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Happy Birthday to Sir Richard Colt Hoare, historian of Wiltshire, born on 9 Dec. 1758, the only son of Richard Hoare, esq., of Barn Elms, Surrey and his first wife (and cousin) Anne. His mother died when he was six months old but his father re-married, to Frances Ann Acland with whom he had four further sons and two daughters.

Sir Richard Colt Hoare, 2nd Bt (1758 - 1838), historian, writing with a quill in his library. Frontispiece to Volume I of his ‘History of Modern Wiltshire' 1822-44.

Sir Richard Colt Hoare, 2nd Bt (1758 – 1838), historian, writing with a quill in his library.
Frontispiece to Volume I of his ‘History of Modern Wiltshire’ 1822-44.

Richard was educated at Wandsworth and Greenford. His classical studies continued privately whilst learning the family banking business at Fleet Street. On his coming of age, his grandfather provided a house at lincolns Inn, and a substantial sum of money. He married Hester Lyttleton on 1783 and their son Henry was born a year later. Sadly, Henry’s mother did not survive to see his first birthday, and Richard never remarried. Also in 1785, he inherited the estate at Stourhead in Wiltshire so left the bank, and equipped with a very substantial income of some £10,000 p.a. decided to travel the world in an attempt to lift his spirits.

His travels across Italy, France, Switzerland and Spain were well documented (see ‘Recollections abroad: journals of tours on the continent, 1785–1791’), visiting the classical sites and immersing himself in the landscapes, drawing, recording and collecting for his portfolio. After the briefest return home in 1787 to succeed his father in the baronetcy Richard continued his travels in 1788, “no longer as a tourist but as a systematic antiquarian … quitting … the road for the path, the capital for the provinces”. During this time he passed through the Netherlands, Germany, and Italy once more.

Returning to Britain in 1791 (the French Revolutionary War having made European travel dangerous), he turned continued his habit of keeping meticulous diaries detailing his annual visits and journeys around Britain, particlarly Wales for which he had a fondness.

Aside from his travels, he was High Sheriff of Wiltshire in 1805, and was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. He spent time developing and enlarging Stourhead as it was incapable of holding his collections, particularly his library. In 1825 he gave his collection of Italian topographical and historical works to the British Museum, but in its place he collected nearly every book on the history and topography of the British Isles – a collection which was sadly broken up by auction some years after his death.

Despite building such an extensive library, he had longed to be an author, and was assisted in this endeavor by William Cunnington – an antiquary who was excavating the prehistoric barrows in his neighbourhood.

He was the moving spirit behind the team that produced the first volume (in three parts) of The Ancient History of South Wiltshire in 1812. Richard was the financier and author. As a survey of Wiltshire barrows it is incomplete but Richard was commended: “No antiquary had ever the same means or opportunities before Sir Richard Hoare and no-one ever availed himself more entirely of the advantages which he possesses” (Quarterly Review, 5, 1811, 118). The second volume, The Ancient History of North Wiltshire, appeared in 1819.

Following a breakdown in the relationship with his son, who had accrued various debts, Richard suffered from a variety of ill health, including gout, rheumatism and deafness, but despite this he worked on his County History of Wiltshire. The first part, ‘The Hundred of Mere‘ was published in 1822. In total, fourteen parts covering the hundreds of South Wiltshire,  were published as the six volume ‘The History of Modern Wiltshire‘. The last two hundreds were written after his death in order to complete the work. He also authored numerous other works, most of which were printed for private circulation only.

His last fieldwork was to see the Roman Pitney pavement uncovered at Somerton. He published a report on this excavation in 1831, which has proved invaluable as the pavement was destroyed five years later.

Richard died on 19 May 1838 at Stourhead and is buried in the family mausoleum in the churchyard of St Peter’s, Stourton.


December 2013

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