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John Fisher 1862-1930

John Fisher, who was to become an eminent Celtic scholar and historian, was born on the 5th January 1862 at Cilcoll, an isolated homestead about half a mile to the north-east of the village of Llandybie. He was the eldest son of Edward Fisher and Mary Thomas.

His early education was received at the National School, Llandeilo-Talybont (Pontardulais) and at Llandovery before he proceeded to St David's College, Lampeter, where he became a scholar, exhibitioner and prizeman. He graduated in 1884 and took his B.D. degree in 1891. Having been ordained deacon in 1885 and priest in the following year, he moved to north Wales to hold in turn curacies at Pontbleiddyn, Llanllwchaiarn and Ruthin, in the diocese of St Asaph where he was to spend the rest of his life. In 1901 he became rector of Cefn, near St Asaph, his only incumbency.

Nonetheless, John Fisher was a distinguished figure in the Church to which he devoted his life. In the same year as he accepted the rectory of Cefn, he became librarian of St Asaph Cathedral and while holding that office he compiled a catalogue of the library. In 1916 he was appointed canon and sacrist of the cathedral, becoming chancellor in 1927. From 1917 onwards he was a member of the Welsh Church Governing Body and in 1921 he became Welsh examining chaplain to Archbishop Edwards. He had been examiner in Welsh at his old college of St David's from 1905 to 1909.

Apart from his service to the Church, his other abiding devotion lay in the field of Celtic culture, wherein he revealed himself a scholar of distinction. Having joined the Cambrian Archaeological Association in 1899, he became its general secretary in 1914 and for a time he was concurrently the editor of Archaeologia Cambrensis, but in 1917 he relinquished the secretaryship to concentrate on the editorial work, in which he continued until 1925, when he was elected vice-president of the association. His editorial appointment at a time of crisis during the First World War was a fortunate one, for he gradually raised the level of Archaeologia Cambrensis to a level worthy of its purpose.

The publication by the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion between 1907 and 1913 of The Lives of the British Saints, of which he was joint author with the Rev. S. Baring-Gould, firmly established the reputation of John Fisher as a scholar. This monumental labour contained in four comprehensive volumes still remains a standard work. Inevitably in such a field of research the authors were to meet disappointment time and again because of the absence of contemporary records, a regret shared by so many students and expressed in the preface to The Lives: 'In treating of the Welsh, Cornish, and such Irish Saints as have left their traces in Britain and Brittany, one is met with the difficulty that there is no contemporary record of their lives and labours, and that many of them had no such records left, or if left, they have disappeared ... It is a matter of profound regret that so many of these Saints are nuda nomina, and, to us, little more'.

John Fisher edited a number of works, among them Fenton's `Tours in Wales', and made many contributions to Archaeologia Cambrensis. He served as a member of the Court of Governors of the University of Wales and of the National Library of Wales and was a member of the Board of Celtic Studies. In recognition of his services to Celtic scholarship he was appointed a member of the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments in Wales and in 1918 he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. In 1920 the University of Wales conferred upon him the honorary degree of D.Litt.

He died suddenly on the 9th May 1930 after attending a meeting of the Cambrian Archaeological Association at Shrewsbury. Although he spent the whole of his life elsewhere, he was a notable product of Carmarthenshire, but regrettably his memory is inadequately honoured in his native county.
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