In the centre of the south transept of Westminster Abbey, a small white marble slab covers the remains of Britain’s alleged oldest man. Thomas Parr supposedly lived until the unimaginable age of 152 years and 9 months. His quiet, rustic existence in verdant medieval Shropshire might have spanned the reigns of ten kings, but after visiting London for the first time in 1635, his fragile constitution quickly deteriorated and his abnormally extended life abruptly came to an end. Post-mortem analysis over the subsequent centuries has obviously discredited the claim of his uniquely advanced age, but Old Tom Parr still holds an intriguing place in British history.
Supposedly born in 1483, to husbandman John Parr, Thomas took on his father’s trade and ploughed and scythed the fields surrounding the village of Winnington, eight miles east of Shrewsbury. Excluding some rather racy romantic liaisons (he got married aged 80, paid penance for an affair aged 100 and got remarried aged 122), the circumstances of Tom’s remarkable longevity appear to have been reliant on a wholly inane set of domestic and dietary habits. If at all true, this may prove good news for those who prefer sylvan tranquillity and agrarian routine to a citified sense of success and all the gruelling competitiveness that lifestyle necessitates.
According to the poet and pamphleteer John Taylor, the Earl of Arundel was touring his estates in Shropshire when he heard of the local elder whom Taylor describes as a “monument” and a “miracle of nature”. Following his meeting with the old man, Arundel led a procession to London where he intended to present this living relic of a bygone time to Charles I.