All his working life was spent in the Civil Service, but he is remembered for his research into early theatre (particularly Shakespeare) and the history of London. He joined the Folklore Society in 1886/7 and served on its Council from 1888 to 1909 (with gaps), with traditional drama as his main interest. Ordish made the first real attempt to make a systematic collection of material on mumming plays and sword dances, primarily by published appeals for assistance, but also by his own collecting. He published three influential articles: ‘Morris Dance at Revesby’, Folk-Lore Journal 7 (1889), 331–56; ‘Folk Drama’, Folk-Lore 2 (1891), 314–35; ‘English Folk-Drama II’, Folk-Lore 4 (1893), 149–75, and a third in this series is to be found in his unpublished papers. Ordish tried to convince the theatre history establishment that their literary bias had led them to err in commencing their account of the development of drama with the medieval miracle and mystery plays. He maintained that the traditional drama which was collected in the 19th century was a direct survival of Anglo-Saxon and Danish custom which, along with the May games, hobby horses, pageants, and processions, were the true origins of the flowering of the dramatic impulse in post-medieval England.
As early as 1896, his projected book on the mumming play was announced as forthcoming, and it was still being advertised as such in 1905, but it never materialized, and there is evidence that its imminent arrival discouraged others from embarking on such a project. On his death, his extensive collection disappeared from view until it was resurrected, sorted, and transcribed by Alex Helm and Margaret Dean-Smith in the early 1950s, and is now lodged in the Folklore Society Archives. It was this exposure to a mass of mumming material which resulted in Helm's continued interest and influential writing on the subject, which put traditional drama back on the folklore agenda in England in the 1960s.
Alex Helm, Folklore 66 (1955), 360–2;Margaret Dean-Smith, Folk-lore 66 (1955), 432–4.Obituaries: Folk-Lore 35 (1924), 379.