Williams K, Bennett K & Davidson P (2017) Aubrey's Villa. Seaton, Devon: The Old School Press.
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 The Old School Press has been given permission to reproduce it in its entirety for the first time.
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