Ward's Book of Days.

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On this day in history in 1687, was born William Stukely.

Stukely was a physician, clergyman and historian who pioneered the science of archaeology by the excavations of Stonehenge and Avebury.

William Stukeley was born on 7th November 1687, at Holbeach, Lincolnshire, the son of a lawyer. He read medicine at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, taking his degree in 1710. He practiced medicine at St Thomas’s Hospital, London and in 1720 became a member of the Royal College of Physicians. In 1729, Stukeley took holy orders and was appointed the vicar of All Saints, Stamford, Lincolnshire. In 1741, he was appointed rector of St George’s, Bloomsbury.

As well as practicing two professions simultaneously, Stukeley had a hobby of historical research and excavation. He visited the stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury, restoring the ancient stones and making copious drawings. He visited Royston Cave, a man-made excavation, originally build by the Knights Templar, and made sketches for publication. Stukeley also conducted research on the lost Eleanor Cross of Stamford, Lincolnshire.  

Stukeley’s research into the monumental Neolithic stone circles led him to the extravagant belief that these structures were the work of the Druids, ancient Celtic priests. He claimed to be able to demonstrate an astronomical purpose for the placement of the stones, claiming that the site was an instrument in the calculation of the calendar. These erroneous views became widely accepted during the late Eighteenth Century, and even though they have now been thoroughly discredited, there is still no plausible explanation for their existence. Despite his romantic conjectures, Stukeley’s surviving drawings provide valuable information on monuments since damaged.  

Stukeley died on 3rd March 1765 and is buried in London. [St Mary Magdalene Church, Norman Road, East Ham, London E6 6HN. unmarked grave]. William Stukeley Primary School, in his home town of Holbeach, is named in his honour. 

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