Itinerarium Curiosum

or An account of the antiquitys and remarkable curiositys in nature or art observed through travels in Great Brittan by William Stukeley. London, 1724

Dr William Stukeley (1687-1765) was the most renowned English antiquary of the eighteenth century. In the era of the Enlightenment and the Grand Tour, which saw people looking for inspiration from classical antiquity, Stukeley considered Britain “a neglected province” and insisted that it held as many treasures as that of Rome or Greece. Following a series of trips to the English and Welsh countryside beginning in 1710, Stukeley gathered topographical, historical and archaeological material that would be compiled in his Itinerarium Curiosum, first published in 1724. His purpose, he said, was to “rouse up the spirit of the curious among us” and to encourage the British people to “admire their native furniture.”

Itinerarium Curiosum is written as a series of letters and is divided into seven itineraries or tours, beginning in Stukeley’s native Lincolnshire. In each of his tours, Stukeley describes in vivid and painstaking detail his observations of the landscape, history and architectural remains. Stukeley was also a very talented artist and draughtsman and his work contains detailed illustrations of the topography and architecture, as well as sketches of historical artefacts. Stukeley often followed the routes of old Roman roads, paying particular attention to the Roman remains and artefacts he discovered along the way. He also had a fascination with stone circles, making extensive studies and archaeological surveys of Stonehenge and Avebury. It is for this work that he is best remembered today, in particular for his monographs “Stonehenge, a Temple restor’d to the British Druids” (1740) (also in the Layton Collection) and “Abury, a temple of the British Druids, with some others described” (1743). In Itinerarium Curiosum Stukeley also describes other less well-known monuments including the Kit’s Coty House in Kent and the stone circles at Stanton Drew in Somerset and Winterbourne Abbas in Dorset.

Stukeley argued for a greater appreciation of Britain’s ancient heritage, at a time when agricultural and industrial change threatened to destroy it forever. Today Itinerarium Curiosum remains of immense value to how we view and study our past. Stukeley is recognised as a pioneer of field archaeology and his meticulous notes and sketches has provided valuable information on ancient buildings and structures, many of which have since been damaged or unfortunately no longer exist.

David Boyd Haycock (2002) William Stukeley: Science, Religion, and Archaeology in Eighteenth-century England, Boydell & Brewer Ltd
Tim Murray (2007) Milestones in Archaeology: A Chronological Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO
Richard Hingley (2008) The Recovery of Roman Britain 1586-1906: A Colony So Fertile, Oxford University Press

Layton 6843 and 6844


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