A brief account of the life and works of the antiquarian John Stow …
John Stow was born in 1525 in the parish of St Michael Cornhill in the City of London. He went on to become a Merchant Taylor, by apprenticeship, setting up shop in Aldgate in 1549, and eventually retiring and becoming a pensioner in 1579.
Despite the demands of his profession, Stow found time to embark on what was essentially a second career as an antiquarian, from around 1560, publishing “A Summarie of Englyshe Chronicles … ”, in 1561, and “Annales, or a Generale Chronicle of England … ” in 1580 (*). It is thought that he began work on his magnum opus, “A Survay of London … ” in the 1560s, although it was not published until 1598 – tellingly, the famous last words are “And so I end, wanting time to travel further in this work”! It is from his “Survay” that we derive much of our understanding of the topography, buildings and social history of Elizabethan London.
Stow died on April 5th, 1603, and is buried in the church of St Andrew Undershaft in the City. His memorial in the church shows him with a quill-pen in his hand. Every third year, on or around the anniversary of his death, as part of a special service in the church in his memory, he is ceremonially presented with a new quill (and his old one is given to the winner of an essay competition for local children, with London as its subject). This year’s service is at 4:00pm on April 24th.
(*) During the course of his research, he was challenged more than once by the ecclesiastical authorities over his collection of books, some of which were categorised as “superstitious” or “in defence of Papistry” (i.e., Catholicism), but was able to convince them as to the truth of his Protestantism.
It is noteworthy in this context that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, was one of his patrons.