John Sampson [1862-1931, pictured above] was an Irish linguist, librarian, and scholar. His father, James, was a Cornish mining engineer who died in 1872, leaving little money for him and his family. The eldest child, Sampson left school after his father’s death. With the family now living in Liverpool, he was apprenticed for seven years to Alexander MacGregor, a lithographer and engraver. Sampson continued his education, reading widely, and when MacGregor retired, Sampson briefly set up his own small printing business, aged 22. In 1892, he was accepted as the first full-time librarian at University College, Liverpool, where he remained until 1928.


John (Johnny) Gray was the son of John Budd (Jack) Gray and Maria Boswell, and Wasti Gray (b. Vashti Lee) was the daughter of Zachariah Lee and Charlotte Mary Hammond. Norfolk born, husband and wife ended their days in Lancashire, where in about 1890, they encountered Sampson, who recorded then published their narrations as ‘Tales in a Tent’ [JGLS, 1892].


On a camping trip in 1894, Sampson encountered the musician Edward Wood. The Wood family to which Edward belonged were noted speakers of Welsh-Rómani, a Rómani dialect that was to become Sampson’s major area of study.


Through Edward Wood’s brother-in-law, Lloyd Robert, Sampson found Matthew (Matcho) Wood [pictured below] on Cader Idris in 1896. Matthew, the son of Henry (Black Henry) and Saiforella (Mari) Wood, was a passionate teller of folk tales, stories which were related to him by his grandmother, Black Ellen, who supposedly knew two hundred such tales. A handsome fellow with long black curls, Matthew lived near Corwen and Bala, and played his fiddle in their country inns.


Sampson recorded Matthew’s repertoire in Welsh-Rómani and translated them into rather formal English prose, despite Matthew customarily telling his tales in English, according to Esmeralda Lock, whose reminiscences are to be found in one of T. W. Thompson’s unpublished notebooks [MS 2072, Leeds University Library’s Special Collections].


Matthew disappeared a few years later, but Sampson continued to spend his holidays with the Wood family, studying their language—from which stemmed his best-known work, The Dialect of the Gypsies of Wales [1926]—and recording more tales, including those narrated by Henry (Harry) ‘Turpin’ Wood, a son of Matthew and Llwyddan Wood.


In 1897, Sampson met Cornelius Price at Wavertree, Liverpool. A son of Amos Price and Mary Ann Dailey, Cornelius was a South Welsh Gypsy from whom Sampson took down 6 tales, chiefly in English.


From its inception, Sampson was also involved with the Gypsy Lore Society, acting as President in 1915-6. He died in 1931, and his funeral was non-religious with Rómani elements.

Available Titles by John Sampson and Matthew Wood: