Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Plat, Hugh

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PLAT or PLATT, Sir HUGH (1552–1608), writer on agriculture and inventor, baptised at St. James's, Garlickhythe, on 3 May 1552, was third son of Richard Plat or Platt, a London brewer, who, owning property in St. Pancras, London, bequeathed much of it to the foundation and endowment of a free school and six almshouses at Aldenham, Hertfordshire, and was buried at St. James's, Garlickhythe, on 28 Nov. 1600 (Clutterbuck, Hertfordshire, i. 86; Stow, London, ed. Strype, bk. iii. p. 11). Hugh's mother, Alice, was daughter of John Birtles, of Birtles, Cheshire. Plat matriculated as a pensioner of St. John's College, Cambridge, on 12 Nov. 1568, and graduated B.A. in 1571–2. Soon afterwards he became a member of Lincoln's Inn. Amply provided for by his father, he devoted his early years to literary studies. In 1572 he made his first appearance in print as the author of ‘The Floures of Philosophie, with Pleasures of Poetrie annexed to them, as wel plesant to be read as profitable to be folowed of al men,’ London, 12mo, 1572; dedicated to Anne Dudley, countess of Warwick. ‘The Floures of Philosophie’ comprises 883 short sentences from Seneca; ‘The Pleasures of Poetry’ is a collection of miscellaneous poems of a pedestrian order. The only known copy is imperfect (Censura Literaria, iii. 1–7). This work was followed by a similar undertaking, entitled ‘Hvgonis Platti armig. Manuale sententias aliquot Diuinas et Morales complectens partim è Sacris Patribus, partim è Petrarcha philosopho et Poeta celeberrimo decerptas,’ London, 16mo, 1584; new edit. 1594 (Brit. Mus.)

But Plat soon developed active interest in natural science, mechanical inventions, domestic economy, and especially in agriculture. To the last subject he devoted most of his later life. He corresponded with all lovers of gardening and agriculture in the country, and his investigations into the effects of various manures, especially salt and marl, proved of genuine value. He resided in 1594 and later years at Bishop's Hall, Bethnal Green, subsequently removing to the neighbouring Kirby Castle. Both at Bethnal Green and in St. Martin's Lane he maintained gardens, where he conducted horticultural and agricultural experiments, and, in pursuit of his researches, he often visited Sir Thomas Heneage's estate at Copt Hall, Essex, and other great landowners' properties.

In 1592 Plat exhibited to some privy councillors and the chief citizens of London a series of mechanical inventions, and next year printed, as a broad-sheet, some account of them in ‘A brief Apologie of certen new Inventions completed by H. Plat’ (licensed to Richard Field in 1592). A unique copy belongs to the Society of Antiquaries. But he gave no adequate description of his varied endeavours till 1594, when there appeared ‘The Jewell House of Art and Nature, conteining divers rare and profitable Inventions, together with sundry new Experiments in the Art of Husbandry, Distillation and Moulding. By Hugh Platte of Lincolnes Inn, Gent.,’ London, 4to, 1594; dedicated to Robert, earl of Essex. The volume consists of five tracts with separate title-pages, viz.: (1) ‘Divers new Experiments;’ (2) ‘Diverse new Sorts of Soyle not yet brought into any Publique Use;’ (3) ‘Chimical Conclusions concerning the Art of Distillation;’ (4) ‘Of Moulding, Casting Metals;’ (5) ‘An offer of certain New Inventions which the Author proposes to Disclose upon reasonable Considerations.’ The second of these tracts, which was also issued separately, contains important notes by Plat on manures, and the last tract deals with miscellaneous topics, like the brewing of beers without hops, the preservation of food in hot weather and at sea, mnemonics, and fishing. Another edition of the whole appeared in 1613, and a revised edition, dedicated to Bulstrode Whitelocke, was prepared in 1653 by ‘D. B.’ (i.e. Arnold de Boate [q. v.]), who added ‘A Discourse on Minerals, Stones, Gums, and Rosins.’ In 1595 Plat gave further hints of the results of his practical study of science in ‘A Discoverie of certain English Wantes which are royally supplied in this Treatise. By H. Plat, of Lincolnes Inne, Esquire,’ London, 4to, 1595 (Brit. Mus.; reprinted in ‘Harleian Miscellany,’ vol. ix.). In the same year he issued ‘Sundrie New and Artificiall Remedies against Famine. Written by H. P., Esq., upon thoccasion of this present Dearth,’ London, 4to; new edit. 1596; and his ‘Newfounde Art of Setting of Corne’ appeared about the same time without date. Other editions followed in 1600 and 1601.

Not the least popular of Plat's books was his curious collection of recipes for preserving fruits, distilling, cooking, housewifery, cosmetics, and the dyeing of hair. Much of the information Plat had already divulged in his ‘Jewell-house.’ The title of the completer venture ran: ‘Delights for Ladies to adorne their Persons, Tables, Closets, and Distillatories; with Bewties, Banquets, Perfumes, and Waters,’ London (by Peter Short), 12mo, 1602; other editions, 1609, 1611, 1617, 1632, 1636, 1640, and 1656. Prefixed are some verses by Plat addressed ‘to all true louers of art and knowledge,’ in which he describes the various topics on which he had written. The first part of the volume reappeared posthumously as ‘A Closet for Ladies and Gentlemen, on the art of Preseruing, Conserving, and Candying. With the manner how to make diverse kinds of Syrupes: and all kinde of Banquetting Stuffes,’ London, 12mo, 1611. In 1603 Plat gave an account of an invention of cheap fuel—i.e. coal mixed with clay and other substances, and kneaded into balls—in a tract called ‘Of Coal-Balls for Fewell wherein Seacoal is, by the mixture of other combustible Bodies, both sweetened and multiplied,’ London, 4to, 1603. Richard Gosling reissued in 1628 an account of Plat's device, and developed it further in his ‘Artificial Fire,’ 1644.

In consideration of his services as inventor, Plat was knighted by James I at Greenwich on 22 May 1605. His chief work on gardening appeared in 1608, as ‘Floraes Paradise beautified and adorned with sundry sortes of delicate Fruits and Flowers … with an offer of an English Antidote … a Remedy in violent Feavers and intermittent Agues.’ The preface is dated from ‘Bednal Green, 2 July 1608.’ An appendix of ‘new, rare, and profitable inventions’ describes among other things, Plat's fireballs and his experiments in making wine from grapes grown at Bethnal Green. This wine, Plat says, had excited the commendation of the French ambassador ‘two years since,’ and of Sir Francis Vere, and Plat promised to expound his view on English wine-culture in a volume to be called ‘Secreta Dei Pampinei.’ Plat is careful in his description of gardening experiments, all of which were, he says, ‘wrung out of the earth by the painful hand of experience,’ to state the name of his informant in all cases where he had not done the work himself. He quotes repeatedly Mr. Andrew Hill, Mr. Pointer of Twickenham, ‘Colborne,’ and Parson Simson. ‘Floraes Paradise’ was reissued with some omissions and rearrangements by Charles Bellingham, who claimed relationship with Plat, in 1653, with a dedication to Francis Finch. It then bore the title ‘The Garden of Eden; or an accurate Description of all Flowers and Fruits now growing in England. … By that learned and great observer, Sir Hugh Plat, Knight,’ London, 12mo, 1653, called the fourth edition; another edition, 1659; 5th ed. 1660. Bellingham issued a second part drawn from Plat's unpublished notes in 1660, and both were issued together in 1675, in a so-called sixth edition. Another edition followed in the year 1685.

Many unpublished notes and tracts by Plat on scientific topics are among the Additional MSS. at the British Museum. Among these are ‘Collections relating to Alchymy’ (Addit. MSS. 2194, 2195, 2223, 2246); ‘Secrets of Physick and Surgery’ (Addit. MS. 219; cf. 2203, 2209, 2210, and 3690); ‘Secrets of Metalls, Minerals, Animals, Vegetables, Stones, Pearls, &c., with a Monopolie of profitable Observations’ (Addit. MS. 2245). Evelyn sent to Dr. Wotton in 1696 ‘A Short Treatise concerning Metals’ by Plat (Diary, iv. 18).

Plat died after 1611, when his 'Closet for Ladies' was published. He married twice. His second wife, Judith, daughter of William Albany of London, was buried in Highgate Chapel, 28 Jan. 1635-6. Plat left two sons and three daughters by his second marriage, and other children by his first (cf. Stow, London, ed. Strype, iii. 116). William, the fourth son of his second marriage, was buried in Highgate Chapel on 11 Nov. 1637, beneath an elaborate tomb. He left land to St. John's College, Cambridge, where he had been educated as a fellow-commoner, for the maintenance of as many fellows at 30l. a year, and scholars at 10l., as the rents would allow. In 1858 William Platt's estate was merged in the general property of the college, and the three Platt fellowships, which then represented the endowment, became ordinary foundation fellowships (Documents relating to the University and Colleges of Cambridge, 1852, iii. 326-35; Fuller, Worthies, ed. Nichols, ii. 385-6; Lysons, Environs, iii. 66).

[Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. ii. 436–8; Hunter's Chorus Vatum in Addit. MS. 24489, f. 25; Brydges's Censura Lit. ii. 215–17; Sir John Harington's Metamorphosis of Ajax, 1596 (repr. 1824), pp. 110 sq.; Mayor's Admissions to St. John's College, Cambridge, ii. pp. lix–lxi; Johnson's Hist. of Gardening, pp. 69–70; Samuel Felton's Portraits of English Gardeners, 1830, pp. 13–15.]

S. L.