John Aubrey (1626-1697) the spendthrift son of a Wiltshire gentleman, was commissioned to prepare a history of Surrey by John Ogilby, self-styled Kings Cosmographer and Geographer.

Ogilby was planning a three-volume work called Britannia to consist of road maps, illustrations and a description of the kingdom. The Oxford-educated Aubrey was already experienced in taking notes of Antiquity and drawing landscips on horse-back symbolically and, in July 1672, he perambulated Surrey in the pleasantest pilgrimage that any man has had since the Reformation.

Unfortunately, Ogilby chose not to use his work and, despite the encouragement of John Evelyn and antiquaries such as Sir William Dugdale and Elias Ashmole, Aubrey lost interest. He felt that the drudgery of transcribing his notes, which had been set down … as though tumbled out of a sack was too great and he gave his great swab of papers to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, before his death in 1697.

It was left to the antiquary, Richard Rawlinson, and the bookseller, Edmund Curll, to revise the papers and print the first county history of Surrey in 1718, under Aubreys name but sadly without his illustrations. Aubreys careful observations of the places he visited, transcription of many epitaphs that were later destroyed and anecdotes of eccentric local characters and customs remain valuable today.

The Shepherds of [Headley] Downs use a half Horn … naild to the End of a long Staff (about the length of our Western Sheep Crooks) with which they can hurl a Stone a great Distance, and so keep their Sheep within their Bounds, or from straggling in to the Corn.

John Aubrey, The Natural History and Antiquities of Surrey vol 3, pp306-7.

One Response to John Aubrey (1626 -1697)

  1. Amy Warner says:

    The location of John Aubrey\’s papers can be found on the National Register of Archives at: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/nra/searches/subjectView.asp?ID=P996

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