Life and legacies of Maldon philanthropist published

A beautifully produced study of the life and legacies of Maldon resident Dr Thomas Plume has been published by UH Press. Co-edited by Essex scholars Christopher Thornton and Tony Doe, it is the first comprehensive account of the life and work of this significant churchman and philanthropist.

Dr Thomas Plume, born in Maldon in Essex in 1630, is remembered today for the many bequests he left which established important scientific, religious and cultural charities. Still operational today are the Plumian Professorship of Astronomy at Cambridge University, the Plume Library at Maldon and the Plume Trust for poor clergy in the Diocese of Rochester.

Educated at Chelmsford Grammar School and Christ’s College, Cambridge, Plume was vicar of Greenwich from 1658 and archdeacon of Rochester from 1679, holding both posts until his death in 1704. At Greenwich he was noted favourably for his preaching by Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn on more than one occasion. He died a wealthy man and his will contained 79 bequests.

Plume’s famous library at Maldon still houses some 8000 books and pamphlets as well as his pictures and manuscripts. The book collection, forming one of the largest private libraries of the period, is an important resource for understanding the Enlightenment, whilst the manuscript collection reveals Plume’s intellectual roots in the religious, philosophical and political debates of the mid-seventeenth century. The landmark building itself, a partly converted and rebuilt medieval church, is an important example of a late-seventeenth-century purpose-built library.

As vicar of Greenwich, archdeacon of Rochester and prebendary of Rochester cathedral, Plume had equally strong links with Kent, owning an estate at Stone Castle, Dartford. In Cambridge the chair he endowed for ‘a learned and studious Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Phylosophy’ has been held by many notable scientists including Fred Hoyle and Martin Rees.

In contextualising Plume’s bequests within the intellectual world of the late seventeenth century, the book reveals the connections between his philanthropy and his family background and education, his wealth, career and patrons, his churchmanship and his character.

Having lived through significant political, religious and intellectual tumult and debate, Plume’s life and bequests provide valuable insights into the concerns and actions of an Anglican clergyman during a period of rapid change. His enduring legacies have continued to support the church, the poor and education for over three centuries.

Dr Christopher Thornton is the County Editor of the Victoria County History of Essex, an Associate Fellow of the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, and the Chairman of the Friends of Historic Essex.

Tony Doe is a Trustee of the Plume Library with a particular interest in the churchmanship of Thomas Plume.

The book is available from our website here.