Anthony à WOOD (1632–1695)
Postmasters’ Hall, Merton Street, Oxford
Anthony à Wood was born in 1632 in Postmasters’ Hall which was leased by the family from Merton College. He attended schools in Oxford and Thame and entered Merton where his brother was his tutor, but he was considered a mediocre student not destined for an academic career. His interest turned instead to antiquarian research. He set about amassing a huge quantity of information which involved gleaning university, college and parish archives, trawling through bookshops, and gathering information in the shires and in London libraries and record offices. He also collaborated with other antiquarians such as John Aubrey. He lived and worked throughout his life in the attic rooms at the top of Postmasters’ hall.
The fruits of his ambitious research were the massive works The History and Antiquities of the University of Oxford (1674) and Athenae Oxonienses (1691) in which he documented the lives and publications of over 1500 writers associated with the University, creating an indispensable record for historians. His notes on the city, closely detailing buildings and streets, have made it the best documented city in England before 1695. This material was edited by Andrew Clark and published as Survey of the Antiquities of Oxford as late as 1899. Clark also published more of Wood’s notes as The Life and Times of Anthony Wood, Antiquary, of Oxford, 1632–1695, described by Himself, providing a constantly invaluable resource for researchers in many fields.
Although Wood’s contribution was extraordinary, he was a cantankerous and vituperative character who fell out with everyone sooner or later. In 1693 he was sued in the Vice-Chancellor’s Court for libelling Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon; his book was publicly burnt and he was expelled from the university. He died in 1695 and was laid to rest in the parish church of St John, now Merton Chapel, where his fine monument can be seen. He bequeathed his thousands of books and manuscripts to the old Ashmolean and they are now held in the Bodleian.
- Sources: The text of Professor Kiessling’s address delivered at the unveiling is published in the Oxford Magazine, issue No. 277, Trinity Term 2008; Nicolas Kiessling, The Library of Anthony Wood; article by Graham Parry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
- Pictures: Postmasters’ Hall in 2010 and Unveiling ceremony
- Oxford Mail, 28 April 2008: ‘Blue plaque to honour historian’
The plaque was unveiled at Postmasters’ Hall, Merton Street, Oxford by Dame Jessica Rawson, Warden of Merton, on 28 April 2008. Professor Nicolas Kiessling gave the address.
Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board
Anthony à Wood
was born, lived
and died at
The Merton Society