Newton’s House, England

     On August 14th, 2016; I passed through Woolsthorpe, England on my way to London.  There, I visited the Woolsthorpe Manor. Woolsthorpe Manor in Woolsthorpe-by Colsterworth, near Grantham, Lincolnshire, England, is the birthplace and was the family home of Sir Isaac Newton. He was born there on 25 December 1642.

Woolsthorpe Manor’s area map

     Isaac Newton was an English physicist and mathematician famous for his laws of physics. He was a key figure in the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century.

Sketch of the Woolsthorpe Manor

     In 1687, he published his most acclaimed work, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), which has been called the single most influential book on physics. In 1705, he was knighted by Queen Anne of England, making him Sir Isaac Newton.  His momentous book on physics, Principia, contains information on nearly all of the essential concepts of physics except energy, ultimately helping him to explain the laws of motion and the theory of gravity. Along with mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, Newton is credited for developing essential theories of calculus.

English translation of the Principia found at the Woolsthorpe Manor

     Isaac newton was born at Woolsthorpe Manor on a freezing cold Christmas Day in 1642.  Isaac claimed that when born he was so tiny he could fit in a quart pot.  Servants were sent to North Witham for medicinal herbs to help the child.  They did not hurry as the baby was not expected to live. 

     He was named after his father, a yeoman farmer who married Hannah Ayscough in April 1642.  the elder Isaac died the following October, leaving his wife pregnant with their unborn child.

Bedroom from which Isaac Newton was born in the Woolsthorpe Manor

     Isaa’c widowed mother Hannah remarried when he was three years old.  Her new husband was Rev. Barnabas Smith, the Rector of the nearby parish of North Witham.  Hannah moved into the North Witham Rectory and left Isaac at Woolsthorpe in the care of his grandmother.  It is not known how often he saw his mother during this period.  Following the death of her husband, Hannah returned to the ten-year-old Isaac at Woolsthorp Manor along with the three children from her second marriage.

Woolsthorpe Manor of 2016. 

     Twelve-year-old Isaac was sent to King’s School in Grantham.  He showed little promise at first but a fist-fight with the school bully seemed to awaken his competitive spirit and he began to ear praise from his teachers.

Woolsthorpe, England of 2016, (note that the famous apple tree is seen on the right).

     After four years Isaac was summoned home from school to assume the duties of a yeoman farmer.  He proved to be more interested in his studies than the farm. On a trip to Grantham he was so preoccupied with a new book that he left his servant and horse in the town and absentmindedly walked home.  His mother relented and sent Isaac back to school.  In 1661 he entered Trinity Collge, Cambridge. 

Isaac Newton’s bedroom at the Woolesthorpe Manor

     Bored and frustrated by his lessons at Cambridge, Isaac began his own studies of mathematics and natural philosophy.  An outbreak of plague in 1665 force the University to close and Isaac returned home.  The solitude of Woolsthorpe Manor gave Isaac the opportunity to study and experiment.  The work that he undertook here between 1665 and 1666 changed scientific thought and practice forever.  Newton said of these days, “I was in the prime of my age for invention and minded Mathematicks and Philosiphy more than at any time since”.  Newton’s first major public scientific achievement was designing and constructing a reflecting telescope in 1668, (note on the table next to the window. As a professor at Cambridge, Newton was required to deliver an annual course of lectures and chose optics as his initial topic. He used his telescope to study optics and help prove his theory of light and color.

Painting found at the Woolesthorpe Manor

     Legend has it that the fall of an apple in Woolsthorpe’s orchard led Isaac to develop his theory of gravity.  In his bedroom he experimented with prisms to reveal the true nature of white light and developed a way of solving mathematical problems that had previously defied all other mathematicians.  Newton made discoveries in optics, motion and mathematics. Newton theorized that white light was a composite of all colors of the spectrum, and that light was composed of particles.

English translation of Isaac Newton’s book on Opticks

     This brief and concentrated period of observation and experimentation would become known as his Year of Wonders.  Isaac was only twenty three years old.  He initially kept his discoveries to himself.  His genius was eventually revealed with the publication of his first book known as ‘Principia Mathematica’.  However, the Royal Society asked for a demonstration of his reflecting telescope in 1671, and the organization’s interest encouraged Newton to publish his notes on light, optics and color in 1672. These notes were later published as part of Newton’s Opticks: Or, A treatise of the Reflections, Refractions, Inflections and Colours of Light.

Isaac Newton’s bedroom window looking out into the apple orchid.

     Woolsthorpe is the home of the Flower of Kent apple tree connected with Newton’s story of how he discovered the law of gravitation–a story told by Newton himself to William Stukeley, one of his biographers in 1726:  Newton states, “Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground,” thought he to himself: occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as he sat in a contemplative mood: “Why should it not go sideways, or upwards? but constantly to the earth’s certre? assuredly, the reason is that, that the earth draws it….”

Apple tree found outside of Isaac Newton’s bedroom

     The tree acquired a local reputation and after Newton’s death people would make the pilgrimage to the Manor House and to see the tree in the orchard.  In 1820 the tree blew down after a storm.  Sketches were made of it and the broken wood was used to make snuff boxes and small trinkets.  Fortunately the tree remained rooted a re-grew strongly–this is the tree we have now, (seen above and below).

Isaac Newton’s existing apple tree.

          In 1696, Newton was able to attain the governmental position he had long sought: warden of the Mint; after acquiring this new title, he permanently moved to London and lived with his niece, Catherine Barton.  Barton was the mistress of Lord Halifax, a high-ranking government official who was instrumental in having Newton promoted, in 1699, to master of the Mint—a position that he would hold until his death.

Isaac Newton’s Death Mask found at the Woolsthorpe Manor

     In 1703, Newton was elected president of the Royal Society upon Robert Hooke’s death. However, Newton never seemed to understand the notion of science as a cooperative venture, and his ambition and fierce defense of his own discoveries continued to lead him from one conflict to another with other scientists.

     Despite his fame, Newton’s life was far from perfect: He never married or made many friends, and in his later years, a combination of pride, insecurity and side trips on peculiar scientific inquiries led even some of his few friends to worry about his mental stability.  By the time he reached 80 years of age, Newton was experiencing digestion problems and had to drastically change his diet and mobility.  In March 1727, Newton experienced severe pain in his abdomen and blacked out, never to regain consciousness. He died the next day, on March 31, 1727, at the age of 84.

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