John Sampson Archive

Scope and Content

The John Sampson Papers comprise correspondence, manuscripts and other items relating to Sampson's life and work, excepting his Romani and Gypsy studies, ca.1882-1931.

Administrative / Biographical History

Dr John Sampson (1862-1931), Romani Scholar, was born in Schull, County Cork, Ireland. His father, a Cornish mining engineer, died in 1872 leaving little money for his Irish mother, Sarah Anne McDermott, and her four sons. At the age of 14 Sampson was forced to leave school and was apprenticed for seven years to Alexander MacGregor, a lithographer and engraver in Liverpool. His schooling had been brief, but he resolutely taught himself, reading widely. At 22 he set up his own small printing business which, for want of capital, failed. In 1892 he was accepted as the first full-time Librarian at University College, later University of Liverpool. On his arrival there he found gifted and inspiring friends, among them Sir Walter Raleigh and Kuno Meyer. John Sampson remained in the University for 36 years until his retirement in 1928. Philology was Sampson's passion and the Romani language was to be his obsession; he devoted much of his life to roaming amongst the gypsies and training himself in the phonetics, Sanskrit and comparative philology. In 1907 John Sampson and fellow gypsiologist David MacRitchie persuaded Robert Andrew Scott Macfie to revive the Gypsy Lore Society, which had been defunct for the previous 14 years. Sampson was involved in the Gypsy Lore Society from its very foundation in 1888 and became President in 1915-1916. In his will he directed that his death should be "attended by no religious ceremony of any kind whatsoever" and his funeral was carried out as he had requested with his ashes being scattered on Foel Goch to the sound of Gypsy music. His works include The dialect of the Gypsies of Wales: being the older form of British Romani preserved in the speech of the clan of Abram Wood (Oxford University Press, 1926) and A hundred Shelta sayings (Gypsy Lore Society, 1926).


The papers are arranged into two groups, (SP1-4) Literary and Academic Papers and (SP5-7) Personal papers.

The Literary and Academic papers comprise four sections:

  • SP1:  Walter Raleigh
  • SP2:  William Blake
  • SP3:  Shakespeare
  • SP4:  University and University Library

The Personal papers contain

  • SP/5  General papers
  • SP/6  Retirement and death
  • SP/7  Family papers

Further information on the arrangement within these sections is available lower down in this list where appropriate.

Access Information

Access is open to bona fide researchers.

Acquisition Information

After Sampsons death his papers were retained by the University of Liverpool Library.

Other Finding Aids

A finding aid is available for consultation in the reading room.

Archivist's Note

The collection was renumbered and the finding aid restructured by Hayley Thomas and Roy Lumb between August 2006 - May 2007.

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction and licensing rules available on request.

Custodial History

John Sampson left all of his papers and letters to Dora Yates, although some personal papers were returned to the Sampson family.


Sampson, AnthonyThe scholar Gypsy: the quest for a family secret (Murray, London , 1997)

Corporate Names