I’ve just finished reading the fascinating book ‘My Own Life’ by Ruth Scurr about the life of the 17th century Wiltshire antiquarian John Aubrey. It has left me with such a great impression of both his life and the times he lived in, that I thought I’d share them with you.
Aubrey was born on St. Gregory’s Day, 12th March 1626, the eldest son of Richard, a gentleman, and Deborah. His cousin and patron was Sir John Aubrey, 2nd Baronet, who had homes in Buckinghamshire and the Vale of Glamorgan.
His love of Wiltshire was derived from growing up at Broad Chalke and Easton Piercy, and through his years spent at school at Leigh Delamare, but also from association with some of the county’s major landowners such as the Pembrokes of Wilton House, spending time at their estates. His father’s death caused financial difficulties. Over time Aubrey had to sell off his property, spending the majority of his time moving between friends, patrons and lodging houses.
Aubrey had many, many friends, some of whom appear to have taken advantage of his good nature and his genuine wish to help further their work. Aubrey loved science and learning, becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1662, only two years after it had been founded, but he also loved nature and the world around him, especially the Wiltshire landscape, and folklore. He had a belief and interest in astrology, and had correspondence with Edmund Halley.
John was particularly interested in springs, and noted many in Wiltshire, testing their composition and presenting them to the Royal Society. He also had a surprising ability for the age; the ability to talk to anyone and show interest in their views, from Kings to lowly peasants.
Aubrey lived in turbulent times and worried about the lack of care given to historic material, seeing stonework looted, ruins uncared for, old manuscripts used in kitchens and to cover school books. His sense of caring for the past for the future was evident in his relationships with men such as Mr Ashmole who was instrumental in the founding of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. He also paid for the etching of the Osney Abbey ruins by Hollar; concerned to document them before they were lost forever.
Here at the History Centre we have a collection of over 1,000 prints dating from the 17th century to the late 19th century; artistic snapshots of our county in time. A selection will be on show in our reception area in the form of a mini exhibition, running from the 28th of September 2013 to the 3rd January 2014. Entry to the exhibition is free, open during our normal working hours. Please feel free to pop in and take a look; they are beautiful works of art in themselves!
The earliest examples of printed illustration are the woodcuts used by William Caxton to illustrate his books in the late 15th century. Saxton’s atlas of England and Wales was published in 1579 and has been called the greatest publishing achievement of the 16th century, being the first national atlas of its kind to be produced in any country, utilising the latest technology of line engraving.
By the 17th century it had become established practice to issue books with engraved title pages and portraits. The process required a different printing process to text and led to an increase in the use of the copper plate press. Demand for this new type of publication increased, resulting in the establishment of two new trades; the publisher and print seller.
The popularity of etching in Britain was predominantly due to one man, Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-77) from Prague. He arrived in Britain as a member of the household of the Earl of Arundel, one of Charles I’s Ministers of State who was a great patron of the arts. Less than 10 years later both the Earl and Hollar had to flee due to the Royalist defeat in the Civil War.