John Newton (1725-1807)
John Newton lived in Olney for 16 years as curate-in-charge of the parish church, St Peter & St Paul.
He lived in the vicarage opposite the church.
His writings became known worldwide while he was in Olney.
Newton was a frequent visitor at Orchard Side to see his friend William Cowper.
“I believe … we were not seven hours without being together.”
Newton published several books while at Olney, the most famous perhaps being a joint-production with Cowper – Olney Hymns – in 1779.
Many of their hymns are still sung today around the world today:
Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion city of our God (N)
God moves in a mysterious way (C)
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds (N)
O for a closer walk with God (C)
As Newton wrote in the Preface:
“I more particularly dedicate to my dear friends in the parish and neighbourhood of Olney, for whose use the hymns were originally composed; as a testimony of the sincere love I bear them…”
Today one of the hymns Newton wrote in Olney, Amazing Grace, holds world records! The Library of Congress
has more than 3,000 different recordings of Amazing Grace. You can read more about the hymn here on the johnnewtonproject website
Things to see in the Museum which belonged to Newton include:
His clerical bands Chest of drawers from his house His armchair
John Newton began his career as a seafarer and worked aboard slave trading ships, before becoming a famous London preacher and spiritual mentor to William Wilberforce, the abolitionist.
Returning to England aboard the Greyhound in 1748, John Newton awoke to find the ship caught in a violent storm and about to sink. He prayed for God’s mercy, the storm died down and after four more weeks at sea the Greyhound finally made it to port in Lough Swilly in Ireland
This experience marked the beginning of his conversion to Christianity. Newton continued to work in the slave trade but his actions began to be shaped by his faith.
In 1757 Newton started to prepare for the ministry and after seven years was ordained into the Church of England. He became curate of the parish church in Olney, a position he held for nearly 16 years. In 1780 Newton moved to the City of London as rector of St Mary Woolnoth Church, where he began to speak out against the slave trade.
John Newton is perhaps best known as the author of the world-famous hymn, Amazing Grace, which was one of the Olney Hymns written in collaboration with William Cowper. He also wrote some important theological works.
Newton is also remembered for his work in the anti-slavery movement, which occupied part of his later life. He died in 1807, a few months after the Act abolishing the slave trade throughout the British Empire had been passed. Both his and William’s contribution to the Anti-slavery movement is well documented on the Abolition Project website