South Kesteven is one of the Midland’s most heritage rich districts, boasting over 2150 listed buildings, over 600 of which are in Stamford alone – so you never have to go far to enjoy historic gems.
Grand stately homes, spectacular collections, beautiful parks and gardens and are often on the must-see lists of visitors; but for the intrepid heritage hunter South Kesteven has all that to offer – and much more too.
In this series of blogs, we will be highlighting some of the district’s more surprising and unlikely heritage hotspots – how many will you discover?
Nestled within the village of Woolsthorpe -by- Colsterworth is an historic manor house surrounded by barns and farm buildings. Compared to nearby Belton House and Grimsthorpe Castle, Woolsthorpe Manor is a relatively humble farmhouse, but one with a remarkable legacy – and possibly the most famous apple tree in the world.
It was here on Christmas Day 1642 that Isaac Newton was born, premature and barely expected to survive. Beating the odds, Isaac spent his childhood in the house, carving graffiti into the walls, before moving to nearby Grantham at 12 years old to attend the Grammar School.
When plague forced the closure of Cambridge University in 1665, Newton returned to Woolsthorpe Manor, staying in his childhood home for a year before the University opened once more.
But what a year it turned out to be – known as Newton’s ‘Annus Mirabilus’, or Year or Wonders; it was here that he was inspired by the legendary falling apple, and where he began his work on gravity, the movement of celestial bodies, calculus, and his studies of light and optics.
Woolsthorpe Manor is now owned by the National Trust and regularly open to the public. Visitors can explore Newton’s theories for themselves at the science center and learn how his ideas challenged received wisdom, clashed with religious thinking, and ultimately changed our understanding of the universe.
A visit would not be complete without stopping to see the apple tree which inspired Newton to consider gravity, and nearby to see a descendant of the tree which started its life in orbit on the International Space Station, as part of the ‘Space Pips’ project.
Woolsthorpe Manor has been a site of scientific pilgrimage for centuries, notable visitors have included Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and astronaut Major Tim Peake.
Visitors may also like to visit St John the Baptist Church in Colsterworth – the Newton’s family church, where his parents are buried and where he was christened. The church contains memorials to the family, as well as a sundial carved by Newton as a child.
Several of the windowsills in the church are marked with carvings, believed to be apotropaic marks – sometimes known as ‘witches marks’ – once believed to be protective charms against evil.
Eagle eyed visitors may have noticed similar carvings at Woolsthorpe Manor, which stand as an indelible reminder of an age when there was a fine line between religion and superstition, and between science and magic.