The Collectors: Edward Lhwyd (1659-1709)

Edward Lhwyd (or Lhuyd, or Lloyd) was born in 1659 at Loppington, Shropshire. He was the illegitimate son of Edward Lloyd of Oswestry and Bridget Pryse of Tal-y-Bont, Cardiganshire. Both parents being minor gentry and distantly related, but they never married. Lhwyd abandoned his original name Lloyd, for the Welsh version Lhwyd in about 1688, although variant spellings are found throughout his own lifetime. His interest in botany possibly came from the time he lived with his father and had contact with the gardener, Edward Morgan. Lhwyd went to Jesus College, Oxford in 1682 with the intention of acquiring a BCL. Whilst at Oxford he became acquainted with the Oxford Philosophical Society, led by Robert Plot, Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum. By 1684 Lhwyd was described as 'Register to the Chymical course at the Laboratory' in the Museum's cellar, overseen by Plot, becoming Plot's assistant in 1687.

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the front of Lhwyd's catalogue

Edward Lhwyd's page in the Book of Benefactors

He collected and reported on plants; prepared a catalogue of the Museum's shell collection and he contributed to Ray's English Words Not Generally Used; he submitted statistical analyses of the origins of the Welsh lexicon, in three languages - native, Latin and English. He also prepared a catalogue of the British fossils and others at the Museum, which he had collected. He then set about revising the entries on Welsh counties in the translation of Camden's Britannia being prepared by Edmund Gibson, for which he did a brief tour of Wales in 1693. This gave him a further interest in Celtic antiquities which brought him to the attention of Welsh scholars in Oxford and Wales. He succeeded to the keepership of the Ashmolean with Plot's retirement in 1690.

Lhwyd proposed to compile a British historical and geographical dictionary,with the title Archaeologia Britannic and he subsequently started to gather information and write the articles. He and his assistants spent four years (from about 1698) travelling through Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall and briefly Britanny. At the same time, Lhwyd completed his catalogue of the fossils, writing articles on them, and donating his own collection to the Museum. He returned to the Ashmolean in 1701 resuming his role as keeper, and began planning and writing the first volume of Archaeologia Britannica which was published in 1707. No other volumes were produced, but he has been recognised for his contribution to linguistics, especially Old Welsh.

Lhwyd never married. He died in his room in the Museum (in Broad Street at that time) in June 1709, aged just 49. He was buried in the Welsh aisle of the Church of St. Michael in the Northgate. He left no will, his books and manuscripts being taken by the University on account of his outstanding debts.

 

the Welsh Chapel

Lhwyd's tablet under the east window in the Welsh Chapel, St. Michael in the Northgate

Llwyd's commemorative tablet

Edward Lhwyd's commemorative tablet (February 2006)

The black marble tablet was erected by the Edward Lhwyd Society in 2006. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

He is commemorated in Loidia Serotina, the Snowdon lily, an alpine flower he discovered.

Some of Lhwyds collection of fossils survives in the University Museum of Natural History, Oxford.

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