her tenure. She also undertook scholarly research into the context to which they belonged. Her research took every form, from trawling through publications, archives, diaries and newspapers, to the active recording of stories told by a number of elderly fenmen – a neglected repository of local story-telling that is as vivid as any in its imagery and turn of phrase. She would take down their words verbatim in a notebook or commit them to memory for writing up later. One of her principal sources both of fenland tales and folklore was W.H.Barrett. The stories he wrote down in longhand were carefully typed up by Enid Porter and published often with only the slightest emendations. Barrett drew on childhood memories of illiterate storytellers who carried tales originating in the eighteenth century and earlier. The humour of these stories was robust and allegiance to the sober truth was not regarded as a strict necessity. For nearly thirty years she worked ceaselessly, caring for the Museum, cleaning it, expanding it and exploring the traditional life of Cambridge and the Fens, which its collection represented. She travelled around the Fens to meet people and take down their stories of fen life and fen traditions, as well as learning all she could of Cambridge history. She also gave many, many talks to local groups, which further encouraged people to volunteer their memories. The results were published in booklets and articles, very widely appreciated, culminating in her Cambridgeshire Customs and Folklore published in 1969. The previous year the Folklore Society had awarded her their prestigious Coote-Lake Medal in recognition of her work. By 1961 the Museum had expanded into no.3 Castle Street and Miss Porter had been provided with a small house built in the courtyard of the Museum. Her work had increased not only the size of the collection but the number of visitors, up from 2,330 in 1947 to 7,000 in 1968, and she had to be in the Museum, to hand out tickets, alongside all her curatorial duties. In 1975 she published Victorian Cambridge, drawn from the diaries of Josiah Chater that are held by the Museum. Like Customs this remains the definitive work in this area and is immensely valuable. In 1972 she was awarded an Honorary MA by Cambridge University in recognition of her work, followed in 1981, after her retirement, by the same degree from the Open University. It was recorded that her work reflected the objective of the OU in ‘promoting the educational wellbeing of the community generally’ with a cheerful, humorous and lively personality. During her lifetime she was for many the principal authority on Cambridge and Fenland history, and her work in the Museum and in her publications is still in use today.