Thomas, Dr. Charles Anthony, CBE

Historian, archaeologist and Professor of Cornish Studies at the University of Exeter, he was born on 26 April 1928 into a Camborne Methodist family long associated with mining. He was the fifth generation of his family to be named after Charles Wesley.

Educated at Upcott House School, Okehampton, and Winchester College, in 1945 he joined the Royal Artillery Ordnance Corps. His service in Egypt inspired an interest in archaeology. On demobilisation in 1948 he studied jurisprudence at Corpus Christi College, Oxford and then archaeology at the Instituted of Archaeology, London University. He became widely known for his field-work on archaeological sites, especially those connected with Celtic and Roman history. After a part-time post with the Workers Educational Association in Cornwall, 1954 to 1958, he was appointed Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, 1958 to 1967, with a Leverhulme Fellowship (1965-67), and then Professor of Archaeology at the University of Leicester 1967 to 1971. In 1972 he became the Director of the Institute of Cornish Studies at the University of Exeter, where he founded and edited the academic periodical Cornish Studies.

Since 1953 he had been a Bard of the Cornish Gorseth with the bardic name 'Gwas Godhyan' and in 1971 became a Vice-President of the Cornish Methodist Historical Association, succeeding the Rev. Thomas Shaw as President in 2002. As well as contributing to its Journal, he produced booklets on Methodism in Gwithian and other Methodist subjects.

In 1983 he received a D.Litt. (Oxford) and among other honours was given a D.Litt. honoris causa in 1996 by the National University of Ireland. Among his prolific publications was a volume of essays under the title Gathering the Fragments (2012).

His wife was the author Jessica Mann. He died on 7 April 2016.


'Charles ... gave our 40th anniversary lecture in 2000, taking as his subject the importance of oral tradition in Cornish Methodist history. Pushing back his shock of hair, he held members spellbound wih his enthusiastic delivery - including the occasional deliberate lapse into the Cornish dialect - and sparkling humour. The anecdotes flowed from him, and all within the context of a scholarly survey and analysis of the untapped sources available to historians. Charles made the point that much oral tradition was amusing as well as informative, as evidenced in his little publication Cornish Chapel Stories.'

Ian Hale

  • Andy M, Jones and Henrietta Quinnell (eds), An Intellectual Adventure in Archaeology: reflections on the work of Charles Thomas, 2018


Entry written by: DCD
Category: Person
Comment on this entry