Whitfield, John (1635-1691)

Canterbury Lawyer & Benefactor

Our attention to John Whitfield was drawn by the Latin epitaph which appears on his tomb in the St Magdalen church tower in Burgate Street (Image 1):

The central line “ad extinguenda huius urbis incendia” (Image 2) refers to putting out fires in the city, and the “duas magnae molis machinas et largitus est” to two large machines bequeathed by John.  Lower down the “sex pauperii Artificum” refers to money left to support six poor craftsmen in the city.  John claims to have invented the fire engine in his Canterbury will, and Hasted tells us that he lived in St Margaret Street – the impressive house survived until the Baedecker raids in 1942.

Sources for a biography of John Whitfield, in addition to this memorial, include his will (available in the Canterbury Cathedral Archives), the PCC will of his grandson John (available from the National Archives), several general references in the Canterbury Cathedral Archives catalogue, and references in Hasted’s History of Kent (volume 11).  John was an interesting man and here is a biography waiting to be written!

Sources:  with acknowledgement to David Wood of the Canterbury Branch of the Kent Family History Society for information and advice; also Hasted vol. 11 (1800), Pike (2008)

To find out more about the latin text on the memorial click here.