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National Library of Wales
Williams, John, ('Ab Ithel'), papers

Reference code(s): GB 0210 ABITHEL

Held at: National Library of Wales

Title: John Williams ('Ab Ithel') Papers

Short Title: Williams, John, ('Ab Ithel'), papers

Creation date(s): 1832-1898

Level of description: Fonds

Extent: 0.068 cubic metres (28 volumes)

Name of creator(s): John Williams ('Ab Ithel')


Administrative/Biographical history: The Rev. John Williams ('Ab Ithel', 1811-1862), Anglican minister and antiquary, took his pseudonym from the surname of his grandfather, William Bethell, but for much of his earlier life he wrote under the name Cynhaval, after his birthplace in Llangynhafal, Denbighshire. He graduated from Jesus College, Oxford, in 1835, and became Anglican curate of Llanfor, Merionethshire, where he married Elizabeth Lloyd Williams; he became perpetual curate of Nerquis, Flintshire, in 1843, and rector of Llanymawddwy, Merionethshire, in 1849. His first book, concerning the relationship between the Church of England and Rome, was published in 1836, followed by another in 1844 on the ecclesiastical antiquities of Wales. Williams was industrious both as a parish priest and as an antiquary, but his enthusiasm and Welsh nationalist fervour often outran his knowledge and judgement. His uncritical approach to historical sources was strongly influenced by the romantic inventions of Edward Williams ('Iolo Morganwg', 1747-1826), and much of his work has since been discredited. Nevertheless, he was regarded by many as one of the leading Welsh scholars of his day, and was able to exert a considerable and decidedly mixed influence on the course of Welsh scholarship.
In 1846, together with Harry Longueville Jones (1806-1870), another cleric and antiquary, Williams founded the Cambrian Archaeological Association, whose journal, Archaeologia Cambrensis, he edited until 1853. He also published an edition and translation of the Gododdin in 1852, established the Cambrian Journal, which he edited from 1854 until his death, and was prominent in the Welsh Manuscripts Society, editing four of its publications. The Llangollen Eisteddfod of 1858, which he organized together with Richard Williams Morgan ('Mor Meirion', c. 1815-c. 1889) and Joseph Hughes ('Carn Ingli', 1803-1863), caused much derision and embarrassment; Williams' own family won several prizes, and Thomas Stephens (1821-1875) was adjudicated against because he suggested that the story of Madog ab Owain Gwynedd's American expeditions was not true. Williams was nevertheless considered for the chair of Celtic at Oxford University, and he was appointed by the government in 1858 to complete the editions of the medieval Welsh chronicles Annales Cambriae and Brut y Tywysogion, which had been left incomplete by Aneurin Owen (1792-1851), and which were published in 1860. His editorial work was later severely criticised by academics, who pointed to his lack of the necessary diplomatic skills for interpreting medieval manuscripts, and also to his plagiarism of the work of others, notably Owen himself and Thomas Rowland (1824-1884). Williams became rector of Llanenddwyn and Llanddwywe, Merionethshire, in 1862, by which time he was very ill, and he died in the same year. The Ab Ithel Memorial Fund was established in his memory.


Scope and content/abstract: Letters and papers of Rev. John Williams ('Ab Ithel') and his family, 1832-1898, comprising page-proofs of parts of Brut y Tywysogion (NLW MS 17163D); drafts and incomplete copies in manuscript of several of Ab Ithel's printed works, including Y Gododdin (NLW MS 17167E), The Traditionary Annals of the Cymry (NLW MS 17168E), Druidism (NLW MS 17169E), Brut y Tywysogion (NLW MS 17164E), and Annales Cambriae (NLW MS 17165E); contributions to the Cambrian Journal (NLW MS 17171E0; his address at the Conwy Eisteddfod, 1861 (NLW MS 17187A); papers relating to his collation to the rectory of Llanymawddwy, 1849 (NLW MS 17189E); 'The Church of England independent of the Church of Rome in all ages' (NLW MS 17175B); sermons in English and Welsh (NLW MS 17184C); 'A few plain and practical Observations on Anglican Education' (NLW MS 17185B); the prize essay on the question 'whether the British Druids offered human sacrifices' by 'Hu Gadarn' (NLW MS 17173D); an essay entitled 'Traethawd ar Ddarganfyddiad yr America Gan Madog ab Owain Gwynedd, yn nghylch y ddeuddegfed ganrif' by 'Columbus' (NLW MS 17188C); an essay 'On the state of Agriculture and the progress of Arts & Manufactures in Britain, during the period & under the influence of the Druidical System' by Rev. John Jones, Llanllyfni (see Archaeologia Cambrensis, Supplement 1850) (NLW MS 17176E); 'Y Telynwr Cymreig, sef cyfarwyddiadau i ddysgu'r Delyn' by 'Dafydd Frenin' (NLW MS 17177F); four essays on 'Y manteision a ddeillia i'r Cymry o ddysgu yr iaith Seisnig' by 'Uthr Bendragon', 'Eiddil', 'Gwir Gymro', and 'Y cynyg cynta' 'rioed' (NLW MS 17188C); a 'History of Wales to the death of Llewelyn' (NLW MS 17178E); sections of a work on Christianity in Britain (NLW MS 17179E); letters addressed to Ab Ithel and also to his wife and daughters (NLW MS 17190D); press cuttings and extracts (NLW MS 17181E); sketches and medical and household recipes (NLW MS 17180C), and letters, 1884-1885, relating to the Ab Ithel Memorial Fund.


Language/scripts of material: English, Welsh.

System of arrangement: Arranged as NLW MSS 17163-17190.

Conditions governing access: Readers consulting modern papers in the National Library of Wales are required to sign the 'Modern papers - data protection' form.

Conditions governing reproduction: Usual copyright regulations apply.

Finding aids: A hard copy of the catalogue is available at the National Library of Wales.

Detailed catalogue


Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information: All records donated to the National Library of Wales have been retained.

Accruals: Accruals are not expected.

Archival history: Some papers relating to Ab Ithel were added after his death in 1862, presumably by his family, and little more is known of what happened to the archive until A. D. Ffoulkes-Jones presented these papers to the National Library of Wales in 1952, when they were designated NLW MSS 17163-17190.

Immediate source of acquisition: Donated by A. D. Ffoulkes-Jones, Llangollen, 1952.


Related material: Nineteen letters to the Rev. John Williams, most of which relate to the Llangollen Eisteddfod, 1858, were donated by Mr Gwyn Neale, Pwllheli, in 1993. These are now NLW MS 23104D.


Note: Title supplied from contents of fonds.

Archivist's note: Compiled by David Moore for the ANW project. The following sources were consulted in the compilation of this description: NLW, Schedule of John Williams Ab Ithel Papers; Dictionary of Welsh Biography down to 1940 (London, 1959).

Rules or conventions: This description follows ANW guidelines based on ISAD(G) second edition, AACR2 and LCSH.

Date(s) of descriptions: April 2003

Historians | Wales
Wales | History | Research
Williams, John, | 1811-1862 | Archives

Personal names
Williams , John , 1811-1862

Corporate names

Llanymawddwy (Wales)

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