Mr Newton’s New Perspective: Stoke Rochford

Stoke Rochford

Stoke Rochford

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. 

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Mr Newton’s New Perspective: North Witham

North Witham

North Witham

Late in his life, whilst an old man then living in London, Isaac recounted a scene that his mother had often told him. She said that:

“when he was born he was so little that they could have put him into a quart pot, & so unlikely to live that two women who were sent to my Lady Packenham at North Witham for something for him sate down on a stile by the way and said to one another that they need not make haste for the child would certainly be dead before they could get back.”

It has always been fruitfull for social historians to examine the small things from the past. It has a name – “micro-history”. Small details – overlooked by historians who worry about our past at a national level – can carry with them the clues, which when pursued with care and perseverence, can lead us to quite new and interesting facts. So it is with this throwaway recollection of Isaac’s. To the curious mind it immediately raises several questions. Why did his mother often tell him of this event? Who were the two women? Why send women not men? Why send two? Where is the stile they sat on? What sort of thing would they be sent for? Why were they sent to North Witham? The answer – to see “my Lady Pakenham” – begs the futher question, why her, and who is Lady Pakenham anyway? Why was the infant Isaac so little, and why would they expect him to die quickly? These questions are easy to ask, but in answering them the social historian will be lead deep into the everyday lives of our ancestors living in the seventeenth century, and the colour and detail which is often revealed will never fail to enthrall us.

North Witham is a small parish about a mile south of Woolsthorpe and Colsterworth, where Isaac was born on Christmas day 1642, a few months after the outbreak of the English civil war. Isaac already had connections with the parish when he was born, and they increased during his life.

In 1611 Isaac’s uncle William Ayscough, brother to his mother Hannah, was baptized there in the parish church of St Mary’s. Isaac’s cousin William Newton (son of his great uncle Richard) was probably the William who married Ellenor Packington in this parish in November 1641 – the year before Isaac was born. Also starting a family in the parish when Isaac was born was one William Cottam and his wife Elizabeth. William was probably a servant to the rector Barnabus Smith, because he was later servant to Isaac’s mother Hannah and mentioned in her will of 1673, which was written by Isaac himself. William Cottam (or more likely his son of the same name who was born in 1629) was then servant in the 1680s to Isaac’s half-sister Mary and her husband Thomas Pilkington; and finally he was servant to Isaac himself.

At the time Isaac was born all these people were living in North Witham, and also the mysterious “Lady Jane Pakenham”. She is mysterious because she could not claim the title of Lady, as she was married to plain Clement Pakenham, Esquire. His brother, Sir Henry Pakenham, died years ealier, and Henry’s widow Lady Jane Pakenham was remarried and dead by the time the two women set off to North Witham. So who is the “Lady Pakenham” that Hannah spoke so often of? She is Jane the wife of Clement, but we do not know her maiden name. It is possible however that she is the distant cousin of Isaac’s, Jane the daughter of William Newton, younger brother of Isaac’s great grandfather Richard Newton. Further searching in the records for her marriage should reveal her identity. Interestingly this Jane had a sister Mary who married Thomas Vincent of this parish in 1595 and may still be living here at the time of Isaac’s birth.

When Isaac was three his widowed mother Hannah remarried the rector of North Witham, and lived

in the rectory next to the church, both of which are still there today. Contrary to preceding accounts and research Barnabus was neither a bachelor nor a widow when he arranged his marriage to Hannah. He was in fact married to Dionis, who lived estranged from him in Oakam, Rutland. She was buried there on 29 December 1645, just over two weeks before Barnabus remarried. All of his three half siblings by Barnabus were baptized by him in the church. Isaac stayed behind in Woolsthorpe, but as a young man in 1662, he recalled:

“Threatning my father and mother Smith to burne them and the house [the rectory] over them..“

The rectory still stands, Isaac never followed through on his threat – thankfully. His mother, widowed again, returned from North Witham after her husband’s death in 1653 to live in the house he built for her – her dower house – which now stands at Woolsthorpe, conserved by the National Trust. The house that Isaac was born in was pulled down by Edmond Turnor in 1798, at the very same time that he erected a plaque in an upper room of the dower house identifying it as Isaac’s birthplace. The original manor foundations lie under the grass in the field next to the present house. 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.

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Mr Newton’s New Perspective: Bassingthorpe with Westby

St Thomas Church, Bassingthorpe

St Thomas Church, Bassingthorpe

In 1705 Isaac Newton was knighted by Queen Anne at his old college in Cambridge, not, as some would have it, for services to science or mathematics, reasons for knighting were never published and could only be guessed at, but most likely it was related to his standing for parliament at the impending election. On his return to London he began his look into his ancestry. The Heralds would want to award him a coat of arms or record any coat of arms he was already using. Isaac submitted the fruit of his work to the college of Arms in December 1705 beginning with:

“John Newton of Westby in co. Lincs, desand from the Newtons in Lancastr.”

Westby is a hamlet in the parish of Bassingthorpe, which lies 6 miles south and east of Grantham in south Lincolnshire, a short walk or ride from the Great north Road, the principle road between London and the north east. In 1563 was recorded with 24 families. This might imply a population of say 120. The size of the parish remains fairly static for four and a half centuries whilst the population of the country increases dramatically. In 1801 the parish population was 158 and a century later in 1911 it was back to 116, about the same as in 1563.

[During this time the population of England rose around 1100% from around 3 million to 36 million in 1911. A parish of this size might appear small to modern eyes, with just 24 heads of household, but analysis of the diocesan return shows that about 1 in 5 of the population of Lincolnshire lived in parishes as big or smaller than this, and about 1 in 2 of the population lived in parishes of less than 50 households, with the average parish size of just over 36 families.]

The John Newton who starts Isaac’s family tree first appears in the archive living and baptizing a family in the parish in the 1540s, and dying there in 1563 in the early years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Isaac recorded that this John had four sons, but he actually had seven sons (Isaac put them into two generations). We are lucky as historians today that we have unprecedented access to archival material, unavailable to Isaac, so we can recognise and correct any mistakes. These seven sons are all traceable. The third son (Richard) was great grandfather to Isaac Newton, the fourth son (William) was ancestor of Sir John Newton of Culverthorpe Hall near Haydour, who became 2nd Baronet in 1662. The sixth son was Robert Newton, who lived in Bassingthorpe and Swayfield, who owned land overseas, and whose brother in law was the first person to be hanged in New England in 1630; and whose son nearly set fire to the Mayflower in 1620 as they sailed across the sea. This Robert was ancestor to a line of farmers who stayed at Bassingthorpe and were alive as he wrote up research, yet Isaac was unable to identify them as his own family, believing them to be “of a different race”. One – John Newton – was the churchwarden in 1675, and is remembered by a tablet inside the church. Robert’s youngest son Francis lived at Swayfield but lost his estate in the civil war, living after at Ancaster, his descendants lived locally at Wilsford, Caythorpe, Fulbeck, and one of them visited Isaac twice in London, by his own account, after the turn of the century. Robert’s grandson Anthony Newton was groom to the Duke of Rutland at Belvoir for 27 years and moved to Exton in Northants with the Duke’s daughter after her marriage. It is highly likely that this position was arranged by his cousin, Sir John Newton, at Culverthorpe.

The significant family in the parish was the Conys. Thomas Cony became lord of the manor of Bassingthorpe in 1545 after Richard, his father’s, death. Both were Merchants of the Staple at Calais. Thomas was captured by the French at Calais in 1558, and held to ransom. Close investigation of the archives has shown that there are earlier family and commerce links between the Newtons and the Conys.

Where John in Westby came from remains a mystery, however the historic fog is beginning to clear. We can now be sure that John did not settle in south Linconlshire from Lancaster or Lancashire, at least not for many generations. It is almost certain that John Newton in Bassingthorpe was a descendant of Merchants of the Staple in Medieval Boston. Boston may not be Lancaster but there are strong connections with Isaac’s family and Lincolnshire county merchant families close to the Duke of Lancaster in the late 1300s and through the 1400s. 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.

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Walking in a Newton Wonderland #Newtonwalk Story of Day 2

Day 2 of the #Newtonwalk test run saw our team set out from North Witham Churchday 2 start

Here’s the details of the day 2 route including Tweets and photos

Journeying towards Sir Isaac Newton’s family home at Woolsthorpe Manor in Colsterworth, the theme of Sir Isaac’s childhood was very much at the heart of this section of the walk.

A poignant moment as they crossed a stream, which featured right at the very outset of Newton’s life journey.  John Conduitt, who married Newton’s niece Catherine Barton and took care of him in his old age wrote that“Sir I.N. told me that he had been told that when he was born he was so little they could put him into a quart pot & so weakly that he was forced to have a bolster all round his neck to keep it on his shoulders & so little likely to live that when two women were sent to Lady Packenham at North Witham for something for him they sate down on a stile by the way & said there was no occasion for making haste for they were sure the child would be dead before they could get back…” Source Corpus Newtonicum
stream crossing

Next a burning issue for the young Sir Isaac and his confession of wanting to burn down the Rectory of his step father Barnabas Smith who his mother remarried and left the family home to live with when he was only a few years old.

Here’s how the site looks today.

rectory burn down

Thanks to the brilliant work of our festival patron Professor Rob Iliffe in his “Newton Project” you can actually see the written archive here from 1662, number 13 on Sir Isaac’s confessions list  

During the Gravityfields festival the next stop, at Woolsthorpe Manor will form the centrepiece of the #Newtontreeparty project on Saturday 27th September with a special Newton reunion style reception including Professor Rob Iliffe and local historian Ruth Crook and many other special guests. For now just a chance to gaze at THAT apple tree and wonder…

woolsthorpe tree

The journey continued with a visit to Skillington, following the path to the old school where Sir Isaac Newton is believed to have attended during his formative years

road to skillington

Into the early afternoon and a welcome break at Stoke Rochford Hall, and a chance to admire the magnificent Obelisk dedicated to his achievements

stoke r obelisk

From there, across the much travelled Great North Road looking slightly transformed from the 17th century days of Coaching Inns and highwaysA1

And onwards to the final destination of St Wulfram’s church in Grantham for a well earned rest!

st wulframs


So there you have it, a golden opportunity to immerse yourself in Newton’s Lincolnshire story. Hopefully that’s whetted your appetite for GravityFields in September, and if you would like to take part in the festival walks, places will be limited so early booking is highly recommended. To book your place for day 1 on Friday 26th September please visit and for day 2 on Saturday including the #NewtonTreeParty event

There is mini-bus support provided , you can choose to walk as much or as little as you like, and walk leaders Ali Pretty and Richard White very much look forward to sharing the journey with you!

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Walking in a Newton Wonderland #Newtonwalk story so far!

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Big congratulations to walk leaders Richard White and Ali Pretty and all the participating walkers and online participants over 2 days during the weekend of Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd June- #NewtonWalk has been a roaring success! It’s all about … Continue reading

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