Born in 1640 in Borden, Kent to Robert and Rebecca, née Patenden, Robert Plot was educated at Wye Free School and Magdalen Hall, University of Oxford, now Hertford College. Although he spent much of his career in Oxford, as a student, then an academic, Plot retired to Kent in 1690, where he lived with his wife and sons until his death in 1696.
Career and positions of note
Plot was an English naturalist and first Professor of Chemistry at Oxford, who became known as the ‘Learned Dr Plot’. Interested in natural history and antiquities, Plot allied the two fields. His patron was John Fell, Bishop of Oxford, who encouraged him to study and collect artefacts from the Oxford countryside, finding rocks, minerals and fossils, and also making the first known illustration of a dinosaur bone — a femur of a megalosaurus (though not described thus). Plot hoped to document the natural history of counties, rather than writing about vast areas of land. He wrote The Natural History of Staffordshire (1686) and The Natural History of Oxfordshire (1676).
Plot did write on Kent, however, such as in ‘An Account of some Antiquities in the County of Kent,’ printed in John Nichols’s Bibliotheca Topographica (1780). Plot revised William Camden’s chapter on Kent in Britannia (1586), the first chorographical survey of the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, and also gathered information first-hand after a trip in the autumn of 1693. His work and methods were commended by John Wallis.
Plot was an early member of the Royal Society of London, the UK's national academy of sciences, founded in 1660. He was elected to the Society in 1677 and served as its second secretary (from 30 November 1682 until 29 November 1684). Plot was also the first keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, living, teaching, and gathering collections at the Museum from its opening in 1683 until 1690. During that time, Plot was appointed to various other establishment positions. In 1687, the seventh Duke of Norfolk appointed Plot registrar to the Court of Chivalry, and the Archbishop of Canterbury made Plot a notary public. He was appointed Historiographer Royal the following year, although lost this position rapidly to Thomas Shadwell.
Retirement in Kent
Plot retired in 1690 to live in his family property Sutton Barne in Borden, marrying Rebecca Burman, a widow, with whom he had two sons, Robert and Ralph. His stepson, John Burman, would edit the second edition of Plot’s Oxfordshire.
When Plot returned to Kent after retirement, he extended the family property, as well as enclosing the front court and laying out a new kitchen garden. Plot’s home is now divided into two cottages, Sutton Baron Hall and Sutton Baron. They are an example of the Wealden hall house type, which is a distinctive type of medieval timber-framed halls most commonly seen in Kent and surrounding areas.
Plot died in 1696 from kidney stones and is buried in Borden Churchyard. When he died, he was in the process of completing a study of Kent and Middlesex, begun in his retirement.
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Seccombe, Thomas. 'Plot, Robert (1640–1696).' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 1895. Accessed 25/1/22. https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/odnb/9780192683120.001.0001/odnb-9780192683120-e-22385
Sherwood Taylor, F. Alchemical Papers of Dr. Robert Plot. 1949. DOI: 10.1179/amb.1949.4.1-2.67.
'Sutton Baron and Sutton Baron Hall.' Historic England. Accessed 25/1/22. https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1069392
Turner, A. J. 'Plot, Robert (bap. 1640, d. 1696), naturalist and antiquary.' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 2004. Accessed 25/1/22. https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-22385