Famous Nantwich People

This page will look at the many famous people who have lived in the area, or who are associated with Nantwich. It’s a work in progress – so please keep coming back, as we add more people.

John Gerard

Gerard John 1545-1612.jpg
Public Domain, Link

As you enter Nantwich Museum, you may notice some herbs in a planter dedicated to John Gerard:
Nantwich Museum herb planter dedicated to John Gerard herbalist
John Gerard was born in Nantwich in 1545, and went to school in nearby Willaston. When he was about 17 he moved to London, and became a botanist and herbalist. His chief claim to fame is as the author of a large illustrated Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes. This book was published in 1597, and became the most widely circulated botany book in English in the 17th century.  The book contained many errors and plagiarisms, and was reissued with corrections in 1633 by Thomas Johnson, and became a standard work for English students.

Plants were important in Tudor times for treating illness. Before our modern medicines people would rely on plants like marigolds and willow when they were unwell. In his Herball, Gerard makes reference to plants growing around Nantwich. Gerard’s Herball also references many of the poisonous plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays.  The plant genus Gerardia is named after John Gerard.

In 1604 Queen Anne (the consort of James 1) granted to John Gerard, (who was described as a Surgeon and Herbalist to the King), a lease of a garden plot adjoining Somerset House, on the condition that he supplied her with herbs, flowers, and fruit.

In 2015 it was suggested by botanist and historian Mark Griffiths in Country Life  that Gerard’s Herball has the first – and only known demonstrably authentic, portrait of William Shakespeare on the cover.  John Gerard died in February 1611, and is buried in St. Andrew’s Church, Holborn.

You can read more in our booklet: John Gerard and his Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes which is available from our shop.

Joseph Priestley

Sweetbriar Hall

Sweetbriar Hall is a half-timbered “black and white” building on Hospital Street, Nantwich – which managed to survive the great fire of 1583. A plaque on the building:

Plaque on Sweet Briar Hall

tells us that the building  was occupied from 1758 to 1761 by Joseph Priestley, one of the people credited with the discovery of oxygen.  At the time, Joseph Priestley was a teacher and a Unitarian minister.  He preached in the nearby Unitarian Chapel, which was built in 1726 and demolished in 1970.  If you’re wondering what the chapel looked like, the V & A have a picture of the interior (done by the war artist, George Hooper in 1942) here.

At the back of Sweetbriar Hall is a red brick building (dating from around 1701) which was the school. The building bears his name today:

Priestley House Plaque

James Priestley used to have a bad stammer.  In his autobiography he writes “for the first two years I was at Nantwich, this impediment had increased so much that I once informed the people that I must give up the business of preaching, and confine myself to my school. However by making a practice of reading very loud and very slow every day, I at length succeeded in getting in some measure the better of this defect, but I am still obliged occasionally to have recourse to the same expedient”.

Appalled at the quality of the available English grammar books, whilst in Nantwich in 1761 he wrote his own textbook: The Rudiments of English Grammar.  This book was very successful and was reprinted for over fifty years.  The success of this book, and his school,  led to Warrington Academy offering him a teaching position, which he accepted and he moved there in 1761.

You can read more in our booklet: Joseph Priestley, Discoverer of Oxygen: His time in Nantwich 1758-1761 which is available from our shop.

James Hall

James Hall by Walter J Hall
James Hall by Walter J Hall

A painting of Nantwich historian James Hall greets visitors as they enter the museum. It hangs in the main gallery.

The portrait was painted by James Hall’s son, Walter J. Hall, in 1943 – that was 29 years after his father’s death – and given to the town. It was originally hung in Nantwich Free Library (the building that is now the home of Nantwich Museum) but when the county library service moved to its present building, next to the Civic Hall, the portrait went with them.

Trying to trace the portrait, Nantwich historian John Lake mentioned the painting to a member of the library staff – who recalled that it was under a flight of stairs in the building.

There it was rediscovered, with a broken frame and in a dirty condition.

Thanks to Mr Lake, it has now been restored with grants from Cheshire County Council and the North West Museums Service and returned to Nantwich Museum where it has been given a permanent home.

plaque

The portrait includes pictures of Lincoln Cathedral and Nantwich Parish Church.

The author of “Hall’s History of Nantwich” was born in Lincoln on February 20, 1846, but moved to Nantwich at the age of 20. In 1875 he became the first headmaster of Willaston School, which is two miles from Nantwich. He retired to Chester where he died on October 6, 1914.

A plaque (right) in the porch of St Mary’s Parish Church, commemorating the centenary of James Hall’s birth, was instigated by local historian, Percy Corry, when he was Church Librarian. He arranged the collection which found the money to erect the plaque.

Albert Neilson Hornby

Above is a picture of the grave of Albert Neilson Hornby.  He was nicknamed Monkey Hornby, and was one of the best known sportsmen in England during the nineteenth century. He was the the first of only two men to captain England at both rugby and cricket. He was also the England cricket captain whose side lost the Test match which gave rise to the Ashes in 1882.

His grave is in St Mary’s churchyard at Acton, less than two miles from Nantwich museum.

You can read more about people who have lived in Nantwich in the museum and from our range of booklets that are available in our shop.