p@rsons_world of Maurice Johnson

This webpage celebrates the life and work of Maurice Johnson, the Lincolnshire lawyer who founded the Spalding Gentlemen's Society.

Maurice Johnson

Founder of the Spalding Gentlemen's Society

Biographical notes [October 2001] by John Redshaw - reproduced here with his permission.

Maurice Johnson, the antiquarian was the eldest son of Maurice Johnson and his wife Jane née Johnson of Ayscoughfee Hall, Spalding, and was born at Ayscoughfee Hall on 19th June 1688. He was admitted a member of the Society of the Inner Temple on 26th May 1705, and called to the Bar on 26th June 1710. On 5th January 1709/10 he married Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of William Ambler of Holyrood House, Spalding, and by her had 26 children. Maurice Johnson's armorial bearings were granted to his great-great grandfather, Martyn Johnson, Lord of the Manors of Aunsby and Sutterton, by Cooke Clarenceaux, King of Arms sometime between 1567 and 1593. The water-bouget in the arms allude to the initials MJ, and this device is used on the tie of members of the Spalding Gentlemen's Society. Maurice Johnson lived chiefly in Spalding, following antiquarian pursuits.

In1709/10 he founded the Spalding Gentlemen's Society, and acted as Secretary for 35 years, and afterwards as President. He designed a bookplate for the Society, in 1710, which was engraved by George Virtue. The revival of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1717 was largely due to Johnson's efforts. He introduced Dr. William Stukeley, who became the first Secretary, and Johnson was appointed Hon Librarian. In 1754 Johnson was described as the Society of Antiquaries "senior member". His circle of friends and acquaintances was numerous. He persuaded many well-known people of the period, such as Sir Isaac Newton, Professor Andeas Celsius of Upsalla, Joseph Banks (father of Sir Joseph) John Anstis, Garter King of Arms, John Gay, the poet, and Sir Hans Sloane, President of the Royal Society, to become members of the Spalding Society.

Johnson was a Justice of the Peace, and Chairman of the South Holland Quarter Sessions, Deputy Recorder of Stamford 1721, Steward of the Manor of Spalding for Francis Duke of Buccleuch, and of the Manors of Kirton and Crowland for the Earl of Exeter. In 1721 Maurice Johnson joined with John Cecil, Earl of Exeter, and others in founding The Stamford Society, based on the Spalding Gentlemen's Society, and subsequently was involved in founding the Peterborough Society in 1734. Both the Stamford and Peterborough societies subsequently declined.

Maurice Johnson was an able botanist, and was instrumental in founding the Spalding Society's Physic Garden. He also recorded the large copper butterfly, at West Pinchbeck, in 1745, the first record of this species in Britain. On his death on 6th February 1755 he left immense manuscript collections relating to law and to the history of south Lincolnshire. His collections were dispersed between the Spalding Gentlemen's Society, the Johnson family homes at Ayscoughfee Hall and Blundeston in Suffolk, and the British Museum.

References: DNB, MSS at Spalding Gentlemen's Soc.

© John Redshaw – October 2001

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