John Stow

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A drawing of the John Stow monument in the parish church of St Andrew Undershaft in the City of London

John Stow (also spelled Stowe; 1524/5–5 April 1605) was an English historian and antiquarian best known for his 1598 Survey of London.


The son of Thomas Stow, a tallow-chandler, John Stow was born in about 1525 in the parish of St Michael, Cornhill in the City of London, then the nucleus of the metropolis of London. His father's whole rent for his house and garden was only 6s 8d per year, and Stow in his youth fetched milk every morning from a farm belonging to the convent of the Minories.

Stow did not follow his father's trade but was apprenticed as a merchant tailor, being admitted to the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors in 1547 and, by that year, he had established a business at a house near the well within Aldgate, between Leadenhall Street and Fenchurch Street.

In about 1560 he entered upon the work with which his name is associated. In the 1570s, he moved to a house in St Andrew's parish, in Lime Street ward, where he lived until his death.


Stow made the acquaintance of the leading antiquarians of his time, including William Camden, and in 1561 he published his first work, The woorkes of Geffrey Chaucer, newly printed with divers additions whiche were never in printe before. This was followed in 1565 by his Summarie of Englyshe Chronicles, which was frequently reprinted, with slight variations, during his lifetime. Of the first edition a copy was said to have been at one time in the Grenville library. In the British Museum there are copies of the editions of 1567, 1573, 1590, 1598 and 1604. Stow having in his dedication to the edition of 1567 referred to the rival publication of Richard Grafton (c. 1500 - c. 1572) in terms, the dispute between them became extremely embittered.

Stow's antiquarian tastes brought him under ecclesiastical suspicion as a person "with many dangerous and superstitious books in his possession", and in 1568 his house was searched. An inventory was taken of certain books he possessed "in defence of papistry" but he was apparently able to satisfy his interrogators of the soundness of his Protestantism. A second attempt to incriminate him in 1570 was also without result. In 1580, Stow published his Annales, or a Generale Chronicle of England from Brute until the present yeare of Christ 1580; it was reprinted in 1592, 1601 and 1605,[1] the last being continued to 26 March 1605, or within ten days of his death; editions "amended" by Edmund Howes appeared in 1615 and 1631.

Survey of London[edit]

The work for which Stow is best known is his Survey of London published in 1598, not only interesting for the quaint simplicity of its style and its amusing descriptions and anecdotes, but of unique value for its detailed account of the buildings, social condition and customs of London in the time of Queen Elizabeth I. A second edition appeared in his lifetime in 1603, a third with additions by Anthony Munday in 1618, a fourth by Munday and Dyson in 1633, a fifth with interpolated amendments by John Strype in 1720, and a sixth by the same editor in 1754. The edition of 1798 was reprinted, edited by William John Thoms, in 1842, in 1846, and with illustrations in 1876. Through the patronage of archbishop Matthew Parker, Stow was able to print the Flores historiarum of Matthew of Westminster in 1567, the Chronicle of Matthew Paris in 1571, and the Historia brevis of Thomas Walsingham in 1574. In the Chronicle of England 1590 Stow writes: "To The Honorable Sir John Hart, Lord Maior, The Chronicle written before that nothing is perfect the first time, and that it is incident to mankinde to erre and slip sometimes, but the point of fanta[s]tical fooles to preserve and continue in their errors."

At the request of Parker he had compiled a "farre larger volume," a history of Britain, but circumstances were unfavourable to its publication and the manuscript was lost. Additions to the previously published works of Chaucer were twice made through Stow's "own painful labours" in the edition of 1561, referred to above, and also in 1597. A number of Stow's manuscripts are in the Harley Collection in the British Museum. Some are in the Lambeth library (No. 306) and from the volume which includes them were published by the Camden Society, edited by James Gairdner, Three Fifteenth Century Chronicles, with Historical Memoranda by John Stowe the Antiquary, and Contemporary Notes of Occurrences written by him (1880).


Stow's literary labours did not prove very remunerative, but he accepted poverty in a cheerful spirit. Ben Jonson relates that once when walking with him, Stow jocularly asked two mendicant cripples "what they would have to take him to their order." In March 1604 King James I authorised him and his deputies to collect "amongst our loving subjects their voluntary contributions and 'kind gratuities'", and himself began "the largesse for the example of others". If the royal appeal was successful Stow did not live long to enjoy the increased comfort resulting from it. He was buried in the church of St Andrew Undershaft at the corner of Leadenhall Street and St. Mary Axe, where the monument erected by his widow, a terracotta figure of him, still remains. The pen held in the hand of his alabaster monument is renewed every three years alternately by the Lord Mayor of the City of London and the Master of the Merchant Taylors' Company.


  • Barrett L. Beer: Tudor England Observed — the World of John Stow, Sutton Publishing, 1998, ISBN 0-7509-1943-4
  • Ian Gadd and Alexandra Gillespie (eds): John Stow (1525-1605) and the making of the English past : studies in early modern culture and the history of the book. London, British Library, 2004. ISBN 0-7123-4864-6
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Stow, John". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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