A title from The Old School Press 

Aubrey's Villa

The poignant story of John Aubrey's beloved childhood home, his hopes for it, and its loss, told through his own drawings and watercolours 

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About the book

Out of print

John Aubrey (1626–1697) was born in a house built by his grandfather, Isaac Lyte, at Lower Easton Piercy in Wiltshire, a house he always knew he would inherit. When it came to him after his father’s death, while he was still in his twenties, he began signing himself ‘John Aubrey of Easton Pierse, Esq.’, a connection with his land in Wiltshire that became essential to his identity. But inherited debts and bad luck eventually caught up with him in his forties, and he found himself having to sell not just the lands and house but nearly everything he owned including some of his books. It was at this time that he prepared a collection of drawings, half of them a record of what he was leaving behind at Easton Piercy, but the other half, more spectacular, drawings of an Easton Piercy that had never existed. As he completed the final drawings in 1669–70, he went into hiding from the bailiffs, concealed his identity, and gave out rumours that he had gone abroad. His drawings now form a manuscript in the Bodleian Library: Aubrey 17.

From being a country gentleman with a very public sense of place he became a completely displaced figure taking his identity from the newly-founded Royal Society. His drawings are a record of the emotional cost of that shift, a farewell in pencil, ink, and watercolour to a place and a way of life that had defined him until that point. Yet the drawings are more than a simple record. For whatever reason, at the moment of losing it entirely Aubrey decided to show what he had wanted his estate to become: a neo-classical villa set amongst Italianate gardens and terraces. He was in the first generation of theorists and architects who developed the concept of a neo-classical country house, and his plans record debts to and conversations with John Evelyn, Roger Pratt, and Christopher Wren.

Aubrey’s drawings of Easton Piercy—as it was and as it might have been—now rest in that bound volume in the Bodleian, and we have been given permission to reproduce it in its entirety for the first time. To bring alive both the personal and the architectural story behind it, Dr Kelsey Jackson Williams has written an extended essay to accompany the reproductions of Aubrey’s drawings, and Professor Peter Davidson and Dr Kate Bennett have contributed introductory essays and commentary on the drawings. Oxford Fellow Dr Bennett is the leading authority on Aubrey and in 2015 published the first annotated critical edition of his best-known work, Brief Lives, and in 2017 was awarded the Rose Mary Crawshay prize by the British Academy; Dr Williams is the author of The Antiquary: John Aubrey’s Historical Scholarship. It is hard to imagine a more knowledgeable team of experts for this book.

This new title continues The Old School Press’s interest in matters architectural and our aim to publish new and authoritative texts. Interest in Aubrey has been much revived in both academic and general readership circles following two major publications in the last few years: Dr Bennett’s own edition of Aubrey’s Brief Lives, and a fictional autobiography of Aubrey, John Aubrey: My Own Life by Cambridge Fellow Dr Ruth Scurr.

A sample page from the original manuscript


About the edition

Aubrey’s manuscript is landscape in format and we have retained that. Our book is bound between boards covered with a paper specially hand-marbled by English paper marbler Jemma Lewis in the style of that chosen by Aubrey for his own binding of his manuscript. The leaves are sewn Japanese style though a faux vellum spine. The book is slightly larger than A3 (about 17in wide and 12in deep) and runs to 68pp, so it makes a handsome volume. The final edition size was 60 copies. Each copy is signed by the three authors. Copies were £135 each.

There is one important difference with this title: it is printed entirely digitally, rather than letterpress. Much as we would have loved to do it letterpress our calculations suggested it would not work financially. However, our customers need have no fear that this is the thin end of a wedge between us and letterpress!

Find out more about the book

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Copyright © Martyn Ould 2023