Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cunnington, William

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CUNNINGTON, WILLIAM (1754–1810), antiquary, was born at Grafton, Northamptonshire, in 1754. He settled as a tradesman at Heytesbury in Wiltshire about 1775. He was a man of active mind and acute observation. Frequent rambles among the Wiltshire downs caused him to turn his attention to the sepulchral tumuli. He formed a collection of British antiquities, and also of minerals and fossils, and opened numerous barrows in Wiltshire, among which were the Golden Barrow in the parish of Upton Lovel (opened 1803, further excavated 1807), and the barrows at Corton, Boyton, Sherrington, &c. Cunnington was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and vol. xv. of the ‘Archæologia’ contains (pp. 122–9) an ‘Account of Tumuli opened in Wiltshire, in three Letters from Mr. William Cunnington to Aylmer Bourke Lambert.’ In the same volume (pp. 338–46) is a ‘Further Account of Tumuli opened in Wiltshire’ by him. Sir Richard Colt Hoare, who describes Cunnington's methods of excavating as being much more thorough than those of his predecessors, dedicated to him the first part of his ‘Ancient History of South Wiltshire,’ on the ground that the existence of the work was mainly due to Cunnington's collections and discoveries. From 1804 till his death Cunnington had placed all his materials at Hoare's disposal, and made new investigations for the purpose. His collection of antiquities was bought by Hoare, and is now in the museum at Devizes. Cunnington, who during the last twenty years of his life suffered much from ill-health, died towards the close of 1810, aged 57. Cunnington was a correspondent of William Smith, the geologist, for whom he procured a fine series of fossils. His portrait was painted by Samuel Woodford, R.A., and there is an engraving of it by J. Basire prefixed to the dedication of Hoare's ‘Ancient Wiltshire.’ In 1787 he married Mary, daughter of Robert Meares, by whom he had three daughters.

[Gent. Mag. (1810), vol. lxxx. pt. ii. p. 670, (1811) vol. lxxxi. pt. i. pp. 185, 186; Hoare's History of Modern Wiltshire, Hundred of Heytesbury, 265, 266, 269; Upcott's English Topography, iii. 1286; Archæologia, vol. xv.; information from H. Cunnington.]

W. W.