The old, old, very old man
To tie in with this weeks ‘History Begins at Home’ campaign, we’ve dug out an old post, written by senior archive assistant, Karen. She looked at the many accounts of Thomas Parr, the Shropshire peasant who was eventually buried at Westminster Abbey at the age of 152.
Many centenarians have been noted over the years, but until more recent times ages are rarely noted on burial registers. In our own county, one Mary Yates of Shifnal was reputedly buried in 1776 at the age of 127, and had married her third husband at the age of 92! William Wakeley was baptised in Shifnal in 1590, and was buried at Adbaston, Staffordshire 1714, aged 124.
The recording of baptisms in church registers did not begin until 1538, and as Thomas Parr (along with the other three who are reputed to have been the longest lived in Britain) was born before this date there is no real proof of year of birth.
According to local, fairly consistent tradition, Thomas was born in March 1483 at Glyn Common, in the township of Winnington and parish of Alberbury. The house in which he lived and spent most of his life still stands. He was the son of John Parr, a small farmer who sent him aged seventeen to work for a neighbouring farmer. He later took the lease of his father’s farm. It is stated that he married his first wife (Jane Taylor) in 1563 at the age of 80, though the registers only began in Alberbury in 1564 so again there is no proof of this fact.
We know little for sure of his children, though several of them, along with his grandchildren, also reputedly lived to ages well over a hundred.
In 1588, at the age of 105, Thomas was found guilty of a serious misdemeanour, and was required to do public penance in a white sheet in Alberbury Church. At the age of 122 he married again, and it is stated that at 130 he was still engaging in agricultural labour, including thrashing the corn. At the age of 152, he was visited by Thomas Howard, the second earl of Arundel, who intended to exhibit Parr to Charles I. He arranged for his transportation to London, and crowds flocked to see the curious entourage. He had an audience with the King, and remained in London meeting with various important members of society. By this time he has blind, but enjoyed intelligent conversation and was generally in good health apart from a failing memory.
After several weeks in London his health failed. His death was thought to be due to congested lungs, probably brought on by the polluted air of the city. In the church at Great Wollaston there is a brass tablet carrying a portrait of Thomas Parr, with the inscription ‘The Old, Old, very Old Man !’. It states that he was born in 1483, lived in the reigns of ten kings and queens, and was buried in Westminster Abbey in 1635 at the age of 152.
BP 25 v.f. Watkins-Pitchford, Some Shropshire Celebrities
CO1/1651 John Taylor, The old, old, very old man; or the age and long life of Thomas Parr