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William Camden, antiquary and historian, and 462 years old today was born in the Old Bailey in London on 2 May 1551. His father Sampson moved to London from Lichfield and was a member of the Guild of Painter-Stainers. His mother Elizabeth was from Lancashire, and was from the old Cumberland family of Curwen in Workington.
Having survived an attack of the plague in Islington, aged 12, William attended St Paul’s School, and later Oxford, under the patronage first of Dr Thomas Cooper, and later Dr Thomas Thornton. It was at Oxford that his antiquarian interests first stirred, and were encouraged. However, his studies were fruitless, and he returned to London both without a degree and without employment in 1571.
For the next few years he began to compile the research for his work, the ‘Brittania’. From the Dictionary of National Biograghy:
In the address ‘ad Lectorem,’ which he added to the fifth edition of that work, Camden has himself given us an interesting sketch of the way in which his studies were directed to antiquarian subjects, and how the ‘Britannia’ grew under his hand. From his earliest days, we are told, his natural inclination led him to investigate antiquity; as a boy at school, and afterwards as a young man at Oxford, all his spare time was given to this favourite pursuit. He specially mentions the encouragement he had from his fellow-student at Christ Church, Sir Philip Sidney. Much of his leisure after leaving the university was passed in travelling through the kingdom and noting its antiquities. But his collections at this time were not made with any view to publication.
In 1575 he was appointed as schoolmaster at Westminster, a role which still left his school holiday time free to pursue his antiquarian interests, travelling around the country. His reputation as an antiquary and topographer grew as a result of these travels. Urged and encouraged by Abraham Ortelius, Camden began the systematic preparation of his ‘Brittania’.
The work took ten years, and was published on his 35th birthday, 2 May 1586. It was an enormous success, with three reprints within four years, and a fourth edition within eight, all personally overseen and expanded by Camden himself.
In 1593 he succeeded to the headmastership of Westminster School, and in 1597 was appointed to the office of Clarenceux king-of-arms. Freed from school life, he continued his travels, visiting Carlisle and the northern counties in 1600, as well as preparing a fifth edition of ‘Britannia’, which answered various criticisms of the genealogies in the earlier editions, and acknowledged a debt to Leland’s earlier work.
Despite several periods of severe illness he continued working on improving both ‘Britannia’ and his many other works as late as 1621. Camden spent the latter years of his life in retirement at Chislehurst. He died unmarried at his home at Chislehurst in Kent on 9 November 1623 following further bouts of illness, and his body was laid in the southern transept of Westminster Abbey. A monument of white marble, affixed to the wall above his grave, represents him at half length, his left hand resting on a closed book on which is the word ‘Britannia’.
Camden’s house at Chislehurst passed into the hands of the family of Pratt, barons Camden, who took their title from the property. Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden (1714–1794) started the development of the settlement that was later to become known as Camden Town in London.
William Copeland Borlase, born this day in 1848 in Castle Horneck, near Penzance, was the only son of Samuel Borlase and Mary Anne Copeland – an Essex girl.
The great-great-grandson of Dr William Borlase, William visited many of the sites in Cornwall documented by his ancestor before an education at Winchester College and Trinity College, Oxford.
In 1863 he was asked (aged 15?) to supervise an excavation of the Iron Age village at Carn Euny, for which he in turn commissioned the antiquarian J T Blight to do many of the engravings for the subsequent report.
William married in 1870, to Alice (or Ellen) Lucy Kent, the wife of a minister.
In 1872 his major work “Nænia Cornubiæ: a descriptive essay, illustrative of the sepulchres and funereal customs of the early inhabitants of the county of Cornwall“, was published. It has been estimated that Borlase excavated about 200 barrows in Cornwall but he has been criticised for poor archaeological practice, particularly in only writing accounts of a tenth of the barrows. 1878 saw publication of an account of his travels around the world from October 1874 to September 1875, entitled “Sunways: A Record of Rambles in Many Lands“, a journey on which his wife did not accompany him.
Standing for Parliament in the 1880 general election, Borlase was elected Liberal Member of Parliament for East Cornwall, until the seat was divided in the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885. In the 1885 general election, he was elected MP for St Austell, and in 1886 he was made Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board.
However, with all his standing, his tastes became ever more expensive. By 1887 his effects were being sold off by auction and he resigned his seat in disgrace after his mistress revealed the extent of his debts, which brought him to bankruptcy.
The Times, February 8, 1887:
The valuable Library of William Copeland Borlase, Esq., MA.. F.S.A., M.P.
MESSRS. SOTHEBY. WILKINSON.and HODGE, will SELL by AUCTION, at their House, No. 13. Wellington Street, Strand, W.C., on Monday, February 21. and two following days, at 1 o’clock precisely, the valuiable LIBRARY of William Copeland Borlase, ESQ., M.A., F.S.A., M.P., comprising highly important Cornish manuscripts and printed books, including Hals’s and other County Historeies; Chinese, Japanese, and East India Literature: Chinese, Japanese, and Hindoo Drawings : Antiquarian and Scientific Works, Illustrated Publications, and Writings of Standard Authors. May be viewed two days prior. Catalogues may be had ; if by post, on receipt of six stamps.
The Times, October 12, 1887:
Sale of Mr Borlase’s Effects.- the sale of the effects of Mr W. Copeland Borlase, formerly M.P. for the St Austell Division, commenced at Penzance on Monday. There was a large attendance, buyers being attracted by the fact that Mr. Borlase was a well-known collector of curios and rarities. There was keen competition for many of the pictures, and good prices were realized, and this was the case with the old gold and silver coins. The old silver plate fetched prices varying from 3s, to 16s, 9d. per ounce.
He moved to Ireland to work, and subsequently managed tin mines in Spain and Portugal. The move allowed him time to write however, and in 1895 he published “The Age of the Saints: a monograph of early Christianity in Cornwall with the legends of the Cornish saints and an introduction illustrative of the ethnology of the district” and followed this two years later with ”The Dolmens of Ireland, their Distribution, Structural Characteristics, and Affinities in Other Countries; together with the folk-lore attaching to them and traditions of the Irish people” – a work in three volumes.
But sadly, the disgrace was too much, the rest of the family disowned him and he died aged just 51, in London on 31 March, 1899.
John Aubrey was born on this day, 12th of March, 1626 in Easton Piercy, a couple of miles north of Chippenham in Wiltshire, and was educated at Trinity College, Oxford.
From an antiquarian perspective, he is probably best known for including in a plan of Stonehenge a series of slight depressions immediately inside the enclosing earthwork. These depressions, 56 in all and excavated in the 1920′s, were found to be post holes for timber uprights, and were named ‘Aubrey Holes’ in honour of his original observations. There is however some doubt as to whether the holes that he actually observed are the same as those that currently bear his name.
As a pioneer archaeologist, who recorded (often for the first time) numerous megalithic and other field monuments in southern England, his most important contribution to the study of British antiquities was the lengthy “Monumenta Britannica”, which was never actually published and remains in manuscript. It contains the results of Aubrey’s field-work at Avebury and Stonehenge and notes on many other ancient sites, including Wayland’s Smithy. Apparently the original title of the manuscript was to be “Templa Druidum”.
In 1648, at the age of 22 while out foxhunting with some friends near Avebury in Wiltshire, Aubrey first recognized in the earthworks and great stones placed about the landscape in and about the village a great prehistoric temple. He wrote that he “was wonderfully surprised at the sight of those vast stones of which I had never heard before.”
It is Aubrey who is often quoted when comparing Avebury and Stonehenge that “Avebury does as much exceed in greatness the so reknowned Stonehenge, as a cathedral doeth a parish Church.” In 1663, King Charles II visited the site on his way to Bath, and was given a tour of the site by Aubrey.
(In the following century, William Stukeley developed and expanded Aubrey’s original speculation about how the ‘Ancient Britons’ would have used the site, and concluded that Avebury was built as an ancient cult centre of the Druids.)
Aubrey began work on compiling material for a natural historical and antiquarian study of Wiltshire in two parts, in 1656. The work on the antiquities (which he entitled Hypomnemata Antiquaria) was largely finished by 1671, and deposited in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford.
His next project was instigated by the Royal Cartographer, John Ogilvy, in 1673. Ogilvy commissioned a survey of the County of Surrey, which Aubrey completed, but Ogilvy never used the work as the project was cut short. Despite this, Aubrey continued on and the work was eventually published in 1718 as the Natural History and Antiquities of Surrey.
But he is probably best remembered outside of Antiquarian circles for his Brief Lives, a series of biographical sketches of some of his contemporaries, compiled between 1669 and 1693. Described thus in Aubrey’s article on Wikipedia:
As private, manuscript texts, the “Lives” were able to contain the richly controversial material which is their chief interest today, and Aubrey’s chief contribution to the formation of modern biographical writing. When he allowed Anthony Wood to use the texts, however, he entered the caveat that much of the content of the Lives was “not fitt to be let flie abroad” while the subjects and the author were still living.
Aubrey’s relationship with Wood was to become increasingly fraught. Aubrey asked Wood to be “my index expurgatorius”: a reference to the Church’s list of banned books, which Wood seems to have taken not as a warning, but as a licence to simply extract pages of notes to paste into his own proofs. In 1692, Aubrey complained bitterly that Wood had mutilated forty pages of his manuscript, perhaps for fear of a libel case. Wood was eventually prosecuted for insinuations against the judicial integrity of the school of Clarendon. One of the two statements called in question was founded on information provided by Aubrey and this may explain the estrangement between the two antiquaries and the ungrateful account that Wood gives of the elder man’s character. It is now famous: “a shiftless person, roving and magotie-headed, and sometimes little better than crased. And being exceedingly credulous, would stuff his many letters sent to A. W. with folliries and misinformations, which would sometimes guid him into the paths of errour”.
Although he was left a large estate when his father died in 1652, a series of complex financial arrangements whittled away his fortune, such that by 1670 he was dependent upon the charity of his many friends until his death by apoplexy on 7 June 1697. He is buried in the churchyard of St Mary Magdalen, Oxford.
The ‘Modern Antiquarian’, Julian Cope, has written an excellent article about Aubrey’s ‘re-discovery’ of Avebury.
William Borlase was born on this day, February 2nd 1695 in Pendeen, Cornwall. It is said that he was born in the farmhouse where the Pendeen Vau fogou is located. The family descended from an old Norman family who took the Borlase name from the farm where they had first settled, just northwest of St Wenn. The family moved to Pendeen in the mid-17th century. There is still a Borlase Farm at St Wenn today.
He attended Exeter College at Oxford and was ordained as a deacon in 1719, and a year later as a priest. He returned to Ludgvan in 1722 and ten years later following the death of his brother (the incumbent) was also presented with the vicarage of St Just, the parish of his birth. William married Anne Smith, a rector’s daughter, in 1724 and they had six sons though only four survived infancy – three of whom became churchmen like their father. Anne died in 1769, aged 45.
As an antiquarian he is best known for his ‘Antiquities of Cornwall’, first published in 1754, but he was also known as a naturalist and geologist as well as being vicar of Ludgvan for 50 years before his death in 1772.
Living in a strong mining area led to an interest in geology and collection of mineral samples, and from this came an interest in the natural history of the county, and the various ancient monuments there, many of which still survive.
In 1730, he became acquainted with Alexander Pope (for whose grotto at Twickenham he later supplied many the fossils and minerals), Ralph Allen, and other persons of eminence and ability and began a correspondence with them, and other distinguished persons whose acquaintance he afterwards made. This continued throughout his life, and a considerable archive of his letters exists.
Visiting Exeter in 1748 for the ordination of his eldest son, he met with Dean Lyttelton (afterwards bishop of Carlisle). This acquaintanceship seems to have led to the publication of William’s essay ‘Spar and Sparry Productions, called Cornish Diamonds‘ in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’. Shortly after this, in 1760 he was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society.
‘Cornish Antiquities’ was published in 1754, with a second edition released in 1769, complete with many plates based upon his sketches, including depictions of Zennor Quoit prior to it’s partial destruction and subsequent restoration, and Lanyon Quoit before it’s collapse in the early 1800′s.
In 1766 his account of the Scilly Islands, ‘Observations on the Ancient and Present State of the Islands of Scilly, and their Importance to the Trade of Great Britain’ appeared, being an extension of an earlier essay in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’. 1758 saw the publication of his ‘Natural History’, also illustrated with numerous plates from his own drawings.
Shortly after 1758 he presented his collections to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. In acknowledgment of this gift, and in recognition of his distinguished services to literature and archaeology, the university conferred upon him by diploma, in 1766, the degree of doctor of laws.
William died at Ludgvan on 31 Aug. 1772, aged 77. Only two of his sons survived him: the Rev. John Borlase, and the Rev. George Borlase.
A ‘scholarly biography’ is available from the Cornish Bookshop.
Quote obtained from Engravers World Ltd (with whom we have no connection whatsoever. Other suppliers are available!)
(The suggestion isn’t appropriate for London of course as EH will recommence there soon no doubt).