Born in Holbeach, Lincolnshire as the son of a lawyer, Stukeley worked in his father's law business before attending Bene't College, Cambridge. In 1709 he began studying medicine at St Thomas's, Southwark, before working as a general practitioner in Boston, Lincolnshire. From 1710 till 1725 he embarked on annual tours of the countryside, seeking out archaeological monuments and other features that interested him; he wrote up and published several accounts of his travels. In 1717, he returned to London and established himself within the city's antiquarian circles. In 1718 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and became the first secretary of the Society of Antiquaries of London. In 1721 he became a Freemason and in 1722 co-founded the Society of Roman Knights, an organisation devoted to the study of Roman Britain. In the early 1720s, Stukeley developed a particular interest in Stonehenge and Avebury, two prehistoric stone circles in Wiltshire. He visited them repeatedly, undertaking archaeological fieldwork to determine their dimensions.
In 1726 Stukeley relocated to Grantham, Lincolnshire, where he married. In 1729 he was ordained as a cleric in the Church of England and appointed vicar of All Saints' Church in Stanford, Kent. He was a friend of the Archbishop of Canterbury William Wake, who encouraged him to use his antiquarian studies to combat the growth of deism and Freethought in Britain. To this end, he developed the belief that Britain's ancient druids had followed a monotheistic religion inherited from the Biblical Patriarchs; he called this druidic religion "Patriarchal Christianity". He further argued that the druids had erected the stone circles as part of serpentine monuments symbolising the Trinity. He was instrumental in British scholarship's acceptance of Charles Bertram's forged Description of Britain. A friend of Isaac Newton, he was also among Newton's first biographers. In 1747 he returned to London as rector of St George the Martyr, Holborn.
Stukeley was born in 1687 and grew up in Holbeach, Lincolnshire. He was the eldest child in a family on four boys and one girl. His paternal grandfather, John Stukeley (1623–1675), was a country gentleman who possessed a small estate at Uffington, Lincolnshire and who accrued a large number of debts by the time of his death. John had two sons; the elder, Adlard, was apprenticed to the legal profession, while the younger, also called John, was initially trained as a farmer before joining Adlard in a family law firm. John married, with his wife later giving birth to William.
At the age of five, Stukeley began an education at Holbeach's Free School. By the age of thirteen, he was the top-rated pupil at his school. In 1700, he was taken out of school to work in his father's legal business. He was nevertheless bored by his law activities, and when he requested that he be allowed to study at university, his father agreed. He began studying at Cambridge University in 1703 as a pensioner at Bene't College. Among the classes that he took during his studies were Classics, Ethics, Logic, Metaphysics, Divinity, Mathematics, and Philosophy. In 1705 his father died, with his uncle also passing away three weeks later. He returned home to sort out the family's financial affairs. In 1707 his mother then died, leaving him in charge of his younger siblings; to pay off family debts, he sold off their furniture and let out their Holbeach home. He also attracted local attention for dissecting a local who had committed suicide. In 1708 he took his degree. By this point he was taking a growing interest in architecture, producing careful pen-drawings of medieval buildings.