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:
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:
Joseph 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.