John Britton antiquary and topographer was born on the 7th July 1771 in Kington St Michael near Chippenham. He is best known for the books ‘The Beauties of England and Wales’ (1801) and ‘The Beauties of Wiltshire’ (1825).
He was the eldest of ten children brought up in a small cottage with one downstairs room, which was used as both parlour and kitchen. His father was the village baker and shopkeeper.
At sixteen he was apprenticed to a London wine merchant. He would visit when time permitted a Mr Essex, a literary dial painter who lent him books. He was also introduced to his future partner Mr Edward Brayley.
After ill health he left his apprenticeship and to get away from poverty he became a cellarman, clerk to a lawyer and recited and sang songs at a small theatre.
His literary career began when he became acquainted with a publisher producing work on the topography of Wiltshire and was commissioned to complete it with his friend Edward Brayley.
He died on January 1st 1857 and is buried in West Norwood Cemetery in London.
After his death, his library of topographical and antiquarian books was acquired, leading to the formation of the Wiltshire Archaeological and National History Society. Wiltshire Museum have a cabinet that he owned containing his books and papers.
The Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre also hold many of Britton’s works, including his autobiography published in 1850, ref. XBR.921.
Sue Tuersley, Library Assistant at Chippenham Library