John Hewitt was born in Litchfield in 1807. He was educated in Litchfield, and it was thought that he was destined to become a musician. For a short period of time he was the organist for St Mary’s Church in Litchfield. He remained interested in music throughout his life.
Hewitt knew several languages, both ancient and modern. He was described as a ‘bold rider to hounds’ and ‘an elegant skater.’ He was also a skilled artist. He was an antiquary with a wide knowledge of many subjects besides arms and armour.
Hewitt joined Robert Porrett’s staff in the War Office in the Ordnance Department in June 1840. This department was responsible among other things, for the maintenance of the national collection of arms and armour. At this time there was no ‘official’ curator of the historical collection. Since Hewitt had such a keen interest in the study of antiquity he was encouraged to take a special interest in enquiries about the collection.
He first produced a guide of The Tower of London in 1841 entitled The Tower: its History, Armories and Antiquities. This work was very significant: it set a standard of scholarship for works of this kind, and as the first official guide to the Tower it appears to have also been the first account of any historical site in Britain published by a government department.
Hewitt was greatly respected for his critical knowledge of ancient armour and weapons. He wrote numerous articles for the Archaeological Journal and Reliquary, sometimes under the name ‘Sylvanus Swanquill’. His contributions included:
- The Tower: its history, armouries and antiquities: before and since the fire (1841)
- Chart of Ancient Armour (1847)
- Ancient Armour and Weapons (1855-1860)
- Official Catalogue of the Armouries (1859)
- Old Woolwich) (1863), as well as handbooks on Litchfield and other works.
Hewitt retired from the War Office on April 15, 1865, and he returned to Litchfield to live.
John Hewitt died in Litchfield, on the 10th of January 1878.