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John William Radcliffe

Epithet: Manx Scholar, 'Yn Lhaihder' (1917-1984)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: From ‘New Manx Worthies’ (2006):

J.W. (Bill) Radcliffe belonged to one of the many Radcliffe families originating in Andreas. His branch was sometimes known as the 'Pat Radcliffes' because his great-grandfather, Patrick, became a customs official in Ramsey in the nineteenth century, and links with the north of the Island were always maintained.

On leaving school, Bill entered the office of the Ramsey Gas Light Company, where he remained for many years, later becoming manager of the Ramsey Coal Company on the West Quay. From his early teens his interest in the Manx language was profound, and with friends, especially at first Charles Craine of Ballaugh and Mark Hughes Braide of Douglas, he gathered much linguistic information from native speakers who had almost forgotten the language of their childhood. Such were John Kneen of Ballaugh Curragh and Mr and Mrs Charles Kneale and John Thomas Kaighin of Bride.

Always a student, over the years he also became a teacher for Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh and the Education Authority, at all times delighting in making his knowledge available to organisations, groups, and individuals.

On many occasions he was an adjudicator for the Manx language classes at The Guild and Yn Chruinnaght.

Two of the books he wrote with his wife Constance Kewin Radcliffe (Kirk Bride and Maughold and Ramsey Place Names) embody the results of his researches, which were not confined to the language but also embraced a parochial history of Maughold in 1979.

Bill Radcliffe was probably best known to the Manx public as Yn Lhaihder (The Reader) for five years at the annual Tynwald ceremony at St Johns, a duty in which he took great pride. He was also prominent at the international gatherings of the Celtic Congress, serving as international treasurer for the cultural association of delegates from Scotland, Ireland, Man, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany, and regularly presented papers, chairing meetings in Manx and English. There followed a period in which he was treasurer and then president of the Manx branch of the Congress.

He was also a long-serving executive trustee of the Manx Museum, and an energetic committee member of the Natural History and Antiquarian Society to whose Proceedings he contributed a number of articles.

A man of deep faith, he had a particular interest in church history and in the Manx church as a living force, being in his youth a chorister at St Paul's, Ramsey and later, a churchwarden at Maughold. During the controversy about the sale of Bishopscourt which followed the arrival of Bishop Nicholls in 1974, J.W. Radcliffe was one of the few lay members of the Diocesan Synod to vote against the sale.

For a long period he was a member of Ramsey Rotary Club, the motto of the organisation 'Service Before Self' having a great appeal for him. On his retirement from business in the 1970s he became even more involved than before in a variety of committee work, being a road traffic commissioner and a member of the Gas and Water Authority, and of Ramsey and District Cottage Hospital Administration Committee. In Maughold, he served a term as a parish commissioner, and in Ramsey was a member of the Citizen's Advice Service.

J.W. Radcliffe is buried in Maughold Churchyard, very near to the grave of Philip Moore Callow Kermode. In 1985 Banglane Twoaie ny Sheshaght Ghailckagh (the northern branch of the Manx Language Society) placed a small metal plaque on the street sign for Court Row - Faaie yn Oe - which is attached to the front of Ramsey Post Office. This expresses the respect and gratitude felt by the society for this true-hearted and unassuming Manxman, one of those who, like the Revd Thomas Edward Brown, helped to secure for his compatriots 'an anchor for their Keltic souls'.

Biography written by Constance Radcliffe (widow).

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.403-4.)

Culture Vannin


Gender: Male

Date of birth: 16 August 1917

Date of death: 28 January 1984


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