Gabriel Newton was born in 1683, and spent most of his life working in the local government of Leicester. In 1726 he was made an Alderman. The Aldermen were the governing body of the Corporation of Leicester, a group of councillors who determined and oversaw local policies. Alderman Newton became very influential in civic affairs, and is one of the four statues featured on Leicester’s famous Clock Tower. In 1732 he was elected as Mayor. He developed a particular interest in educational matters, particularly charity schools and apprenticeships.
Alderman Newton married three times, but his only son to survive infancy – George – died at the age of 18. He therefore had no son to whom he could leave his plentiful fortune, and devoted the greater part of it to the Christian education of young people. Two years before his death, Alderman Newton conveyed to the Corporation of Leicester various lands throughout Leicestershire for charitable uses. The revenues from these lands were to be used to make annual payments to various towns and parishes in the Midlands “for the clothing and education of sons of indigent parents belonging to the Established Church”. A school was also to be established in Leicester, and further funds were provided for apprenticeship premiums. Newton’s family had strong ecclesiastical links, and he particularly wished young people to be educated in the doctrines of the Church of England.
Alderman Newton died in 1762, at the age of 79, and was honoured by a civic funeral. It took twenty years to implement the terms of his will, but finally, the Corporation of Leicester was awarded what remained of Alderman Newton’s bequest. The majority was invested, as he had wished, “so as to bring in the greatest possible interest”, which would be used to support the Christian education of young people in Leicester. A special committee was established to oversee the development of the Leicester school. The value of the bequest was considerable for the times, and both the school in Leicester and those in other areas grew over the next few decades.
Today’s Foundation has evolved out of the original Leicester school and the committee that governed it. The governing body continues to allocate some of its income each year to specific educational charities across the Midlands supported by Alderman Newton’s bequests; other income is distributed to local schools and individuals to enable young people to pursue their education or training. Thus, Alderman Newton is still providing, just as he dreamed, “for numerous persons such opportunities as might sometime work together for their future happiness, as well as be a means to improve their condition in this present life”.
This text has been compiled with the help of the paper, ‘The Origins and Early History of Alderman Newton’s Foundation’ by R. W. Greaves MA. D.Phil.