Local history: Sir William Blackstone

By | 7 June 2013
Sir William Blackstone  by Unknown artist oil on canvas, circa 1755

Sir William Blackstone by Unknown artist oil on canvas, circa 1755; NPG 388

William Blackstone (1723-1780) studied at Oxford, joining Pembroke College at the age of 15, eventually holding high office at All Souls (where his statue now sits in his Judge’s robes in The Codrington Library) and taking the first Chair of Vinerian Professor of English Law. He held many other distinguished legal and administrative positions during his life including Member of Parliament. If  you’d like to find out more, William Blackstone : law and letters in the eighteenth century by Prest is available both in print at KB15.ENG.BLA 2008 or online if you have a University of Oxford Single Sign On.

Blackstone’s most famous work is his Commentaries on the Laws of England. The Bodleian Law Library has a facsimile of the first edition of those four volumes published in 1765-1769  in the library at  KL11.BLA 1979; it’s a staple on the reading list of first year undergraduates studying English legal history. It is also available online  if you’re a current member of the University. There are many other editions and versions available, as well as plenty of other people commenting on the Commentaries! You can hunt them out using the library catalogue, SOLO.

Blackstone, his wife Sarah and their nine children lived in Castle Priory, a house that was built for them in Wallingford. The house is listed by English Heritage . There’s a nice photo of the house and lawns on the Wallingford History Gateway website. Today the internet provides a bird’s eye view but a sign on the gatepost says it’s private, so that’s probably as close as you’re going to get. You can still get closer to William Blackstone though; he’s buried in the family vault under St Peter’s Church nearby. The church is very distinctive and can be seen from the bridge across the Thames; there are pictures of it and the tombstone on the website of The Churches Conservation Trust.

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