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Myres, (John) Nowell Lintonfree

(1902–1989)

(John) Nowell Linton Myres (1902–1989)

by unknown photographer

Myres, (John) Nowell Linton (1902–1989), archaeologist and librarian, was born at 1 Wellington Place, Oxford, on 27 December 1902, the younger son and second of three children of Sir John Linton Myres (1869–1954), archaeologist and historian, and his wife, Sophia Florence, née Ballance (d. 1960), who was of Huguenot descent. Books brought over by her forebears in 1685, as well as sixteenth-century incunabula bought with his own pocket money, contributed to the boyhood inheritance of the future custodian of Bodley. From his preparatory school on the Surrey–Sussex border he won a scholarship to Winchester College. Deeply influenced by the college architecture and the inspired history teaching of A. T. P. Williams, later bishop of Durham and of Winchester, he went to New College, Oxford, in 1921 determined to make history his subject; substituting the history preliminary examination for classical honour moderations, he took a first in literae humaniores (1924) in three years and another in modern history (1926) in two.

After appointment as a college lecturer in modern history in 1926 Myres was elected a student of Christ Church in 1928. In 1929 he married a teacher, Joan Mary Lovell (d. 1991), sister of Charles Stevens, his school friend and fellow excavator of St Catharine's Hill, Winchester, and daughter of George Lovell Stevens, farmer in southern Africa. They had two sons, the elder, Timothy, associate professor of zoology in the University of Calgary, the younger, Rear-Admiral John Myres, hydrographer of the Royal Navy.

From 1928, apart from wartime civil service (1940–45), in which Myres rose to be head of the fruit and vegetable products division of the Ministry of Food (he was a keen vegetable gardener), tutoring and lecturing were his formal occupation for the next twenty years.

They were also years of strenuous extra-collegial activity. Earlier excavations at St Catharine's Hill and at Caerleon amphitheatre were now followed by others at Colchester, Butley Priory in Suffolk, and Aldborough in Yorkshire. In 1931 Myres was invited to contribute a section on the English settlements, based on archaeological as well as historical sources, to the first volume (Roman Britain and the English Settlements, 1936) of the Oxford History of England. R. G. Collingwood was his fellow author.

Librarian of Christ Church from 1938, Myres, with his versatile scholarship and proven ability as an administrator, was a natural choice in 1948 as successor to Sir H. H. Edmund Craster as Bodley's librarian, after a brief tenure by H. R. Creswick. His own tenure lasted for eighteen years and involved integrating the 1939 extension with the parent institution, the major repair and internal reordering of the buildings round the schools quadrangle, and supervision of a total structural overhaul of the fabric of Duke Humfrey, the fifteenth-century reading room above the vault of the divinity school. He also presided over the establishment of the new law library in St Cross Road. He widened the Bodleian's status and repute by setting up and hosting the copyright libraries conference and establishing the standing conference of national and university libraries; also he founded the Society of Bodley's American Friends. Though a non-professional, in 1963 he was elected president of the Library Association. Bitter disagreement with the university authorities over their refusal to accept his defence of the Bodleian's claim to the premises of the Indian Institute led to his resignation after a dramatic debate in congregation in 1965. (As Bodley's librarian he invariably wore a dark coat and striped trousers, even when riding a bicycle, and in later life grew a huge beard like his father's.)

From now on Myres gave his whole mind to archaeology and the pursuit of the course he had set himself in 1931. His Rhind lectures of 1964–5 appeared in 1969 as Anglo-Saxon Pottery and the Settlement of England; in 1973 came The Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries of Caistor-by-Norwich and Markshall (jointly with Barbara Green); 1977 saw the achievement of the long-envisaged A Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Pottery of the Pagan Period; finally, in 1986, he was able to bring out a revision and reassessment, as an independent volume of the Oxford History, of his English Settlements of fifty years earlier.

Many societies benefited from Myres's unremitting involvement in their affairs, notably the Oxford University Archaeological Society, the Council for British Archaeology (of which he was a joint originator), the Sachsensymposium, and the Society for Medieval Archaeology. The Society of Antiquaries of London, whose president he was in 1970–75, awarded him their gold medal in 1976 for services to archaeology. He was a valued member of many official bodies including the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments in 1969–74 and the Ancient Monuments Board in 1959–76. He was especially noted for his friendliness and sense of fun, as also for his helpfulness to younger scholars. Totally without pomposity, he brightened his later bedridden days with the use of one of his doctoral robes as a dressing-gown. Quick to apply modern terms to ancient situations, he chuckled a lot when giving the title 'Charlemagne on Miniskirts' to a learned but light-hearted note in Antiquity (42, 1968, p. 125).

Myres was elected FBA in 1966 and appointed CBE in 1972. He was a fellow (1951–77) and sub-warden of Winchester, honorary fellow of New College (1973), and successively research, emeritus, and honorary student (1971) of Christ Church. He received honorary doctorates from the universities of Toronto (1954), Reading (1964), Belfast (1965), and Durham (1983). Myres died at his home, the Manor House, Kennington, near Oxford, on 25 July 1989.

Sources

  • Oxford Times (24 Jan 1986)
  • The Times (26 July 1989)
  • J. N. L. Myres, ‘Recent discoveries in the Bodleian Library’, Archaeologia, 101 (1967), 151–68
  • A. Taylor, ‘John Nowell Linton Myres, 1902–1989’, PBA, 76 (1990), 513–28 [incl. bibliography]
  • [V. I. Evison], ‘The published works of John Nowell Linton Myres’, Angles, Saxons, and Jutes: essays presented to J. N. L. Myres, ed. V. I. Evison (1981), xvii–xxx
  • unpublished autobiography, priv. coll.
  • personal knowledge (1996)

Archives

  • priv. coll.
  • Bodl. Oxf., letter to O. G. S. Crawford

Likenesses

Wealth at Death

£229,210: probate, 17 Oct 1989, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Proceedings of the British Academy