350th Anniversary Conference & Exhibition Saturday, 23rd March 2019
On 23 March 2019 over 50 people attended Christ Church University, Canterbury, for a one-day colloquium to mark the 350th anniversary of the death of one of the city's greatest sons, the antiquary and notary public, William Somner (1606-1669). An exhibition of some of his surviving books and manuscripts in the cathedral archives was followed by a plenary session of five distinguished speakers.
After an introduction by Dr David Wright (whose 'Life of William Somner' will appear in Archaeologia Cantiana over 2019/2020), the proceedings opened with Professor Jackie Eales setting the scene by describing life in Somner's Canterbury and some of the sources available to researchers. Then Avril Leach spoke on Somner's first masterpiece, 'The Antiquities of Canterbury' of 1640, perhaps the best of all the early English borough histories, describing in detail the corpus of surviving first editions.
After lunch Dr Rachel Fletcher gave much fascinating information on Somner's second masterpiece, the Anglo-Saxon- Latin- English Dictionary of 1659, rightly emphasising Somner's key contribution to the study of Old English in the seventeenth century. She was then followed by Dr David Shaw on 'Somner's Books', a predictably engrossing treatment of purchases for his own library, his gifts to the cathedral library, prices paid and scholarly provenances.
The day's proceedings concluded with Professor Kenneth Fincham, who with customary vigour and clarity described the complex relationship between Somner and Archbishop William Laud, and also noted the problems encountered by scholars in differentiating between a father and son with the same name.
The colloquium was a worthy remembrance to a Kentish scholar with far more than just a local, or even national, reputation.