John Britton was born at Kington St Michael in Wiltshire (7 July 1771 – 1 January 1857) From an unpromising beginning he became an English antiquary, author and editor. Orphaned at an early age he was at first apprenticed to a wine merchant. Following this he had a series of assorted jobs, but suffered from ill-health and was often in poverty. After some slight successes as a writer, he was commissioned by a Salisbury publisher to write an account of Wiltshire with Edward Wedlake Brayley which resulted in The Beauties of Wiltshire (1801). This was followed by Architectural Antiquities of Great Britain in 9 vols. (1805-1814) and The Beauties of England and Wales. He never made much money from his efforts and in 1845 a Britton Club was formed to which a sum of £1000 was subscribed and given to Britton, who was subsequently granted a civil list pension by the Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli. Britton proposed that there should be a society for the preservation of national monuments, which was a forerunner of the SPAB – the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. He died in London on 1 January 1857.
After his death, his library of topographical and antiquarian books and manuscripts was acquired by a group of Wiltshire gentlemen around which they formed the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society ‘to cultivate and collect information on archaeology and Natural History in their various branches and to form a Library and Museum illustrating the history, natural, civic and ecclesiastic of the County of Wilts’. The Wiltshire Museum and its Library still contains the cabinet that he owned – find out more here.
The John Britton catalogue consists of 4 boxes of documents: AQ2 to AQ5 inclusive
- AQ2 notes for topographical writings
- AQ3 correspondence : letters from John Britton mainly to Rev. Jackson (see pdf file for transcripts)
- AQ4 correspondence : letters to John Britton (see pdf file for transcripts)
- AQ5 Margaret Beaufort, a research project by John Britton, miscellaneous subjects, a list of references to John Britton in the archive catalogue, a list of bound Britton manuscripts
- Handlist of over 100 books and tracts by or about John Britton (see PDF)