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Grantham Civic Society: William Stukeley had links to Sir Isaac Newton

By Ruth Crook

William Stukeley
William Stukeley

William Stukeley was born on 7 November 1687 in Holbeach, to John Stukeley, an attorney, and his wife Frances. They had three further sons and a daughter. From the age of five, William attended Holbeach Free School, until he was thirteen, leaving to become an apprentice at his father’s law firm.

In 1703 he was admitted as a student to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he studied medicine. There he became interested in botany, Newtonian natural philosophy, and astronomy. His father and uncle died in 1705 and he left university in 1708, after graduating as bachelor of medicine. He moved to London and studied anatomy before moving to Boston to work as a physician.

In 1717 he left Boston and returned to London, where became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1718. During this time, he met and developed many friendships with prominent people, such as Sir Isaac Newton, with whom he had many conversations. On one such occasion, as he sat with Newton, they discussed the theory of gravitation and Newton told him about the apple falling from the tree in Woolsthorpe. In 1719, Stukeley returned to Cambridge where he obtained an MD and was admitted a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. He was also a founder member of the re-established Society of Antiquaries in 1718, and was appointed as the society’s first secretary.

In 1726 Stukeley left London to pursue a medical practice in Grantham. He lived in a house at the end of Castlegate, on the site of Alive Church and Avenue Road. He gathered biographical material on Isaac Newton, from the people who had known him as a boy in the town. Two years later, he married Frances Williamson from Allington, with whom he had three daughters. He assisted in forming the Masonic Lodge in Grantham in June 1726. With the encouragement of his friend, the archbishop of Canterbury, was ordained as an Anglican minister in 1729. In 1730 he moved to Stamford, where he became vicar of All Saints’ church. He began to spend time pursuing his interests of gardening and reading and writing on religious antiquities. He began publishing his works and did extensive drawings, surveys and measurements of Stonehenge and Avebury stone circle. He founded a literary and antiquarian society in Stamford in 1736, modelled on the Spalding Gentleman’s Society.

He married again in 1739, to Elizabeth Gale, daughter of the antiquary Thomas Gale. In 1747, he was offered the living of St George the Martyr in Queen Square, Bloomsbury, which he accepted. He spent his final years in London, where he was able to attend the meetings of the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries. On 27 February 1765 Stukeley suffered a stroke, dying three days later. He is buried in East Ham churchyard, Essex.


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