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Welcome to Episode 200 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that goes behind the curtain and into the real life and history of William Shakespeare by interviewing the experts who know him best.

Old Tom Parr was born in the late 1480s, and died at an astonishing one hundred and fifty two years later in 1635. Old Tom Parr is famous for living longer than any man in England before or since his lifetime.

Overlapping Shakespeare’s lifetime entirely, being born before the bard and living more than twenty years after the bard’s death, Old Tom Parr was born in Alderbury, England, and lived in Shropshire, where still today there is a small cottage called Old Parr’s Cottage that you can visit today.

The cottage’s preservation and that of Old Tom Parr’s memory is a testament to this man’s extraordinarily long life. His longevity has been attributed to a unique diet, and specifically enjoying what one 16th Century physician called a “care free” life. To put the length of his life into perspective, Old Tom Parr would have lived through both the Battle of Bosworth, and Shakespeare’s retelling of it on the early modern stage over 100 years later.

A portrait of Old Tom Parr hangs in the Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, and one of the curators there, Emma Kate Lanyon, joins us today to share the history of this portrait, as well as details into the surprising life, and death, of the longest living man from Shakespeare’s lifetime: the real Old Tom Parr.

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Emma Kate Lanyon opened her first museum at just nine years old in her bedroom cupboard and has loved being a curator ever since. Emma Kate has worked in museums in Shropshire and the Welsh Borders for over 25 years. During her time with Shropshire Museums, she Emma Kate has worked with a fascinating and diverse collection to bring alive the stories that make Shropshire so special.

While working as a musuem curator, Emma Kate has travelled into Roman Hoards excavations, deep into attic storage to rescue trunks of Victorian costumes, and even out on the road driving a 7.5 tonne mobile museum. Emma Kate Layon was the lead curator for the new Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery which opened in 2014. This museum move included the reinterpretation of the portrait of Old Parr which Emma Kate joins us to discuss today. https://www.shropshiremuseums.org.uk/

In this episode, I’ll be asking Emma Kate Lanyon about :

  • What is the average life expectancy for men in the mid 16th century? 
  • How old was Old Tom Parr by the time Shakespeare was writing plays in London, let’s say Romeo and Juliet in the 1590s as a timeframe? 
  • After his death, an official autopsy of his body was performed (presumably because of how unbelievable his age was to the medical community at the time). Emma Kate, what did the doctor find upon physical examination of Old Tom Parr?

… and more!


Thomas Parr, by unknown artist. National Portrait Gallery. Public Domain
. | Source

Books & Resources Emma Kate Lanyon Recommends

From Emma Kate Lanyon:

What we know today about Old Tom is mainly due to a pamphlet written by the poet John Taylor in 1635.  It was reprinted several times and copies can be found in several online library collections.

www.shropshirehistory.org.uk – includes a great interactive map of Shrewsbury in the 1630s which is linked to lots of research which will give you a glimpse of what life in the Tudor town and will provide an insight into Shropshire in the days of Old Tom’s and some of his contemporaries in the town.

Our portrait of Old Parr, images of his cottage and some of the items from his home can also be found on our website www.shropshiremuseum.org.uk  – just search “Parr”.

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