Fonds GB 0210 JORHYS - Sir John Rhŷs papers

Letters and cards from Whitley Stokes,

Identity area

Reference code



Sir John Rhŷs papers


  • [1822]-1953 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

1.073 cubic metres (117 boxes, 2 outsize wallets, 1 roll)

Context area

Name of creator

Biographical history

John Rhŷs, Celtic scholar, was born John Rees, at Aberceiro-fach, Ponterwyd, Cardiganshire, on 21 June 1840. He was the eldest son of a farmer and lead miner, Hugh Rees (d. 1886), and his wife Jane Mason (d. 1863). John Rhŷs was educated at Bryn-chwyth, Pantyffynnon, and Ponterwyd, and from 1855 at the British School, Penllwyn, where he became a pupil teacher. He studied at the Normal College, Bangor (1860–1861), and was subsequently appointed master of Rhosybol British School, Anglesey. In 1865 he was offered a scholarship to study at Jesus College, Oxford; in 1869 he was elected a fellow of Merton College. During the holidays he travelled and studied abroad, and in 1871 he matriculated at the University of Leipzig.
In 1871 John Rhŷs was appointed HM inspector of schools for the counties of Flint and Denbigh. He married Elspeth Hughes-Davies (1841-1911), a teacher originally from Llanberis, on 6 August 1872, and the couple settled in Rhyl. They had three daughters, Gwladus (d. 1874), Myvanwy and Olwen.
Although some of his work had already been published, John Rhŷs's reputation as a Celtic scholar was firmly established following a series of lectures he delivered at Aberystwyth in 1874, later published as Lectures on Welsh philology (1877). He was elected first professor of Celtic at Oxford in 1877, and made an honorary fellow of Jesus College. In 1881 he became official fellow and bursar of the college, and was elected principal of Jesus College in 1895.
Rhŷs's main field of interest was Celtic and Welsh philology. However his scholarly research extended beyond philology and his published works related to grammar, Celtic history, folklore, ethnology, and archaeology. He travelled throughout Britain, Ireland, and Europe recording Celtic inscriptions, in particular Ogam inscriptions.
John Rhŷs was a prominent figure in academic and public life; in addition to his scholarly research he was a popular public speaker, especially in eisteddfodau. He was president of the Dafydd ap Gwilym Society at Oxford from its formation in 1886, and chairman of the council of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion. He served as member of various committees, councils and commissions and, at the time of his death, he was chairman of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and Monmouthshire.
Several honours were bestowed upon him during his lifetime, including the honorary degree of LL.D., University of Edinburgh (1893); honorary D.Litt., University of Wales (1902); fellow of the British Academy (1903); and the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion medal (1912). In 1907 he was knighted, in recognition of his contribution to public services; and he was made a member of the privy council in 1911.
John Rhŷs died at The Lodgings, Jesus College, Oxford, on 17 December 1915; he was buried at Holywell cemetery, Oxford. The British Academy founded the annual Sir John Rhŷs Memorial Lecture; the inaugural lecture was given by his former student, Sir John Morris-Jones, and contains a comprehensive bibliography of his mentor's published works.

Archival history

Originally accumulated by Sir John Rhŷs, the papers appear to have been collated by his daughter Myvanwy, who gathered further information about the family, including papers of various relatives, for a proposed biography of her father. The papers were transferred to Sir Idris Foster, also Chair of Celtic at Oxford, in anticipation that he would undertake the writing of the biography. They were placed on deposit at NLW in 1978, as part of the archive of Sir Idris Foster.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Deposited by Sir Idris Foster in 1978 and converted into a donation by the Reverend Gareth Foster and Mrs Siân Thomas, his nephew and niece, in 1984.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Papers, [1822]-1953, of John Rhŷs, comprising a considerable group of letters to him, 1860-1915, including those from fellow researchers, friends and family; material, 1864-1919, relating to his published works, including manuscript drafts of books, articles, and addresses; and research notes, 1836-[1920x1945]. There are also personal and professional papers, [1822]-1953, belonging to, and accumulated by, John Rhŷs; and papers, 1862-[1947], relating to various family members, among them a substantial body of material accumulated by Myvanwy Rhys for a proposed biography of her father.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling

Duplicate copies of articles, and printed speeches, by John Rhŷs have been destroyed. Further details are given in file level descriptions. Authority to destroy unwanted papers is given in Departmental Appraisal Form SEB/2011/6.


Accruals are not expected.

System of arrangement

Some of the papers, including the files of general correspondence, appear to have been arranged prior to their being deposited at NLW. The collection has been partially listed and re-organised on at least two previous occasions since its arrival at NLW. The papers have now been re-organised and re-numbered afresh, and arranged in two groups: Sir John Rhŷs papers, and family papers.

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Readers consulting modern papers in the National Library of Wales are required to abide by the conditions set out in information provided when applying for their Readers' Tickets, whereby the reader shall become responsible for compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998 in relation to any processing by them of personal data obtained from modern records held at the Library.

Conditions governing reproduction

Usual copyright regulations apply.

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Language and script notes

English mainly, unless otherwise stated.

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

Various photographs and postcards have been transferred to the NLW photographic collection. Four posters recruiting soldiers during the First World War, found amongst stone rubbings within the archive, have been transferred to the NLW collection of posters. Proof copies, 1903-1906, of three articles by John Rhŷs published in Proceedings of the British Academy are NLW Misc Volumes 132.

An additional group of papers, 1874-1915, comprising correspondence, manuscript notes written and collected by John Rhŷs, and printed material, is held at Aberystwyth University.

Related descriptions

Notes area


Title supplied from contents of fonds.

Alternative identifier(s)

Virtua system control number


Access points

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Name access points

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Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier

Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru = The National Library of Wales

Rules and/or conventions used

Description follows NLW guidelines based on ISAD(G) 2nd ed.; AACR2; and LCSH


Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion

November 2011.


  • English



The following sources were used in the compilation of this description: Oxford dictionary of national biography online; Welsh biography online; 'Sir John Rhŷs', the inaugural Sir John Rhŷs memorial lecture by John Morris-Jones (1925); and papers within the Sir John Rhŷs archive.

Archivist's note

Compiled by Siân Bowyer.

Accession area

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Physical storage

  • Text: Sir John Rhŷs Papers.