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John Thomas Blight was born on 7th October 1835 in Redruth.

His father, Robert, a teacher, moved the family to Penzance and introduced his sons to the study of nature, antiquities and folklore.

By the age of 20, Blight had published a book on the antiquities of Penwith and a large collection of drawings. His expansion of this work, in two volumes, was at first encouraged by the Rev. R. S. Hawker and then the cause of a prolonged argument.

John Blight’s second patron, James Halliwell, was similarly unhelpful, never paying him for his vast labour in illustrating Halliwell”s projected edition of William Shakespeare”s Works.

In the mid-1860s, Blight had a mental breakdown and was incarcerated for the remainder of his life in Bodmin Mental Hospital.

Blight’s recording of Cornish antiquities includes many that no longer exist. His descriptions and illustrations of them provide a most valuable source for archaeologists and local historians.

His enduring and most substantial works remain as ‘Ancient Crosses and Other Antiquities in the East of Cornwall‘ (1872), ‘Ancient Crosses and Other Antiquities in the West of Cornwall’ (1856) and ‘A Week at the Land’s End’ (1861)


John Thomas Blight on Wikipedia

We were impressed enough with this recent photo posted by the Standing With Stones founders within the Standing With Stones Community Facebook group to request permission to reproduce it here.

It provides a comparison between an antiquarian drawing by William Stukeley from some 270 years ago, and the site as it stands today: the Whispering Knights in Oxfordshire.

© Standing with Stones. Reproduced by permission.

Looking at this photo, it occurred to us that many of our readers visit such sites on a regular basis. Also, antiquarian sketches of many ancient sites are readily available from internet searches. So why not put the two together?

If you’re planning a site visit, why not take the time to spend a few minutes in preparation to see if an antiquarian sketch exists? If it does, print it out and take it along then take a snap of both the sketch and the monument from the same or a similar position, and send it into us. We’ll be more than happy to publish any that we receive.

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.

Described by Professor Ronald Hutton as “probably… the most important of the early forerunners of the discipline of archaeology”, William Stukeley was born this day in 1687 at Holbeach in Lincolnshire.

Frontispiece to The Family Memoirs of the Rev. William Stukeley, M.D. (Wikimedia Commons)

Frontispiece to The Family Memoirs of the Rev. William Stukeley, M.D. (Wikimedia Commons)

Although his father was a lawyer, medicine was William’s initial preferred area of study, which he followed at St Thomas’ Hospital in London after taking a degree at Cambridge. He returned to Lincolnshire to practice in 1710, where he forged friendships with the likes of Isaac Newton and William Wake (who was later to become Archbishop of Canterbury). At this time he also began his long distance travels around Britain, before returning to London once more in 1717. In London he joined several societies, including the Royal College of Physicians the Freemasons and the Society of Antiquaries – where he served as it’s first Secretary, a post he held for nine years. He also continued his travels in this period, becoming intimately aquainted with Avebury and Stonehenge, among other sites.

His dismay at the destruction of the megaliths to provide building material led him to prepare detailed surveys of the sites he visited – possibly the first recorded case of ‘Rescue Archaeology’. His travels were documented in 1724 as ‘Itineratium Curosium’.

Kits Coty House, from 'Itineratium Curosium'

Kits Coty House, from ‘Itineratium Curosium’

He returned to Lincolnshire in 1726, and with the help of his friend William Wakes, was swiftly ordained and installed as vicar of All Saints in Stamford, where he served for seventeen years from 1730. His works on Stonehenge, “Stonehenge: a Temple Restor’d to the British Druids” and Avebury, “Abury: a temple of the British Druids” were published in 1740 and 1742, at which time he had become fascinated by the thought of early religions, and the Druids – so much so that he became known as the ‘Arch-Druid’ because of his writings on the subject.

Having returned to London in 1747, in 1752 Stukeley wrote a biography of his friend, Isaac Newton, and was the first to tell the story of the falling apple that inspired Newton’s most famous theory. Stukeley died in London on March 3rd, 1765.

A blue plaque, unveiled in 2010 at the site of his house in Barn Hill, Stamford describes him as an ‘antiquary’ and ‘the Father of British Archaeology’.

English Heritage is to mobilise a volunteer Heritage Army – “the first crowd-sourcing project to tackle heritage at risk”. The idea is to get volunteers to carry out surveys of England’s 345,000 Grade II buildings “to enable thousands of passionate heritage fans to get more actively involved.”

Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: “Today we are announcing a win / win proposition. For English Heritage it means we will eventually get, for the first time, a complete picture of the condition of all England’s listed heritage. We can use this information to decide how best to deploy our national expertise to help owners and all those tackling heritage at risk on the ground. And we’ll have a grass-roots network to spread understanding and appreciation of local heritage so that less of it becomes at risk in the first place.”

It certainly fits with something we’ve been suggesting for years regarding prehistoric monuments – there is already a passionate, knowledgeable army of enthusiasts out there who regularly visit those, even ones in inaccessible places. Many of them keep EH informed of their condition but a more formalised system including phone apps would certainly improve protection at minimal cost.

However Rescue News made an important point (on Twitter) :

“Involving the volunteer public in assessing Heritage at Risk is a great idea. But they should NEVER replace qualified professionals!” And of course, doing that may well be in the Government’s mind. They also made a sharp retort to Planning Minister Nick Boles:

“not making it easier to demolish those beautiful places and heritage assets we all value would be a help too”!

The current edition of The Big Issue (No 1064) contains a significant article by the new President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Sir Andrew Motion.

Big Issue

So what IS wrong with nimbyism? The Government and some developers often imply such people are misguided, selfish – unpatriotic even. Sir Andrew begs to differ. It’s about time someone did. As the Big Issue says: “What if they are the new radicals, those who are concerned enough to sit up and fight for what they believe in?” For the article Adam Forrest talks to the former poet laureate about his involvement in a campaign against new builds, and then goes into “a journey to the heart of nimbyism”.

Not demonising nimbies is perhaps of particularly importance when it comes to heritage matters. If a major development is proposed near to an ancient site, damaging it’s setting, who can be most relied upon to fight tooth and nail against it? Not always EH, sadly, now the Government has diminished it and effectively changed it’s role. Not always Councillors who may not see ancient sites as significant. Not always Planning Inspectors whose decisions are often shackled by government policy. Not those locals who are told they will benefit from a share in the profits. No, it will probably be nimbies – in the form of local history societies, amateur archaeologists and antiquarians!

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.

William Camden (by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger)

William Camden (by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger)

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 Rollright Stones, from Camden's Brittania.

The Rollright Stones, from Camden’s Britannia.

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.

Ardaragh, from the Dolmens of Ireland.

Ardaragh, from the Dolmens of Ireland.

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.

John Aubrey from Wikimedia Commons.

John Aubrey (Wikimedia Commons).

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.

William Borlase

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.

Borlase Title

‘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.

'Senar Cromlech'

‘Senar Cromlech’

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.


May 2022

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