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13 November 2014

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You are in: Stoke & Staffordshire > History > Local Heroes > Staffordshire - Dr Johnson Facts!

Dr.Samuel Johnson

Staffordshire - Dr Johnson Facts!

Some of the lesser-known facts outlining connections between Doctor Samuel Johnson and the county of his birth

º  Samuel Johnson’s father had a bookstall in nearby Uttoxeter in east Staffordshire as well as at Lichfield market.

As a young man, Johnson refused one day to work on the stall.
Years later, in his sixties, but now ashamed of his disobedient behaviour then, he returned to Uttoxeter and  stood alone in the market square in the rain, bare-headed, for a number of hours.
The act is remembered every year in Uttoxeter as ‘Johnson’s Penance’ with a special ceremony.

º  A more permanent reminder of ‘Johnson’s Penance’ is the monument erected in Uttoxeter market square. It is so large, that the hollow inside it now serves as a tiny newspaper kiosk and shop!

º  At the 2009 Lichfield Winter Beer & Wine Festival, the Blythe Brewery, based in the village of Hamstall Ridware, launched its ‘Tetty's Tipple’ beer, to mark Dr Johnson's 300th birthday.  (Tetty was the nickname Johnson gave to his wife Elizabeth…)

º  The Staffordshire village of Edial, near Burntwood, was where Johnson set up his boys’ school in 1735.  However, he only had three pupils!
He lived at Edial House, which is now a private home. There is a plaque on the wall there.

º  One of his pupils at Edial was an eighteen year old Lichfield lad called David Garrick.
David persuaded his teacher to come with him to London to make his fortune.
In London David became one of the greatest actors of his day; and the main theatre in Lichfield today, ‘The Garrick’, is named after him.

º  There are a number of present-day local pubs with Johnson connections.
There is the ‘Dr Johnson’ in Netherstowe just outside Lichfield; and ‘Thrales’ a bar-restaurant in Lichfield itself.  (Hester Thrale and her husband were Johnson’s closest friends in his later years).
Ye Olde Talbot in Uttoxeter boasts that Johnson must have been a regular visitor

º  Johnson's baptism is recorded at St Mary's Church, in Lichfield’s Market Square. However the ceremony itself was conducted at Sam’s home, as he was a sickly baby and not expected to live.

º  Every September, there is an annual commemoration event in Lichfield to remember Johnson’s birthday (18th September).  It is usually held on the Saturday nearest to the day.
The birthday event is led by the Lichfield Johnson Society. 

º  Johnson’s statue is not the only one in Lichfield’s Market Square. At the other end of the square is a statue of his biographer, James Boswell.

º  Not only does Westminster Abbey have a memorial to Johnson, there is a bust of  Johnson also in Lichfield Cathedral.

º  It’s believed that Johnson had the Staffordshire village of Ilam, near Dovedale, in mind as he depicted the Happy Valley that figures in his novel Rasselas.

º  The poet, critic and novelist, John Wain, wrote one of the best modern accounts of Johnson in his work ‘Samuel Johnson’ (1974).
Like Johnson, Wain was born in Staffordshire and educated at Oxford University.

º  Johnson was an admitted tea-addict.

º  Staffordshire was a centre of opposition to the slave trade.
Like Josiah Wedgwood, his famous contemporary also from Staffordshire, Johnson spoke out bitterly against slavery.
He wrote sarcastically in his work ‘Taxation No Tyranny’ of his contempt for the American colonial slave-masters: “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negros?”

º  Johnson employed a former slave, Francis Barber, as his companion-servant in London. Francis became Johnson's eventual heir.
Years later, a Staffordshire man Cedric Barber, discovered to his atonishment that he was a direct descendant of Francis. Cedric told his story in a book (see links in the top right-hand corner of this page).

º  It’s now believed that Johnson was an obsessive-compulsive.  There is an account of him which tells that he could not walk down a London alley-way without touching each post with his cane. If he missed one, he would go back and start over again.

last updated: 24/12/2009 at 07:49
created: 11/02/2009

Have Your Say

THANKS FOR ALL YOUR COMMENTS. THIS BOARD IS NOW CLOSED.

Peter H. Soderman
Johnson very probably suffered from Tourette's Syndrome. He was the largest moving thing in any room: rocking to and fro, arms, feet & head in constant motion. Walking in the street generally caused a public spectacle drawing the stare of crowds. Furthermore, Johnson was not only practically deaf and blind but horribly scarred with deep pockmarks about the face and neck from infancy by a form of tuberculosis.

John Dudley, Lichfield
Part of the eighteenth century is sometimes called 'The Age of Johnson'. This man was a dominant cultural figure, but he spoke with a strong local Staffordshire accent which was often mocked by Garrick - but his learning and opinions were respected throughout the nation. He inspired what is commonly regarded as the greatest literary biography ever written by James Boswell - often referred to as Boswell's Life of Johnson. For more information see www.lichfieldrambler.co.uk

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