John Fisher (1862-1930) worked with the more famous Rev Sabine Baring Gould on the classic work, Lives of the British saints.

Fisher came from Llandybie, near Ammanford; he was the eldest son of Edward and Mary Fisher. He first attended the national school, Llandeilo-Talybont (Pontardulais), before going on to Llandovery School. He was then scholar, exhibitioner and prizeman at St David’s College, Lampeter. He graduated with a second-class BA degree in Modern Languages and Literature in 1884, and a BD in 1891. He was ordained deacon in 1885 and priest in 1886. He held three curacies in the diocese of St Asaph, at Pontblyddyn, Llanllwchaearn, and Ruthin. In 1901, he was appointed rector of Cefn, about five miles east of Llangollen. 

That same year Fisher also became the cathedral librarian for St Asaph. There he compiled a manuscript catalogue of the collection. He was made a canon and sacrist in 1916 and chancellor of the cathedral in 1927. In 1921, he was appointed Welsh examining chaplain to Archbishop Alfred George Edwards. In this role, he would have been responsible for examining candidates for ordination and advising Edwards about their suitability. From 1905 to 1909 he was Welsh examiner at St David’s College. He was a member of the governing body of the Church in Wales from 1917 onwards. 

Fisher was also active as a local historian and antiquarian. He joined the Cambrian Archaeological Association in 1899 and edited Archaeologia Cambrensis from 1917 to 1925. He was general secretary of the Association from 1914 to 1917 and vice-president from 1925 onwards. Fisher wrote a significant number of articles for Archaeologia Cambrensis. These included ‘Some place-names in the locality of St Asaph’ (6th series, v. 14, 1914); ‘Wales in the time of Queen Elizabeth’ (6th series, v. 15, 1915) and ‘Bardsey Island and its saints’ (7th series, v. 6, 1926). 

In 1899, Fisher edited the Cefn Coch manuscripts, two MSS almost entirely made up of poetry, mostly by writers from North Wales. However, his major literary work, written in collaboration with Sabine Baring Gould, was The lives of the British saints. The subtitle defines the scope of the work: The saints of Wales and Cornwall and such Irish saints as have dedications in Britain. The two authors collected the traditions associated with the early saints, producing a treasure trove of facts and stories. However, Baring Gould and Fisher were sometimes uncritical of their sources, and tended to conflate unrelated saints with similar names. The four volumes they wrote were published under the auspices of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion between 1907 and 1913. Despite their limitations, they have not yet been superseded by any similar source. The work is dedicated to four previous scholars who had worked in the same area; one of them is Rice Rees, the first professor of Welsh at St David’s College. 

Fisher went on to edit a selection of the tour journals and notes the Welsh topographical writer, Richard Fenton (1747-1821) had left in manuscript. The Cambrian Archaeological Association published the work as Tours in Wales (1804-1813). Fisher also edited Allwydd Paradws by John Hughes. His last work was an edition of William Salesbury’s translation of the gospels and epistles, Kynniver llith a Ban. This was going through the press at the time of Fisher’s death. 

Fisher was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquities in 1918 and received an honorary D.Litt. from the University of Wales in 1920. He was a member of the Commission on Ancient Monuments (Wales) and of the court and council of the National Library of Wales. He represented the Cambrian Archaeological Association on the court of governors of the University of Wales and on its Board of Celtic Studies. 

Fisher attended a committee meeting of the Cambrian Archaeological Society in Shrewsbury on 9 May 1930. He died very suddenly later that day, at his brother’s house, the Rectory, Pontfadog. Fisher was buried in the graveyard of St Asaph’s cathedral. 

Sources 

Davies, E., (1959). Fisher, John (1862 - 1930), Welsh scholar. Dictionary of Welsh Biography. Retrieved 5 Jun 2020, from https://biography.wales/article/s-FISH-JOH-1862 

The Rev. Chancellor John Fisher, B.D., D.Litt., F.S.A. (1930).  Archaeologia Cambrensis, 1900 Journal of the Cambrian Archaeological Association. 85,225-226. Retrieved from https://journals.library.wales/view/4718179/4734246/264#?xywh=-1711%2C-273%2C6439%2C3941 

Price, D.T.W. (1977). A history of Saint David’s University College Lampeter. Volume one: to 1898. University of Wales Press

Seintiau.The saints.(n.d.) Retrieved May 12, 2020, from http://welshsaints.ac.uk/the-saints/