Joseph Priestley

Joseph Priestley

Joseph Priestley was a pioneering scientist and discoverer of oxygen. From 1758-1761, while in his twenties and before his big discovery, Priestley was a non-conformist minister and school teacher in Nantwich.

A plaque on Sweetbriar Hall on Hospital Street, Nantwich

Priestley Plaque

states that the building  was occupied from 1758 to 1761 by Joseph Priestley. However, we’ve yet to find evidence that he lived or taught there. See our page on Sweetbriar Hall for more information.

We know from Priestley’s autobiography, and James Hall’s History of the Town and Parish of Nantwich, that he boarded with John Eddowes in and after the year 1758. John Eddowes was a tobacconist and grocer in High Street, Nantwich.

Priestley preached in the nearby Presbyterian (later Unitarian) Chapel, built in 1726 and demolished in 1970.  If you’re wondering what the chapel looked like, the Victoria & Albert Museum has a picture of the interior (by the war artist, George Hooper in 1942) here.

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”.

Dis-satisfied with the English grammar books available at the time, 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.

After three years in Nantwich, Priestley was offered a teaching position at Warrington Academy, which he accepted, moving there in 1761.

In 2019, Priestley was featured in a temporary exhibition, entitled From Nantwich to Oxygen: Joseph Priestley’s Journey of Discovery, at the Museum. The information panels, exhibits and photos from the events are available here.

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