Papers of Robert Thomson, Scholar and Linguist

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The content consists of material relating to topics studied by Thomson, such as the basis of historical grammar (Manx), the Welsh language, Manx ballads, Manx phonology, Old English, Old Icelandic and Manx surnames. Other contents include Thomson's study on Bishop Phillip's translation of the Common Prayer Book into Manx Gaelic ( Lioar phadjer yn Aspick Phillip's 1610), an eighteenth century prayer book, card indexes for a Manx-English dictionary, a pronouncing dictionary, a historical dictionary, a Welsh-English dictionary and a Manx-English glossary.

Incoming correspondence is also present with correspondents including Cyril I Paton, Basil Megaw, Bill Serjeant, Marshall Cubbon and others at the Manx Museum and National Trust, Doug Faragher, Frank B. Kelly (Wolverhampton), Eric Cregeen, Walter Clarke, Juan Gell (Port St Mary), Brian Stowell, Adrian Pilgrim, George Broderick and W. B. Lockwood (University of Reading). Papers, notebooks and pamphlets relating to Thomson's time as a student and as a lecturer are also within the deposit (including his 1969 paper for the Sir John Rhys Memorial Lecture at the British Academy). Further material consists of an audio tape for a Manx (oral) examination, Manx examination papers, Thomson's BLitt degree from the University of Glasgow, his curriculum vitae, a 1978 Manx calendar and other miscellaneous items.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Reverend Robert (Bob) Leith Thomson (1924-2006) was a distinguished Celtic scholar and leading authority on Manx Gaelic. Obtaining a place at the University of Leeds in 1942, his studies were interrupted for a year as he conducted his war service with the Royal Signals, before finally achieving a first-class degree in Latin and English in 1949. Leeds awarded Thomson with a Lady Elizabeth Hastings Scholarship, enabling him to read for a Diploma in Comparative Philology in Celtic and Germanic Languages at Queen’s College, University of Oxford. It was here Thomson established his interest in Manx Gaelic - writing an essay in (near fluent) Welsh on Manx literature. Thomson moved to Glasgow and through a scholarship for advanced studies in the Arts, he achieved his Bachelor of Letters (BLitt) on the history and development of Manx Gaelic from the University of Glasgow.

In 1953 Thomson joined the department of English Language and Medieval English Literature at the University of Leeds, holding the position of assistant lecturer. By 1955 he was promoted to lecturer and awarded a Master in Arts (MA) in 1958. Becoming senior lecturer in 1964, Thomson then received the title Reader in Celtic in 1971. Thomson’s influence at Leeds allowed the English department to offer a postgraduate Diploma MA in Celtic Studies (the only University in the country to offer this at the time). He was the leading authority on the Manx language, covering topics such a Manx phonetics, place names, surnames, medieval history, the influence on Norse on Manx, lexicography and translations of the Bible into Manx. His work on Celtic Studies led to several invitations to lecture throughout the British Isles including a lecture for the Sir John Rhys Memorial Lecture at the British Academy in 1969. Thomson’s knowledge on other Celtic Studies included Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Irish and Cornish, publishing texts on medieval Welsh and early modern Scots Gaelic. Further publications included the revision of Edwin Goodwin’s First Lessons in Manx (1965), Further Lessons in Manx (1981), Outline of Manx Language and Literature (1988) and a glossary for Bishop Phillip’s Book of Common Prayer of 1610.

Within the University of Leeds, Thomson served as a Director for the Centre for Medieval Studies, was chairman of the Medieval Group, a supervisor for examinations and was a member of the University Court. He also dedicated time supervising external examinations in Celtic at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow and in English Language at the University of Manchester. From 1953 to 1959 he was secretary for the Yorkshire Society for Celtic Studies, becoming president in 1963 to 1965.

In 1983 Thomson retired from the University of Leeds, moved to the Isle of Man and occupied a house at Friary Park, Ballabeg in the south of the Island. As well as continuing numerous scholarly projects, Thomson was a member and chairman of Coonceil ny Gaelgey (the Manx Gaeilic Advisory Council), a Trustee for Manx National Heritage and Vice-President of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society (later President in 1986). In 1987 he became Hon. Field and Research Co-ordinator for the Society, serving in this role until his retirement from society business in 2005. Religion played a significant part in Thomson’s life and after his retirement he was ordained a priest, serving as minister at St Andrew’s United Reformed Church, Douglas from 1989 until 1999. In 1994 Culture Vannin (an organisation promoting Manx culture, heritage and language) presented Thomson with the Reih Bleeaney Vanannan award, in recognition for his outstanding work on the Manx language. The Revd Robert Thomson died on 13 October 2006 aged 82, leaving a generous bequest to Manx National Heritage. His funeral service was conducted at St Andrew’s United Reformed Church, Douglas.

Conditions Governing Access

Selected items are currently unavailable for public access. Please liaise with the MNH Archivist, giving notification on specific research interests.

Advance notification of a research visit is advisable by emailing library@mnh.gov.im.

Archivist's Note

The biographical information was gathered from Robert Thomson's obituary from Proceedings of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society Volume XII, Number 1, April 2005 - March 2007. Further information was gathered from web sites http://www.culturevannin.im/cms/rbv_entry_297118.html (accessed 23 February 2016) and http://www.leeds.ac.uk/secretariat/obituaries/2006/obituary4204.html (accessed 23 February 2016).

Fonds-level description created by Eleanor Williams (MNH Project Archivist), February 2016.

Separated Material

Separated material held by Manx National Heritage includes a photocopy of selected extracts of the Chronicles of the Kings of Mann and the Isles (reference number: MS 13052). The original manuscript is held by the British Library, London (reference number for the selected extracts: Cotton Julius A VII 1r-54v).

Related Material

Related material held by Manx National Heritage includes numerous library and archival resources.