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”
We have been examining small narratives from the past, looking as closely as we possibly, forensically perhaps, to see what can be revealed, which is more than the statements on their own will tell us. This micro-history technique has a habit of throwing up fascinating and useful details that would otherwise be lost to time.
If we consider closely what Isaac is telling us about his young schooldays we are quickly led to several questions. Where is Killingworth and Stoke? Why go to those places? Why go to one then another school? Why go to school at all? Who was the master or teacher? Where was the schoolroom, is it still there?
Stoke Rochford is a little township which lies about a mile north of Woolsthorpe, and is also known as south Stoke or Kirke Stoke in the old records. In 1837 Stoke Rochford had just 13 houses and 94 inhabitants. To its east is Bassingthorpe, in the north is North Stoke, to its south is Easton then Woolsthorpe and Colsterworth.
We can trace the footsteps of the young Isaac as he made his way each morning to his school. The route from Woolsthorpe to Stoke parish is still marked on the ordinance survey map today, it runs parallel to the old north road. The enclosure award of November 1808 shows that this ran across the medieval fields of Woolsthorpe manor then known as Woolsthorpe Beck field and Old Hills Common.
Can we tell from the records who was Isaac’s schoolmaster? All schoolmasters had to be authorised by the church. The Bishop of Lincoln would have issued a licence to the schoolmaster at Stoke. The records of the Bishop are still held at Lincoln records office, and could be consulted to find his or her name. Often it would have been the curate or rector of the parish, and the schoolroom would have been in the rectory or the church itself, a dedicated parish school was not built until 1840. The rector of Stoke from at least 1648 is Robert Price. Who was he? Price was close to Isaac’s family. He was witness to the wills of both Isaac’s uncle William Ayscough and his mother Hannah Smith in 1668 and 1673 respectively, present at the making of these wills was Isaac himself and William Walker, then rector of Colsterworth. There is evidence that Walker, Price & Newton were all related by marriage. Price was appointed rector by the a senior clerical man in the cathedral of Salisbury. It is interesting to note that this office appointed many of the rectors in the parishes around Grantham, including Isaac’s home parish of Colsterworth, and that it was the Bishop of Salisbury aka Sarum (Seth Ward) himself who personally nominated Isaac to the Royal Society a few years later in 1672. But therein lies another story…
These stories and many more are documented in Russell Newton’s forthcoming book about Isaac’s life – Mr Newton’s New Perspective.