Anne Geddes Gilchrist dedicated much of her life to collecting and studying folk music in England, specialising in songs and tunes from her native county of Lancashire. Known mainly to folklorists of her time for her supporting role in England's Folk-Song Society, she was one of several independent-minded women active in folk music's so-called First Revival between 1880 and 1914.
Exposed to folk songs through her parents' singing, Gilchrist was also fond of church hymns and the singing games she learned as a child at her grandfather's house in Cheshire during Christmas visits. Though as an adult she had 'put away childish things', her chance attendance at a public lecture by an English folk song collector later re-awakened her childhood memories and Gilchrist began actively studying and collecting folk songs. Between 1898 and 1909 she amassed a considerable number of ballads, carols, street cries, nursery songs, hymns, and dance tunes, among other types of folk music. She was especially proud of the shanties and sea songs she noted from an old sailor in Southport (the first published in the Folk-Song Society's Journal) and the seasonal Lancashire rush-cart and pace-egging songs. Though not as large as other collections from the period, Gilchrist's work gained her the respect of her fellow folk music collectors.
At the urging of tune expert Frank Kidson, Gilchrist joined the Folk-Song Society in 1905. In 1906, her colleagues there invited her to join the Editorial Board, an activity which became an important part of her life's work. She spent countless hours researching and writing notes about the songs and tunes published in the Journal. Beside the 30 articles she wrote for a magazine called The Choir, she wrote more than 40 articles for the Society's Journal between 1906 and 1950, the topics ranging from the history of individual songs such as The Bitter Withy and Death and the Lady to an overview of particular genres such as street cries and carols. Gilchrist's special areas of expertise were children's singing games and the history of tunes - her expertise in these areas became so well known that other scholars often consulted her. In fact, her most widely influential articles delved into the history of hymn tunes that originated in traditional folk melodies. However, in the opinion of many scholars, it was Gilchrist's editing of major collections of Manx, Highland Scots, and Irish songs for the Society's Journal that was her most important contribution to folklore scholarship.
Gilchrist received many awards and honours during her lifetime, in recognition of her selfless contributions to folk music. She received many commendations from the Society at annual meetings and the Editorial Board dedicated the 1951 issue of the Journal to her. Three honours of which she was especially proud were the Gold Badge of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), a Fellowship in the Society of Antiquaries, and the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
After Gilchrist died, her executor sent her papers to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library (VWML). The collection includes not only the songs and tunes she gathered, but also her correspondence, the texts of her lectures and articles, and miscellaneous items ranging from poems to an old valentine.