Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Newton, William (1735-1790)

NEWTON, WILLIAM (1735–1790), architect, born on 27 Oct. 1735, was eldest son of James Newton, cabinet-maker, of Holborn, London, and Susanna, daughter of Humphrey Ditton [q. v.] According to a letter written by Newton on 23 Oct. 1788 (now at the Institute of British Architects), his father's father was the owner of Gordon Mills, near Kelso, and was first-cousin to Sir Isaac Newton [q. v.], with whom his father lived when young. Admitted into Christ's Hospital on 25 Nov. 1743, William left, on 1 Dec. 1750, to become apprentice to William Jones, architect, of King Street, Golden Square.

Some architectural sketches and ornamental designs by Newton now at the Institute of British Architects are dated in 1755; others bear the date 1763, and in 1764 there is a sketch for ‘a menagerie for the king with Mr. Wynne.’ In 1766 he travelled in Italy and spent some time at Rome. On his return he joined the Incorporated Society of Artists, and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1776–80. For many years he was chiefly occupied in designing residences in London and vicinity. In 1775 he built a house for Sir John Borlase-Warren at Marlow. He appears to have assisted William Jupp the elder [see under Jupp, Richard] in his design (1765–8) of the London Tavern, Bishopsgate Street Within, and to have been successful in interior decoration.

In 1771 he published the earliest English translation of the first five books of Vitruvius under the title ‘De Architectura libri decem, written by Marcus Vitruvius Pollio,’ (fol.) In 1780 he issued, in French, ‘Commentaires sur Vitruve’ (fol.), with many plates. The complete work of Vitruvius (including a translation of the remaining five books) was published after Newton's death, ‘from a correct manuscript prepared by himself,’ in two volumes, folio, 1791, by his brother and executor, James Newton [see under Newton, Sir William John]. Of the plates, a few only were ‘etched’ by the author. The greater number were by his brother James. The translation closely adheres to the original, and is on the whole a creditable performance.

Towards the end of 1781 a misunderstanding arose between James Stuart, ‘the Athenian’ ‘surveyor’ to Greenwich Hospital, and Robert Mylne (1734–1811) [q. v.], his clerk of the works, and an application was made in September by Stuart, then in ill-health, to Newton to assist him in the designs for rebuilding Greenwich Chapel. Newton was appointed Stuart's assistant by the committee in February 1782, and afterwards clerk of the works in succession to Mylne, an appointment which was confirmed by the board on 24 Dec. 1782. From that time he produced nearly all the decorative ornamentation for Greenwich Chapel, and superintended its execution. Stuart died on 2 Feb. 1788; but Newton brought the work to completion two years later, and carried out other works connected with the hospital. Unlike his earlier work, which was in the Palladian style, the Greenwich Chapel follows Greek models. In 1789 Cooke and Maule, in their ‘Historical Account of Greenwich Hospital,’ gave Stuart sole credit for the chapel. Newton publicly declared that the credit of the design belonged to him, and detailed the small portion of the work designed by Stuart. Newton actively helped to complete and publish Stuart's ‘Antiquities of Athens,’ published, in 1787, after the author's death.

Newton, whose health was failing from overwork, left Greenwich on a three months' leave of absence, for sea-bathing, on 10 Feb. 1790, and died soon after, on 6 July following, at Sidford, near Sidmouth, Devonshire. A portrait, engraved by James, after R. Smirke, R.A., appears in the 1791 edition of the ‘Vitruvius.’ In his will, dated on the day of his death, and proved on 7 Aug. following, Newton mentions, besides his brother James, his wife Frances, his late sister Elizabeth Thompson, and his sister Susanna O'Kely.

[Journal of Proceedings of the Royal Institute of British Architects for 27 Aug. 1891, pp. 417–20, entitled ‘W. Newton and the Chapel of Greenwich Hospital,’ by Wyatt Papworth, with lists of Newton's drawings and manuscripts in the collection of the Institute; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; other publications and references named in the article.]

W. P.-h.