Parkyns, Thomas (DNB00)
PARKYNS, Sir THOMAS (1664–1741), ‘Luctator,’ born in 1664 at Bunny, six miles from Nottingham, was the second son of Sir Thomas Isham Parkyns (1639–1684), first baronet of Bunny, by Anne, sole daughter and heiress of Thomas Cressey and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Glemham. His grandfather, Sir Isham Parkyns (1601–1671), had served under Henry Hastings, lord Loughborough [q. v.], and held Ashby-de-la-Zouch for Charles I against Fairfax from 20 June 1645 until 28 Feb. 1646, and his father was created a baronet by Charles II in 1681 (information kindly supplied by Mrs. E. L. Radford).
Thomas was educated at Westminster School under Busby and Knipe, and in 1680 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, as a fellow-commoner. After two years at Cambridge he entered as a student of Gray's Inn on 18 May 1682. Two years later he succeeded his father in the baronetcy, and henceforth devoted a very energetic mind to the improvement of his estate. A free school and four almshouses were erected by him in Bunny, and he also gave bells to the church, restored the large chancel of Bunny church, and built a vicarage. He rebuilt all the farmhouses, clothed the hills with woods, founded an aqueduct and a decoy, and erected the curious tower at Bunny Hall, ‘a massy pile,’ the patchwork of several generations, which is described and figured by Thoroton (Hist. of Nottinghamshire, iii. 94). A competent mathematician, with a good knowledge of the principles of architecture and hydraulics, Parkyns was his own architect and engineer. He constructed manor-houses at Bunny, East Leak, and Highfield Grange, Cortlingstock, and he built in the course of three years a park wall three miles in length, which was the first wall of the kind in England supported wholly upon arches. The plan commended itself both on the score of economy and for the advantages which it gave to gardeners. Parkyns also testified to his hospitality by building a large cellar in his park, a quarter of a mile from his house.
Architecture was far from exhausting his energy. He took a keen interest in education, and in 1716 issued ‘A Practical and Grammatical Introduction to the Latin Tongue’ for the use of his grandson and of Bunny school (Nottingham, 8vo, two editions). He was also an active and exemplary justice of the peace. He sat upon the commissions for the counties of Leicester and Nottingham from 1684 until his death, and in connection with his duties on the bench he published, besides minor pamphlets, ‘A Method proposed for the Hiring and Recording of Servants in Husbandry, Arts, Misteries, &c. Also a Limitation and Appointment of the several Rates of Wages’ (Nottingham, 4to, 1721).
But it is to his extraordinary passion for wrestling that Parkyns owes his celebrity. He established an annual wrestling match in Bunny Park, and was himself no idle patron of the sport. His favourite servants were wrestlers who had given him a fall. Wrestling matches were a constant diversion to him until the end of his life, and the competition that he founded was continued in Bunny Park until 1810. He discountenanced what is known as the ‘out play’ in wrestling, and had many notions of his own on both the theory and practice of the sport. These he embodied in a curious work entitled ‘Progymnasmata. The Inn Play, or Cornish Hugg Wrestler, digested in a method which teacheth to break all holds and throw most falls mathematically; of great use to such who understand the small sword in fencing,’ Nottingham, printed by William Ayscough, 1713, 4to (2nd edit., corrected, with large additions, 1714; 3rd edit., 1727, another 1810). The baronet recommends to his readers the practice of throwing contentious persons over their heads, and he gives full practical instructions. For scholars he demands ‘middle sized athletick men, full hearted and broad shouldered; for wind and strength brawny leg'd and arm'd, yet clear limb'd … none but beefeaters will go down with me.’ ‘Whoever would be a compleat wrestler,’ he adds, ‘must avoid being overtaken by drink, which very much enervates, or being in a passion at the sight of his adversary.’ In the course of the work he acknowledges his obligations to Sir Isaac Newton, who, perceiving his inclination to mathematics, invited him, though a fellow commoner, to attend his lectures at Trinity; and to Mr. Cornish, his wrestling master, at Gray's Inn.
Another eccentricity of Parkyns was the collection of stone coffins that he formed in the churchyard at Bunny. He selected one for his own use, and left the remainder to such parishioners as might choose to be interred in them. He studied physic for the purpose of benefiting his poor tenantry; he was great at erecting quaint inscriptions on his estate, and until middle age was a vigorous runner and change ringer. It was justly said of a man of so many and vehement accomplishments that he ‘could throw a tenant, combat a paradox, quote Martial or sign a mittimus with any man of his own age or county.’ It is stated further that he never knew a day's illness until in his seventy-eighth year, ‘when death at last gave him the backfall.’ Dying at Bunny on 29 March 1741, he was buried in the chancel of Bunny Church, where is a figure of him in the act of wrestling. ‘A man of probity and learning, and an excellent magistrate,’ says Thoroton, ‘he undoubtedly was, but that a figure of him in a bruising position (even to encounter Master Allbones, alias Death) should be in such a place, to me appears unseemly.’ This curious monument was wrought by the baronet's chaplain in a neighbouring barn; the inscription upon it was written by Dr. Robert Friend [q. v.] A portrait of Sir Thomas Parkyns ‘Luctator’ by John Vanderbank is preserved at Bunny Hall.
By his first wife, Elizabeth, sole daughter of John Sampson of Breaston, Derbyshire, and granddaughter of John Sampson of Hewby, Yorkshire, alderman of London, who is described as an ‘excellent woman, clever at recipes for strains,’ Parkyns had two sons—Sampson (d. 1713), and Thomas, who died an infant—and two daughters. He married, secondly, in 1727, Jane, daughter of George Barrat of York, by whom he left issue his successor, Sir Thomas; George, who became an officer in General Elliot's light horse; and one daughter, Anne. Lady Parkyns died in August 1740.[Betham's Baronetage, 1803, iii. 44; Collins's English Baronetage, 1741, iii. 684; Welch's Alumni Westmon. p. 242; Foster's Gray's Inn Register, p. 332; Thoroton's Hist. of Nottinghamshire, i. 93–7; Bailey's Annals of Nottinghamshire, iii. 928, 1190; Brown's Nottinghamshire Worthies, p. 379; Chambers's Book of Days, i. 435–7; Retrospective Rev. xi. 160–73; Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub.; Dict. of Arch. vi. 51; Granger's New Wonderful Museum, i. 79–84; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. iv. 344; Gent. Mag. 1737 pp. 120, 182, 1741 p. 221; Nichols's Leicester.; Cresswell's Printing in Nottinghamshire, 1863.]