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The John Ella Collection


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This collection of manuscript and printed materials documents much of the career of the remarkable Victorian musician and concert manager John Ella (1802-1888). Most of the items in the archive relate to Ella's life and achievements, including his notable directorship of the Musical Union of London, 1845-1880.

Amongst other material, the collection contains correspondence, photographs, concert ephemera and an almost-complete sequence of Ella's appointment diaires from 1823 to 1887. epared at John Ravell's house in the early 1990s, before the materials were moved to Oxford.


  • Creation: [c 1820]-2002


2.86 Linear metres (162 physical shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark, e.g. MS. Ella 1, fols. 1-2.]

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Ella 1-36, 38-163

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 15543


Archive of the Victorian violinist, concert manager and author John Ella (1802-1888).

Biographical / Historical

John Ella (1802-1888) was an English concert manager, violinist, music critic and author. See Grove Music Online for further details.


The sequence of the items in the collection and catalogue reflects John Ravell's presentation of the collection while it was in his possession and does not imply a logical archival structure. The numbers have nevertheless been used systematically in Christina Bashford's writings on Ella so they have been retained. Great care was taken, in the preparation of the original checklist and subsequent use of the archive, not to dislodge or re-file loose papers inserted in some of the scrapbooks, diaries etc., since their position in relation to the fixed pages was considered to be potentially meaningful.

Custodial History

As far as is known, the materials in the collection were, with a few exceptions (all indicated), in Ella's possession during his lifetime.

After Ella's death, the collection passed into the possession of the family of a cousin, Ella Harley, and thereafter (during the 1950s) was saved from destruction by the remarkable antiquarian-scholar John Ravell, who took possession of the materials and used them for his own research, annotating the collection and pasting in materials such as research notes as he worked. His short sketch of Ella's life in Music & Letters (1953), was for a long time the only secondary scholarship on Ella.

It was at John Ravell's house in north London in the late 1980s that Christina Bashford first consulted the materials in connection with her research on Ella and chamber music concerts in London, and became closely acquainted with Mr Ravell. The Ella papers were moved to Oxford from London in December 1995 and, according to John Ravell's wishes, were placed under John Wagstaff's curatorship at the Faculty of Music Library for her exclusive use, so that she could complete her research with ease and work on a full-length biography of Ella. The completion of the book was facilitated by an award from the Arts and Humanities Research Board in 2003-4. Once she had finished the book, the materials were to be made available for wider public consultation.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred from the Faculty of Music, 2005.

Separated Materials

MS. Ella 37 no longer forms part of the collection. This number was originally assigned to a manuscript entitled 'The Music of Social Life', not in Ella's hand, but with manuscript notes which might possibly have been Ella's. The manuscript was in an envelope with an annotation by John Ravell, suggesting this was nothing to do with Ella, and the item had been removed from the collection before its transportation to Oxford in 1995.


  • Christina Bashford, The Pursuit of High Culture: John Ella and Chamber Music in Victorian London (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2007)
  • Christina Bashford, 'John Ella and the Making of the Musical Union' in Music and British Culture, 1785-1914: Essays in Honour of Cyril Ehrlich, ed. Bashford and Langley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 193-214.
  • John Ravell, 'John Ella, 1802-1888', Music & Letters 34 (1953), pp. 93-105.
John Ella Collection
This catalogue is based on a handlist compiled by Christina Bashford and John Wagstaff in 1997 (revised in 2003 and 2005, with further revisions by Martin Holmes in 2014). The handlist was an expansion of a basic, numeric inventory of items that was prepared at John Ravell's house in the early 1990s, before the materials were moved to Oxford.
2014, EAD version 2021 by Martin Holmes
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom