A Midland market town whose local authority was dealing with a lack of money in the national coffers, under pressure to collect taxes and not be burdened by ‘outsiders’ to keep essential infrastructure well-maintained.
Sound familiar? It is in fact mid-17th Century Grantham as presented in a new academic book titled ‘Newton’s Grantham’. Much has been written on Sir Isaac Newton, but this research reveals there is plenty more to be learnt about the Grantham in which he grew up.
This occurred to a group of academics who met at the 2012 Gravity Fields festival, including Director of the Newton Project at the University of Sussex, Rob Iliffe, who spoke on the influential role of William Clarke – an apothecary who was not only Newton’s landlord during his formative years, but was also elected as Alderman, head of the town’s Corporation, an early form of local authority.
As part of Lincolnshire’s Age of Scientific Discovery project with SKDC and funded by the Heritage Lottery, volunteers from the University of the Third Age (U3A) joined with Grantham historians and Civic Society members John Manterfield and Ruth Crook to transcribe the Corporation’s records preserved in the Hall Book.
They have meticulously transcribed and collectively checked the often unclear and archaic handwriting, and thus gained a fascinating insight into Grantham between 1649 and 1662, when Clarke was in the Corporation and Newton his lodger.
This is now publicly available on the Lincs to the Past website and to accompany the research, a booklet written and edited by John Manterfield, alongside Ruth Crook and Grantham’s U3A project leader John Down, has been produced.
Dr Manterfield, who like Newton is an alumnus of King’s School, has combined his PhD and ongoing research on Grantham with the Hall Book records to give a detailed account of the town in the mid-17th Century.
Dominated by the leather trade due to the quantity of livestock and demand for riding equipment by Great North Road travellers, Grantham in 1649 also felt the effects of the English Civil War, with occupations by both sides and the expulsion of royalists from the Corporation to make way for parliamentarians like William Clarke. Hence a strong group of anti-monarchist and largely Puritan inhabitants were able to promote the Commonwealth’s aims.
Dr Manterfield explains: “It was like they were establishing an individual self-governing community which modelled the wider Commonwealth.” Before also being thrown out with the monarchy’s restoration, this group had to manage piling debts and lack of physical coins while metal was prioritised for weapons, by creating ‘tokens’. This surely influenced Newton in his later role as Master of the Mint, and the Corporation also hired King’s schoolmaster Henry Stokes, who with Newton and astronomer Arthur Storer in his class, must have been quite a teacher.
These are just some of the historical gems in ‘Newton’s Grantham’, available for £5 from WHSmith, in High Street, and Grantham Museum. The transcribed Hall Book is available at www.lincstothepast.com – and with plans to transcribe more the group are looking for volunteers. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved.