Broad Street Wrington Website
The Lives of
John Locke & Hannah More

Page 4


There are two accounts of John Locke's birth in Wrington on 29th August 1632. The historian Collinson, in 1791 wrote: "He was born in the humble cottage near Wrington Church because his mother was passing through the village and was taken in labour and constrained to take up residence".

A more detailed account is:
The Locke Family. Edward Locke Senior lived in Brockhampton, Dorset; was a Churchwarden. His son, Nicholas, moved to Somerset and established a clothier's business at Sutton Wick in the parish of Chew Magna.

He had one daughter Francis, and three sons - John Peter, Edward and Thomas. It was this eldest son John who became the father of the world famous philosopher - John Locke.

Nicholas prospered and bought a small property at Belluton in the parish of Pensford and turned it over to his son John, possibly for his marriage to Agnes Keene who lived with her parents in the cottage on the north side of All Saints' Church, Wrington.

The record of the marriage is in the church register- Agnes Keene to John Locke - July 15th 1630. The Rector was the Rev. Dr.Samuel Crook (believed to be an ancestor of the Crook families so well known in this area, particularly Wrington, until recently.)

Agnes's father was Edmund Keene and it is recorded here he married twice, with Agnes the 5th of 9 or 10 children. Records are indistinct to be sure but Agnes was baptised 24th April 1597. She was 33 years old when she married (rather older than the norm) perhaps she was caught up in caring for her parents and the babies. Her father Edmund was a tanner and died just before her marriage in 1630.

There were other connections between the Locke and Keene families. Father Nicholas married a second time, a widow Elizabeth Keene in 1624. Agnes's mother and brother lived on in the cottage until after the death of Mary Keene. So it is only natural that Agnes should come home to mother to have her one and only child 'JOHN' who was to grow up to have such an influence on the world.

John was born on 29th August 1632, he was baptised the same day (this was the custom as many infants did not survive many days). Motherhood in his day had many hazards. After the lying in period John's parents took him home to Belluton, Pensford where John's father (John) was a clerk to Francis Baber and Alexander Popham, who were attorneys or solicitors.

Eventually, he became a solicitor, not very successful, for I read "he died poorer than he was born". He enlisted into the parliamentary army and became a Captain under Colonel Popham. He died in 1663 (his wife, Agnes, died in 1654).

These were troublesome times for our country and for Non-Conformists. 1662 has memories for out of great tribulation came the greater freedom of worship and the spreading of the gospel, and the Acts of Parliament that made it possible. We owe much to the influence and writing of Wrington's most famous son.

A brief description of the cottage where John Locke was born will not come amiss here. The cottage situated on the north side of the church was one of two which was possibly the sexton's cottage. It was small with a door leading to a cobbled street; opening the door there was a passage leading to the back garden.

On the left of the front door was a kitchen with a pantry with no window other than the kitchen window. To the right of the front door was a short passage to a parlour. There were two cupboards and a shelf for fancy china and glass.

two historical sources

John Locke's father

John Locke's mother


father became a solicitor

Locke's part in greater religious tolerance

his birthplace

One door led to stairs up to two bedrooms; another to stairs leading to the attic bedroom - 3 bedrooms in all with small windows which looked out over the graveyard.

Later these houses were made into tenements and one end turned into a school for small children. The following poem was written whilst it was still a school:

          Perhaps some village Locke is here,
        and o'er his horn-book drops a tear
        and may fair learnings path persue
        and Wrington's classic fame renew
        perhaps some "More" here needed plies
        who may in future days arise,
        in virtues cause the pen to wield
        and as her champion take the field.

In 1810 a tablet was placed on the cottage to commemorate John Locke's birthplace after a memorial service in the church.

The demolition of the cottage was brought about after a Bristol newspaper referred to its dilapidated state and called for its restoration. The owner took offence and had the building pulled down and the land eventually used to extend the churchyard. There are two stones marking the spot where the house stood.

During the ministry of Rev.Samuel Crook, we read the local youths and boys played '5 stones' against the buttresses and walls of the church. The lower wall were the courts, and they were running amok over the newly dug graves. It was the tradition for generations to play 5 stones after morning worship on a Sunday morning (it being the youths only free tirne from work.)

About 1824 cricket became popular and was not played on church premises (the cost of repairing broken windows is recorded as £33.)

As we have said, John Locke returned to his family home in Belluton, Pensford. Little is known of John's childhood but we may be sure he visited his grandmother from time to time. Of his mother he says in his diaries and letters "she was a handsome, pious woman and affectionate".

He spoke of his father with great approbation in later life, who relaxed his severity 'as I grew to manhood and we lived together as good friends.'

From his letters it is obvious he travelled the Mendips and knew them well and 'Oakie Hoale' (Wookey Hole), Georges Cave, the Hotwells, Kingswood coalpits; and he refers to the food he liked such as - Milford Oysters, Marrow Pudding, Elvers, and Sherry Sack (Bristol Milk).

As he was interested in science, Boyle asked him to find out about minerals in the local mines. He was not successful because the local miners viewed him with suspicion and he says 'their only thought was coal and what they earned - a mere pittance indeed.'

His education was the best of that day. When he was old enough he became a pupil of Westminster School, then to Christchurch, Oxford, where he studied with great earnestness and in 1655 gained his Degree in Arts. Three years later he obtained his Diploma as a Physician.

He acquired a practice in Oxford but as he was of a delicate constitution he found medical practice a strain. Because of this he gladly accepted a post as secretary to Sir William Swan and travelled with him when he became Ambassador to several states in Germany. This lasted only a year. He then returned to his practice in Oxford, making the acquaintance of Lord Ashley (who later became Lord Shaftesbury)..

part became a school

demolition of cottage

'5 stones'

cricket supersedes 5 stones

Locke's feelings about his parents

familiarity with Mendip

interest in science

good education

doctor in Oxford
poor health himself

His lordship had a cancerous growth on his chest and was ordered by his physician to drink the mineral waters of Acton. He wrote to Dr.Thomas to get a quantity for him by the time he arrived in Oxford himself.

Dr.Thomas was called away on business and asked his colleague, John Locke to do so for him. He in turn employed someone else to obtain the mineral water but he did not carry out the order.

John Locke was so upset that he had failed his friend that when Lord Ashley arrived he went to see him to apologise personally. Lord Ashley received him and accepted his excuses but was so impressed by the young doctor that he invited him to supper and to dinner the next day and a year later invited him to take up residence as his personal physician.

He also advised him to turn his thoughts to studying politics. This suggestion was much in accord with his temperament and he made rapid progress, so much so that Lord Ashley was soon consulting him on matters of state, and introducing him to many of the leading political and literary figures of the time.

In 1669 the Earl and Countess of Northumberland asked John Locke to go with them to France as.Physician to the Earl who was very ill. He died a year later, so Locke brought the Countess home and again took up his residence with Lord Ashley who was, at this time, Lord Chancellor.

Lord Ashley had obtained a Grant of Carolina and John drew up the fundamental constitution of the Province, and was appointed Secretary of Presentations.

The Seal, however was taken from Lord Ashley and John lost his appointment. He returned to medicine and studies, for about this time he began forming his ideas for his famous essay on human understanding. In 1674 he gained his Physic Degree, and went to Montpelier for his health (he thought he was consumptive).

Whilst convalescing he occupied himself with his essay and showed it to Mr. Herbert (who afterwards became Lord Pembroke). Given the political climate of the time he stayed abroad until 1689 when Lord Ashley (now Lord Shaftesbury) sent for him when he was appointed President to Sir William Temple's Council. His Lordship lost the appointment in a few months so John again returned to studies a wiser man.

Lord Shaftesbury had to flee the country because of his political intrigues. He went to Holland after the Rye House plot. John Locke's name was included on the list of suspects so he also had to flee. He joined the exiles around the Duke of Monmouth plotting the rising that ended so disastrously at Sedgemoor.

John was pressed to join this venture but refused. He preferred to spend his time on his studies and writing. Even so King James demanded that he be handed over for taking part in the plot. John protested his innocence and the king offered him a pardon which he refused saying he had committed no crime.

In 1687 whilst at the Hague he finished his essay and made an abridgement of it. Le Clare translated it into French, and it was so well received that it created a demand for the whole. It was published as soon as possible after he returned to England.

On the accession of William and Mary to the throne he was restored to favour (1689) and was offered several posts - accepting the Court of Appeals. This turned his thoughts to the Church and the plight of the dissenters. It is due to his influence that freedom of worship came about and Non- Conformists were allowed to congregate for meetings.

He published his treatise to promote a scheme to King William for the comprehension of dissenters. The present Wrington United Reformed Church, formerly the Congregational Church, was originally the Meeting House for dissenters, founded in 1662 by Richard Alleine, one of the 1662 ministers ejected from his Parish of Batcombe, near Frome under the Act of Uniformity. It became one of the first six Non-Conformist Churches to receive a licence to build in Somerset in 1716. Before that no more than six people were allowed to congregate together.

Lord Ashley's illness

Locke's failure to carry out task led to new post

interest turned to politics

spell in France

role in drawing up constitution of Carolina

work on his most famous essay

involvement with Monmouth rebels

successful publication of his essay

further work towards religious tolerance

Wrington Congregational Church

John Locke said in his Thoughts on Education, which still holds its place among educational classics, "proposals for ecclesiastical comprehension", and his desire for union among christians, made him anxious to "show how few and simple the essential facts of christianity were, and to differ about all beyond."

His influence stretches far beyond his own day for his treatises on civil government had an important bearing, not only expressing a theory behind the English revolution, but also providing the pattern on which the Constitution of the United States of America was, to a large extent, modelled, substituting an elective President for a hereditary King.

He preached moderation in all things --'if by gaining knowledge we destroy our health, we labour for a thing that will be useless in our hands........he who sinks a vessel by overloading it, though it be gold or silver and precious stones, will give the owner ill account of the voyage.. .We rob God of much service.'

His great work on "The Human Understanding" was based on 20 years' thought and experience. It was 250,000 words long and he was paid £30 by his publishers for it.

In the year 1700 he resigned his office. His asthma made it impossible for him to work in London air, so he accepted the invitation of Lord and Lady Masham to live at their country seat at Oates in Essex, continuing his research and writing, and philosophical pursuits.

He died at Oates on the 28th October 1704, aged 73. He was buried in that parish where a monument was erected to his memory with an inscription of his own composition.

Queen Caroline, consort of George II, placed his bust amongst the famous in her pavilion at Richmond.

This is just a brief outline of the great man who was born beneath the wall of Wrington's ancient church and whose bust is in the church porch. There is also an urn to his memory in the gardens of Barley Wood, Wrington, placed there by Hannah More.

To end I quote the inscription beneath his bust in Shire Hall, Taunton, Somerset, which says, after a list of his achievements:

"As a philosopher he dared to scan the unexplored recesses of the human mind, first examined its nature and the rules for its development. As a Statesman he expounded the true theory of liberty. As a Christian he aspired to indicate the true claims of the Christian faith."


ideas about christianity

influence on shape of US constitution

moderation in all things

final ill health

and death at Oatle

epitaph in Shire Hall, Taunton

Lillian Millard of Wrington