Description: Tomb of John and Mary Newton Approximately 20 Metres South of Church of Saints Peter and Paul
Date Listed: 22 August 2008
English Heritage Building ID: 504911
OS Grid Reference: SP8898550940
OS Grid Coordinates: 488985, 250940
Latitude/Longitude: 52.1496, -0.7009
1115/0/10001 CHURCH STREET
22-AUG-08 Tomb of John and Mary Newton approxima
tely 20 metres south of church of Sain
ts Peter and Paul
This list entry has been added as part of the Bicentenary commemorations of the 1807 Abolition Act.
Dated 1893. Simple chest tomb of grey granite. Plain base; shallow-pitched top slab with cavetto-moulded underside. Inscription on each of the four sides, in leaded capital letters. On the north side: 'JOHN NEWON / DIED 21ST DECR 1807 / AGED 82 // MARY NEWTON / DIED 15TH DECR 1790 / AGED 61. On the west side: 'THESE REMAINS / WERE REMOVED FROM THE CHURCH / OF ST. MARY WOOLNOTH IN THE CITY / OF LONDON AND RE-INTERRED HERE / 25TH JANUARY 1893'. On the east side: 'THIS MONUMENT / IS ERECTED BY A LARGE NUMBER / OF SUBSCRIBERS WHO REVERE THE / MEMORY AND VALUE THE WORKS OF / THIS EMINENT SERVANT OF GOD.' On the south side, the epitaph written by Newton himself for the memorial tablet which remains in the church of St Mary Woolnoth: 'JOHN NEWTON, CLERK. / ONCE AN INFIDEL AND LIBERTINE / A SERVANT OF SLAVES IN AFRICA, WAS / BY THE RICH MERCY OF OUR / LORD AND SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST / PRESERVED / RESTORED, PARDONED / AND APPOINTED TO PREACH THE FAITH HE / HAD LONG LABOURED TO DESTROY. / NEAR 16 YEARS AS CURATE OF THIS PARISH / AND 28 YEARS AS RECTOR OF ST MARY WOOLNOTH.'
HISTORY: John Newton was born in 1725 in Wapping. Both parents influenced the course of his life; his father was a master mariner, whilst his mother, who died when he was six, introduced him to dissenting Christianity. At the age of 11 he went to sea with his father, with whom he made several voyages. John Newton Senior's plans to set his son up in business on a sugar estate in Jamaica foundered when the young John Newton fell in love with Mary Catlett (1729-90), the daughter of friends of his late mother. Thereafter Newton's time at sea was marked by the pain of separation from Mary; the couple married in 1750. From 1745-1754 Newton worked on slave ships, serving as captain on three voyages. At times, Newton was responsible for visiting African communities to inspect and choose slaves, and later wrote admiringly of African life. He was involved in every aspect of the slaver's trade, and his log books record the torture of rebellious slaves. Newton charts a terrible storm in 1748 as the moment of his conversion to devout Christianity, consolidated by conversations with another slave captain, who told him about the progress of the evangelism in England.
In 1754 Newton became 'surveyor of tides' at Liverpool, devoting his spare time to private theological study. He soon became one of the area's leading theological laymen, but his reputation as a Methodist stood in the way of his finding employment in the Church of England. Nevertheless, in 1764 he was made curate-in-charge at the church of Saints Peter and Paul, Olney, Buckinghamshire, through the patronage of the evangelical 2nd Earl of Dartmouth. That same year he published his autobiography, 'An Authentic Narrative', which established him as one of the leading figures of the evangelical revival. Newton stayed at Olney for 16 years, winning fame as a preacher as well as a writer; the church became so crowded that a gallery was added (this has since been removed). During the 1770s Newton worked with his parishioner, the poet William Cowper, on a collection of 'Olney Hymns' (published 1779), the most famous of which was 'Amazing Grace' (the hymn, sung to a different tune, was to become associated with the struggle for equality in the southern states of America during the 1960s).
In 1780 Newton became rector of St Mary Woolnoth, London; his reputation grew in this cosmopolitan setting, and his status as a patriarch attracted large congregations. In 1785-6 William Wilberforce came to him for advice during the crisis of his evangelical conversion; Newton counselled him to use political means to do God's work. In Wilberforce's case, this would prove to be the campaign for abolition. In 1788 Newton's pamphlet 'Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade' revealed his past as a slave trader, condemned the trade, and expressed regret at his part in it. Later that year Newton was amongst the witnesses called by the parliamentary select committee for examining the slave trade, providing detailed evidence of the treatment and conditions suffered by slaves in transit. In response to arguments about the economic advantages of slavery, Newton quoted, '"It is not lawful to put it into the Treasury, because it is the price of blood."' [Matthew 27:6] Some have read the hymn 'Amazing Grace' as expressing Newton's repentance of his slaving activities, but his writings, prior to 1788, show no sign that this aspect of his past weighed on his conscience. However, his singular position as a figure of unimpeachable moral authority with first-hand experience of the slave trade made his contribution to the success of the abolition movement extremely valuable.
John Newton died in December 1807, shortly after the Abolition Act passed into law. He was buried beside his wife, who had died in 1790, in the crypt of St Mary Woolnoth, but the building of Bank Underground station led to both bodies being re-interred at Olney in 1893. A subscription to raise the necessary funds was begun in London by admirers of Newton, and the project was led in Olney by William Hill Collingridge. (In 1900 Collingridge was to give his house, the former home of William Cowper, to the town; it became the Cowper and Newton Museum.) New oak coffins were made, on which were placed the original plaques, though Newton's was subsequently removed, and is now displayed in the Olney church. The ceremony of re-interment took place on 25 January 1893.
The tomb stands in the south-east corner of the churchyard. Directly to east, a small monument commemorating Newton's father-in-law, George Catlett, who died in 1777 whilst visiting the Newtons. The church of Saints Peter and Paul stands at the south end of the town, on the banks of the river Ouse. To the north of the church is the vicarage with attached coach-house (q.v.) which was once Newton's home.
N Pevsner, The Buildings of England, Buckinghamshire (1960)
N Pevsner, E Williamson and G Brandwood, The Buildings of England, Buckinghamshire (1994)
Victoria County History, Buckingham: 4 (1927)
D Bruce Hindmarsh, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online edn)
J Walvin, The Trader, The Owner, The Slave (2007)
R Collins, The Parish Church of SS Peter & Paul, Olney (1964)
O Ratcliff and H Brown, Olney Past and Present (1893)
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION:
The tomb of John and Mary Newton is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* A handsome chest tomb of 1893, carrying a powerful epitaph
* The tomb is of particular historical interest, having been erected to commemorate John Newton, slave trader turned evangelical minister, who made a singular contribution to the campaign for abolition.
* The setting of Newton's tomb is particularly appropriate; Newton's years as curate-in-charge for the church of Saints Peter and Paul made the town a centre of the evangelical revival; the Olney Hymns Newton wrote with William Cowper include some of the best-loved English hymns
* The tomb has group value with the Grade I listed church of Saints Peter and Paul, the listed gatepiers of the churchyard, and the listed vicarage with attached coach-house
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.