Mr Newton’s New Perspective: Skillington – a schoolroom in an old house

Late in his life, whilst an old man then living in London, Isaac recounted a scene to his nephew John Conduitt the story of his early days at school: He recounted how he:

“..went to two little day schools at Killingworth and Stoke till he was 12 years old”

and also that:

“…when he was but nine year old & went to school to Killingworth over Woolstrope Common he could see Grantham Spire like a stick which was six miles off.”

We have been examining small statements from the past, looking as closely as we possibly can to see what can be revealed, which is more than the statements alone will tell us. This micro-history technique is a little like detective work, a painstaking exercise of discovering & piecing together disparate clues; and using deductive logic to paint a fuller picture of what is otherwise lost to us. It has a habit of throwing up fascinating and useful details that would otherwise be unobtainable.

As we begin to examine Isaac’s statements we can be sure that John Conduit mis-remembered the place names when he wrote his notes up. “Killingworth” is in fact “Skillington”, a small parish which lies a mile or so to the west of Woolsthorpe on the border with Leicestershire where Isaac lived as a small boy. We can be sure of this because it is over the common from Woolsthorpe (Woolstrope) and about six miles from Grantham, and there is no Killingworth in Lincolnshire.

It is possible today to walk in Isaac’s young footsteps, as he truged his way to the little day school. Modern ordinance survey maps show the old footpath running between Colsterworth and Skillington passing right alongside Woolsthorpe manor. We can also see, by comparing the modern map with the medieval field boundaries of Woolsthorpe manor (set out in the enclosure awards of 1808) that the footpath runs across Woolsthorpe Middle field and along the edge of the “Lings Common” across Crabtree Road next to the site of an old post windmill, and along what is now Mill Lane, across Cringle Brook and into the settlement. [how long would the walk take] [what can he see – depends on time of year]

Isaac tells us that he was nine when he went to Skillington day school. He was born on Christmas day 1642 so he was nine for almost all of 1651. His story of Grantham spire is interesting. It was famous for being very tall, which is probably why he mentioned it; and as he arrived at school each morning he could have looked north and seen it. At least that was until a year later in 1652, when it was struck by lightning. The spire burnt down, and it was not rebuilt until after 1661 when money was raised by the Grantham Corporation. Isaac would have seen the spire before and after the fire – he tells us that he was 12 when his day schooling ended, so some time in 1655.

Isaac had many connections with Skillington already going back a century by the time he went to school there. His great great uncle – the merchant William Newton – lived and died here in 1593 (the register states 1594 but an inquisition jury records the earlier year), and his children were baptized in the parish between 1577-1585. Isaac’s great uncle Richard Newton & his wife Agnes seem to have baptized at least two of his children in the parish church in the decades before Issac

was born, before moving back to Colsterworth by 1617. His aunt Elizabeth Newton (widow of William Woodruffe of Skillington) was remarried to Thomas Christian of this parish with a second family by the time Isaac was born; and his aunt Isabel Newton married John Cooke of Skillington and raised a family in the 1620s and 1630s. There were also two men very close to Isaac’s family. Both were supervisors and witnesses to Isaac father’s will as he lay on his deathbed, and later drew up his inventory. The first was Isaac’s own grandfather James Ayscough, the second was William Denton, who was one of the many step-sons of Isaac’s great great uncle – William Newton.

William Denton was a wealthy landowner and was half brother to Richard Hickson and Thomas Newton, two men who made Sir John Newton very wealthy. William Denton was heavily fined during the civil war for helping to maintain the Royalist garrison at Belvoir castle, about four miles from his house in Skillington. The civil war also saw Isaac’s cousin Sir John Newton, then a schoolboy himself, travelling to Newark to secure the release of his mother Elizabeth who had been taken prisoner from her house in Gonerby, together with a large haul of John’s gold.

When William Denton died in around June 1651 his widow married Robert Price the Rector of Stoke, who we saw in the previous blog was likely to have been Isaac’s schoolmaster there and related by marriage. It is possible that this marriage took Price to Skillington during 1651 and that he took his school and Isaac with him, who was nine for most of that year. This might explain why Isaac was at the two schools. It would interesting to find this marriage in the registers and consult the hearth tax return of 1665/6 to test the this theory.

These stories and many more are documented in Russell Newton’s forthcoming book about Isaac’s life – Mr Newton’s New Perspective. 

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