John Legg – a Market Lavington Naturalist

John Legg lived in Market Lavington from about 1755 to 1802. In 1780 he published a book – one of the first to tell the truth about bird migration. But it seems John was a shy man and did his best to hide his identity by just saying it was ‘by a naturalist’.

Title Page of John Legg's book on bird migration

But John Legg left clues in this and other publications – not least that his initials were J L and that he came from Market Lavington.

In 1894 the Reverend A C Smith carried out research to identify who J L of Market Lavington actually was. His research was published in the 1896 journal of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society. I quote from his research here.

John Legg lived and died a bachelor, and for some time at least, if not to the end of his short life, his sisters lived with him. He appears to have had no profession, but to have devoted himself in his early years to the study of Nature and he is reported by his descendants to have practised the art of grafting and inoculation of trees in his own garden at Lavington: but in the latter part of his life, for he died in middle age, he was absorbed in religious speculations; and he appears to have latterly given way to melancholy thoughts and unhappy broodings, to which he was doubtless predisposed by much infirmity of body. Family tradition reports that towards the end of his life he shut himself up almost completely, seldom moving beyond his garden, where he indulged in reveries, and mused in solitude: nay, so persistently did he shun the society of his fellows that he objected to be seen in the village street, and to avoid observation he is said to have made a private path to the Church, by which he could go unseen by any: and even when a young relative was taken by her mother to visit him, all she ever saw of the recluse was his pigtail as he darted upstairs to avoid the interview. His nephew, too, recorded that he never saw him but once, and that then he never spoke to him.

John was buried at Market Lavington. His gravestone is inside the church, near the entrance and another memorial is on the south wall of the Chancel.

John Legg's grave inscription - St Mary's, Market Lavington

At Market Lavington Museum we are trying to piece together as much of the story of John Legg as we can. If you can help then do contact us.

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6 Responses to “John Legg – a Market Lavington Naturalist”

  1. Spring cleaning at Market Lavington Museum « Market Lavington Museum Says:

    […] and then by a green woodpecker strutting its stuff. One could imagine former parish residents, John Legg and Ben Hayward reaching for their notebooks to record the bird […]

  2. Knapp House « Market Lavington Museum Says:

    […] its former residents, we believe there was one John Legg, already mentioned in this blog, who was a reclusive […]

  3. A named brick « Market Lavington Museum Says:

    […] A search of Market Lavington records for that time reveals no I Legg, but there was a John Legg and he was something of a scholar and may well have used the spelling Ionnas at times. Of course, this is only a theory, but John was alive and lived in market Lavington in 1799. He was a naturalist, amongst the first to realise that birds migrated. We have looked at John before on these pages (click here). […]

  4. Mike Russell Says:

    Dear Curator,
    I read your entry concerning the above and wondered whether there is more to the inscription on the gravestone. I am the On-Line Parish Clerk for Fordington in Dorset and am writing a short biography of the Rev John Palmer (1749-1829) the vicar of St Georges Church in Fordington for the website that I run.

    The Rev John Palmer married Elizabeth the daughter of Richard LEGG a Gentleman of Market Lavington in the village on 13th Oct 1797. John died at Fordington in 1829 aged 80 and Elizabeth returned to Market Lavington and died there on Friday 20th Sep 1829. She left a Will in which she gave her executors “the sum of one hundred pounds sterling for the purpose of erecting a handsome monument in the Parish Church of Market Lavington to the Memories of myself, my brother John LEGG and my two sisters Jane LEGG and Mary LEGG. I wondered whether this was the same monument and if so whether I could have an image of it.

    Link to my Account

    Mike Russell OPC for Dorchester & Fordington

  5. The Legg Family | Market Lavington Museum Says:

    […] character who wrote a treatise on bird migration which we have featured before on this blog. (Click here). John was the brother of Elizabeth and we knew the whereabouts of his memorial stone for it is […]

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