Main Gazetteer A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | London | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z | Bibliography & Acknowledgements
Written by David Singmaster (firstname.lastname@example.org ). Links to relevant external websites are being added occasionally to this gazetteer but the BSHM has no control over the availability or contents of these links. Please inform the BSHM Webster (A.Mann@gre.ac.uk) of any broken links.
[When the gazetteer was edited for serial publication in the BSHM Newsletter, references were omitted since the bibliography was too substantial to be included. Publication on the web permits references to be included for material now being added to the website, but they are still absent from material originally prepared for the Newsletter - TM, August 2002]
Return to the top.
William of Ockham (or Occam) (1295-1349) (or (c1285-1349)), of Ockham's Razor, was born at Ockham, Surrey, about 15 miles SW of London, just east of Woking. He was a student of Duns Scotus [Espy, pp.119-120].
Ada Lovelace's husband, William King, Earl of Lovelace, was originally Baron Ockham and had his family seat at Ockham Park, but they acquired East Horsley Park, in East Horsley, a few miles to the south, in 1840 [D. L. Moore, pp.64 & 206]. Lord Lovelace spent thirty years transforming the building into a Rhenish Gothic castle. It was renamed Horsley Towers after he added an extraordinary tower in 1858. The building still stands at the south end of Ockham Road South and is now (1999) the Horsley Management Centre and Towers, a conference centre. Lovelace pioneered the use of wood formed after being steamed - he reported this to the Institution of Civil Engineers and Isambard Kingdom Brunel expressed approval of Lovelace's Great Hall built in 1847 using bent beams (photo on p.10 of Beach, see below). He had excellent bricks made and won the medal for brickmaking at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Lovelace was Lord Lieutenant of Surrey in 1840, FRS in 1841 and FICE. Beach [p.16] says there is a memorial tablet to Ada in the Chapel, but I didn't notice it. Lovelace rebuilt a number of buildings in the village and elsewhere in his characteristic style. He also built a number of characteristic horseshoe shaped bridges for transporting timber. [Derek Palmer, Surrey Rambles Ten country walks around Surrey, Countryside Books, Newbury, Berkshire, 1987, pp.32-36] gives a walk which passes under two of these bridges, but says most of them are disappearing. Lovelace attended nearby St. Martin's Church, where he is buried in a mausoleum he had built some 20 years previously in the NE corner of the churchyard. In 1919-1926, Horsley Towers was bought by T. O. M. Sopwith, the yacht and aircraft designer. [Lucinda Lambton, An Album of Curious Houses, Chatto & Windus, 1988, pp.140-143; Peter Beach, The History of Horsley Towers, PB Publishing, Woking, 1998; Pam Bowley, A Little Guide to St. Martin's Church East Horsley Surrey, East Horsley Parochial Council, 1986.]
Henry Moseley (1801-1872) was Vicar of Olveston, from 1854 and died there.
The planetary model called an orrery was named for Charles Boyle, 4th Earl of Orrery, c1713. Orrery is the name of a barony in the north of County Cork, also known as the Barony of Orrery and Killmore. There is no town or village of either name - they may be the names of castles or some geographic features - it is the area north of Mallow to the Limerick border and includes the towns of Rath Luirc (= Charleville) and Buttevant. Indeed Charleville was founded by Roger Boyle, the first Earl of Orrery, in c1659 and he built a mansion there, but it was burnt down by the Duke of Berwick in 1690. (My thanks to Roy Foster and Maria Woods for the location of Orrery.) The 1st Earl was the grandfather of the 4th Earl and was a notable figure in Irish affairs.
see under "Carroll" in the separate "Oxford people" page
St. Mary's Church, Ottery St Mary, has a clock from about 1334 [Stanier, p.35]. [John A. Whitham, The Church of St Mary of Ottery in the County of Devon: A Short History and Guide, British Publishing Co Ltd, Gloucester, (1956), 4th ed, 1968, pp.18-21] says "Its age must be largely a matter of conjecture but there are some grounds for attributing it to John de Grandisson, Bishop of Exeter 1327-69". It has been considerably restored, but there is some medieval structure. About 1875, it stopped working and J. J. Hall, FRAS, restored it to working order in 1907. It is first recorded in 1437-1438 when there was a payment of 4d for care of the clock It displays the hour on a 24-hour dial, the age and phase of the moon.
This is the site of Oundle School, founded in the 16th century. Joseph Needham was a student.
This entry is divided into two sections: Institutions and Places; and Oxford Individuals (which is on a separate page).
I know less about monuments in Oxford than in Cambridge, but [Gunther; Gunther (2); Gunther (3), Gunther (4)] and [Busbridge] provide a lot of information.
[I recommend John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson (editors), Oxford Figures: 800 Years of the Mathematical Sciences (Oxford University Press, 2000) - TM]
The University existed in some form from 1096, with a major growth in 1167 when English students were expelled from the University of Paris. [Ball (5), p.223] says the University began about 1133/1149. The oldest colleges date from the 13th century - Balliol, Merton and University all claim to be the oldest, for differing reasons. After a riot between town and gown in 1209, a number of students left for Cambridge. Such riots were not trivial - one in 1355 left 93 dead. [Yurdan, p.43.]
The structure of Oxford University is very similar to that of Cambridge. However, Oxford never developed the obsession with mathematics that Cambridge did and there is no equivalent to the Cambridge Tripos examination. The closest equivalent was obtaining a double first in two disparate subjects, which has only been done a few times. Robert Peel (later Prime Minister) was the first person to achieve a double first in classics and mathematics; the second such person was John Keble.
A reasonably recent poster states that the University has about 9500 undergraduates, 3000 postgraduates and 2000 teachers. There are 35 colleges, of which 28 take undergraduates.
Interest in women's education began with the formation of an Oxford Committee for Lectures (for women) in 1873. However, there was a division between those wanting a Church-based institution and those wanting a non-denominational one, so two halls were opened in 1879: Lady Margaret Hall and Somerville Hall, the latter being non-denominational and named for the great Victorian populariser of science, Mary Somerville. During 1884-1894, women were admitted to more and more lectures and examinations. In 1884, a Miss Seward, of Somerville, was the first Oxford women to enter for the Honours examination in Mathematics. But it was not until 1920 that women were allowed to be awarded degrees - this had been delayed by the War. The first women's degree ceremony was held on 14 Oct 1920, with the heads of the women's halls being given the first degrees. In 1921, the University gave the first DCL to a woman, the Queen. Women began to be admitted to the men only colleges, and vice-versa, in 1974 and I believe there is only one single-sex college left. In 1994, a woman was elected head of a formerly male college for the first time - Averil Cameron at Keble.
The Savilian Professorships of Geometry and Astronomy (founded by Henry Savile, Warden of Merton College, in 1619) and the Sedleian Professorship of Natural Philosophy (1618 or 1621) (now devoted to mathematics) are the most interesting for us. Savile is said to have been distressed by the status of the parallel postulate and unable to resolve it, so he founded the Savilian Chair of Geometry in the hope that one of the holders would be able to succeed [Webster]. The Savilian Professorship is the third oldest mathematical chair in the UK, following the Gresham Professorship of 1575/1597 and the Edinburgh chair in 1583. Henry Briggs was the first holder of the Gresham and Savilian chairs. From 1854, the Savilian Professorships have been attached to New College.
Notable Savilian Professors of Geometry have been: Briggs (1619-1630); Wallis (1649-1703); Halley (1704-1742); Bliss (1742-1764); Stephen Peter Rigaud (1810-1827); Rev. Baden Powell (1827-1860, father of the Scout, who adopted the surname of Baden-Powell); H. J. S. Smith (1861-1883, elected in preference to Boole); Sylvester (1883-1894); Hardy (1920-1931); Titchmarsh (1931-1963), who is said to have accepted 'on condition that he didn't have to lecture on geometry' [D. C. Russell, p.404]); Atiyah (1963-1969); Ioan James (1969-1995).
Notable Savilian Professors of Astronomy have been: John Bainbridge (1619-1643); John Greaves (1643-?), a scholar of ancient astronomy who gave the first detailed description of the Great Pyramid); Seth Ward (1649-1660); Wren (1661-1673); David Gregory (1691-1708, elected over Halley); John Keill (1712-1721, author of the first text based on Newton's physics) [A source says Halley held this post in 1708-1712 and another source says 1704-1721, but these seem definitely wrong.]; James Bradley (1721-1762); Thomas Hornsby (1762-1810, who organized the Radcliffe Observatory); Stephen Peter Rigaud (1827-1839); H. H. Turner (1893-1930). Early professors used the purpose-built 'mathematical tower' in the Schools Quadrangle as an observatory - some of the original instruments are in the Museum of the History of Science [Simcock, pp.12 & 39-40]. Stable Hall, at the end of the Cloisters, 7 New College Lane, was the residence of the Savilian Professors of Astronomy - Halley and Bradley lived here. An attic room was added to this for use as an observatory [Simcock, p. 12].
Oxford also has a Rouse Ball Professorship, which has been held by: E. A. Milne (1929-1950); C. A. Coulson (1952-1972); Roger Penrose (1973-1996?).
The Sedleian Professorship of Natural Philosophy has sometimes had holders of mathematical interest: Bartholomew Price (1853-??); T. B. Benjamin (??-1995); J. M. Ball (1996?-).
In 1721, a bequest from Nathaniel Crewe provided funds for a Reader in Experimental Philosophy, but the amount was so small that when the post was established in 1749, it was held in conjunction with the Savilian Professorship of Astronomy by Bradley, Hornsby and Rigaud. It became a full-time position in 1839. F. A. Lindemann held this Chair in 1919-1956. Matthew Lee, a wealthy London physician in the time of George II, left funds for several posts. In 1869, a Dr. Lee's Readership in Physics was started. Shortly thereafter, the University structure was changed and the Dr. Lee's posts were eventually merged into other chairs and the Professor of Natural Philosophy had Dr. Lee's attached to its title in 1922.
The Wykeham Professorship of Physics was established in 1900 and was converted to Theoretical Physics in 1946. W. E. Lamb (Nobel Prize in Physics, 1955) held this chair in 1956-1962 and was succeeded by Rudolf E. Peierls in 1963.
All Souls College (sometimes spelled All Souls'). Founded by Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1414-1443. See: Recorde, Wren under individuals.
There is an Aristotle Lane, named for a covered-over Aristotle's Well, leading to Port Meadow [Heyworth, p.23].
The Ashmolean Museum (Beaumont Street; tel: 01865-278000 (or -278015)) was originally located in the present Museum of the History of Science, see below for the early history. The present building in Beaumont Street was initially called the University Galleries and opened in 1845 with the art and archaeological material transferred from the Old Ashmolean. More material was moved in 1894 when Sir Arthur Evans was Keeper. It has the model of the statue of Galileo which is in the University Museum [Fahie, p. 134]. In case 13a of the John Evans Room are six Scottish Neolithic 'carved stone balls'. One is tetrahedral, three are cubical, one is dodecahedral and one is unclear. (See under the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh for more on display.) In Room 30, the Drapers' Gallery, case 66 has a Babylonian cuneiform tablet with a multiplication table, base 24. There is also a 7th century BCE astronomical tablet. Above, in case 65, is a neo-Sumerian hexagonal prism with tables of measures and square roots. [Mackinnon (2)] mentions a 12 times table - possibly a confusion (or correction) for the first item above. He also refers to an octagonal cylinder containing multiplication and square root tables. In Room 4, in the case devoted to Decorative Techniques, item 14 is the oldest English (possibly European) example of a puzzle jug, from late 13C. Room 47 has a fine example of Lambeth puzzle jug from 1745. Room 36 has superb 15C inlaid game boards and chessmen. John Tradescant the Elder brought an abacus back from his trip to Russia in c1618 - "the first abacus known in England" and the oldest surviving example of a Russian style abacus. It is in the Tradescant Room [photo in: Arthur MacGregor, Ark to Ashmolean, Ashmolean Museum, 2nd ed., 1988, p.5]. Also in this room are a 'clog almanac', a pocket runic calendar and some nested carved ivory balls - the outer ball tends to be dodecahedral in shape. There is a fine bust of Wren given by his son [Piper, pp.69, 90 & 140, with two photos]. There is a portrait of Dee [Huxley, p.16; Headlam, p.423] and of Nicholas Fiske (an astrologer) [Headlam, p.423]. Portrait of Wren [Poole, pp.v & 90].
Balliol College Hall has a portrait of Frederick Temple. The Antechapel has plaques to J. H. C. Whitehead and to John Wellesley Russell (1852-1922) who was Lecturer and Tutor in mathematics in 1873-1922. The Chapel has an 1892 plaque commemorating long serving fellows and members, including H. J. S. Smith and William Spottiswoode. (My thanks to Keith Hannabuss for directing me to these.) See: Bradley, Bradwardine, Fox, Gregory, Hinton, R. V. Jones, Keill, Michie, A. Smith, H. J. S. Smith, Spottiswoode, Stirling, Temple, Titchmarsh, Tunstall, Whitehead.
The medieval prison of Oxford was named Bocardo, after a logical form of syllogism from which one could not get out except by special processes. (Actually, the figure is the correct syllogism: some B is not in D and all B is in C, hence some C is not in D.)
The Bodleian Library was established by Sir Thomas Bodley in 1598-1602. The previous university library was in the part known as Duke Humfrey's Library, but it had fallen into disrepair and the collections had been dispersed in the religious controversies of the mid 16th century. Indeed only three books of the previous library are still in the Bodleian and in 1556 the empty shelves were to be sold and the building to be used as a timber-yard. (We like to think that we have gotten more civilized than the ancients who destroyed the library of Alexandria, but much of the library of Oxford had been stolen and what remained was burnt under Edward VI because of its 'superstitious' illuminations. And in 1688, the University publicly burned a number of works.) The Bodleian was "the first practically public library in Europe; the second, that of Angelo Rocca at Rome, being opened only in this same year [1604?]" [Headlam, pp.342-343]. Bodley arranged for a copy of every printed book to be deposited at the library from 1610. The entrance to the Library is via the Schools Quadrangle, where the names Schola Geometriae et Mathematicae, Schola Logicae, Schola Astronomiae et Rhetoricae and Schola Naturalis Philosophiae are still over some of the doorways [Piper, p 85; DBS]. Part of the Library is the Radcliffe Science Library, which has wooden door panels carved by Eric Gill, depicting Wren and Hooke.
The Bodleian contains the oldest extant version of Euclid's Elements, completed by Stephanus Clericus in Sep 888 at Constantinople and sold to Arethas of Patrae, later Bishop of Caesarea. It was used and annotated for five centuries and is still in good shape!
The Bodleian has a Picture Gallery, but I've never seen it and it may not be generally open as one book says it is best to ask in advance to see items in it. On a recent visit, one librarian didn't know of the Gallery, but directed me to the Upper and Lower Reading Rooms which have many portraits. [J. N. L. Myres, ed., Portraits of the Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries; Bodleian Picture Book No. 6, Bodleian Library, 1952] refers to the pictures as being in the Library with no specific location, but one entry refers to the Library Gallery in 1802. This catalogue lists and reproduces portraits of Erasmus, Savile, and James Ussher (1581-1656). There is a more complete catalogue: [Poole], published in 1920, but the main text was printed in 1912 as part of the Complete Catalogue of Oxford Portraits. (It seems fairly typical of the Bodleian that these are the only two catalogues available.) [Poole] lists portraits or busts of: Thomas Allen, Bainbridge, Bodley (five times), Bradley, Brahe, Chaucer (twice), Johns Duns Scotus, Erasmus (thrice), Flamsteed, Benjamin Franklin, Frobisher, Galileo, Gassendi, Halley, Johannes Hevelius (1611-1687, the Polish astronomer), Hyde, John of Balliol and his wife Devorguilla (founders of Balliol), Laud (one bust and two portraits, one after van Dyck), Locke (twice), Newton, John Ogilby (1600-1676, a surveyor to the King, painted by Lely), B. Price, Radcliffe, Savile, Hans Sloane, Ussher, Nicholas and Dorothy Wadham (founders of Wadham), Wallis (twice), Walter of Merton (Founder of Merton), J. Wilkins, William of Wykeham, Thomas Willis (a teacher of Wren, qv), Wren. The death mask of William Gilbert was here, but has decayed or been lost. A portrait of Columbus was removed to the Ashmolean. The portrait of Galileo was sent by Viviani in 1661 [Fahie, pp. 45 46; Piper, p. 16]. See also [Piper, pp.16-17] and [Headlam, pp.419-421].
There is a 17th century Mathematical Instrument Box in the Bodleian Picture Gallery [Gunther (2), p.36 & plate opposite]. There is a chair made from Drake's Golden Hind.
[Sphæra No. 4 (Autumn 1996) 1] says there is a frescoed frieze around the Upper Reading Room which comprises portraits of 89 notables, including Brahe. This was painted about 1616 and rediscovered in the 1940s. [Sphæra 5 (Spring 1997) 5] says there are 200 portraits, including also Regiomontanus, Appianus, Copernicus, Mercator and Ortelius and that there is another portrait of Brahe which Flamsteed had acquired from Denmark. I recently had a look at these - there are a lot of them. A librarian said a list is being published, but it wasn't in the bookshop.
There is a large stone plaque with carved inscriptions commemorating the great donors to the Bodleian. These include: Duke Humphrey and Thomas Bodley (the founder and refounder), Kenelm Digby, William Laud, Narcissus Marsh, Edmund T. Backhouse ('The Hermit of Peking', whose later donations were discovered to be mostly forgeries done by or for him, but it was not possible to erase his name!), B. H. Blackwell, Iona & Peter Opie (whose huge library of children's books is here), Paul Hamlyn.
The Chapel of Brasenose College has a monument to Walter Pater, the historian of the Renaissance, with medallions of Leonardo and Michelangelo. See: Ashmole, Bacon, Petty, Savile, Wren.
Christ Church owns an excellent collection of 16th & 17th century mathematics books and instruments collected and presented by Charles Boyle, 4th Earl of Orrery, (1676-1731). [Gunther (4), pp.26-30] describes the instruments as being in the Museum of the History of Science - they are still there - and says the Orrery collection is "the largest, if not the only considerable collection now in existence of scientific apparatus formed by any one person who lived so long ago." In fact it was Gunther himself who uncovered the collection in a dark and dusty cupboard at Christ Church about 1918.
Over Wolsey's Gateway is a statue of Dean Liddell, father of Alice.
See: Berkeley, de Bono, Brouncker, Carroll, Colson, Einstein, Fox, Gunter, Hooke, Locke, Wren.
The Clarendon Laboratory in Parks Road is the main physics laboratory in Oxford. The original building was started in 1867 when the Clarendon Trustees gave up their task of publishing the later writings of the Earl of Clarendon and donated the residual funds to the University. A different source says the funds were the profits from the Earl's writings and were intended for 'an academy of riding or other exercises'. This building was completed in 1872 and is still extant, but has become part of the Earth Sciences complex, just south of the present building. It claims to be the first purpose-built physics laboratory, at least in Britain. In 1892-1895, C. V. Boys came here to measure the universal gravitational constant G - like Cavendish before him, he had to get away from vibration. Even at Oxford, the vibrations from the railway were a problem and the only satisfactory time to work was on Sunday nights when railway movements were minimal. There is a commemorative plaque in the basement room where he worked. His apparatus is in the Science Museum, London. F. A. Lindemann (later Viscount Cherwell) was Director in 1919-1956. He brought Leo Szilard here in 1935 and he carried out investigations on possible chain reactions, getting through eleven of the twelve elements thought likely - the twelfth was uranium! R. V. Jones was here in the 1930s. Martin Ryle was here before going to Cambridge.
In 1939 or 1940, a new building was completed and occupied. It did important work on the development of short wave radar. One of its parts is now called the Lindemann Building.
In 1996, an Archive Room was established by John Sanders to conserve and display
the more interesting old items that were uncovered in a survey in the 1990s.
To see this Archive, contact the Librarian (tel: 01865 558144; email: email@example.com).
I am indebted to John Sanders for a pleasant visit to this archive in Nov 1997.
It contains meters certified by William Thomson in 1889 and Lord Kelvin in 1904,
a nice display of Newton's rings, a huge block of calcite showing double refraction,
an early Hewlett-Packard calculator (the HP-35), a Fuller's spiral slide rule
of 1904, an Amsler planimeter, a set of twenty Helmholtz resonators, Lindemann's
slide rule. The adjacent meeting/class room is called the Moseley Room and has
a display case with one of Moseley's X-ray tubes and the original graph showing
the linear relationship of his measurements with the sequence of elements -
the discovery of atomic numbers!
On the first floor landing of the staircase is a plaque recording the various readers and professors of natural philosophy, etc. and a bas-relief profile of Lindemann, not considered a very good likeness.
A display case on the ground floor has 'The Oxford Dry Pile', a dry battery which has been ringing a bell since at least 1839 and probably since c1820. The battery is sealed in sulphur which has prevented moisture loss. It produces about 2000 volts and there is a small pith ball which swings back and forth between two metal bells about twice a second, drawing a current of about one nano-ampere. Unfortunately it is normally covered by a belljar in the display case and one cannot hear the sound produced, but the swinging is clear.
Corpus Christi College has a 'curious mathematical sundial' with a pelican in the centre of its front quad built by Charles Turnbull in 1579-1581, restored in 1976 [Hobhouse, p.31; Gill, p.13 with photo]. Medieval legend said the pelican scratched its breast to provide blood to feed its young - this seems to be based on the redness of its pouch-like lower bill. This bit of singularly unnatural history was used as an image of Christ feeding his Church! See: Kratzer, H. J. S. Smith, Tunstall, Turnbull,
Exeter College. See: Branker, Demainbray, Heawood, Rigaud, Wren.
There was a Geometry School in the Old Schools Tower, near Convocation House [Hobhouse, p.59].
The Institute of Actuaries has its education service at Napier House, 4 Worcester Street. There is a statue of Napier in the lobby.
Jesus College. See: Church, Flamsteed, Raphson (Ralphson).
Keble College. This was founded in memory of John Keble (1792-1866), see below. It is the only Oxbridge College not named for a benefactor or a Saint (using this to cover such names as Jesus, Corpus Christi, Trinity). Portrait of Keble in the Hall, bust in the Library, portrait drawing in the Senior Common Room. [Keble College: The History, The College, 1997]
Some of the polychrome brick work on the side wall inside Keble College Chapel, by William Butterfield, completed in 1876, produces the 'café wall illusion' where the lines of bricks appear distinctly tilted [thanks to Deborah Singmaster for observing this].
In 1994, Averil Cameron was elected head at Keble, the first time a woman was elected head of a formerly male college.
There is a Logic Lane by (or in ??) University College, named for a 17th centgury school of logicians. Legend says it is "the site of the Logic School founded by King Alfred" [Headlam, p.93].
Magdalen College:. Founded by William of Waynflete in 1482. See: Bodley, Florio, Gunther, Rosse, Rupert. It has a deer park which was visited by Alice with Lewis Carroll, inspiring a section in Through the Looking Glass.
The Mathematical Institute is a newish building at 21 29 St. Giles. The lobby has a display of Penrose pieces and a bust of C. A. Coulson by Gabriella Bollobás. A bust of Ioan James, Savilian Professor of Geometry, 1970-1995, has recently been added.
Merton College was founded by Walter de Merton, Bishop of Rochester, in 1254, originally at Malden, near Merton, in SW London. It moved here in 1264. Students were to forfeit their places if they joined any religious order, so this was the earliest secular higher education in England. It was the first college with its own charter, statutes and buildings. Merton's revised statutes of 1274 remained in force until 1856. It further deserves special mention as it was the centre of the scientific world in the 14C. See: Bacon, Bradwardine, Bredon, Chaucer, Duns Scotus, Ockham, Richard of Wallingford and Swineshead below. In later years, it remained a notable centre for science - see: Allen, Bainbridge, Bodley, Briggs, Goddard, Greaves, Savile, Soddy, Wiles. [Headlam, p.138] mentions a 13C Geometrical window in the chancel of the chapel. There is a sundial due to Bainbridge or Briggs on the wall of the Chapel and the Antechapel has monuments to Bainbridge, Bodley, Briggs and Savile. Savile was Warden in 1585-1622 and William Harvey (of circulation of the blood) was Warden in 1645-1646. The Old Library of c1377 is the oldest extant library in Britain and has an astrolabe believed to be Chaucer's. Sadly, many of the books were thrown out in the time of Edward VI - “Treatises on scholastical divinity were let loose from their chains and given away or sold to mechanics for servile uses, whilst those wherin angles or mathematical diagrams appeared were destroyed because accounted Popish or diabolical or both." Fortunately Thomas Allen (qv) saved some of them. [Yurdan, p.58. Huxley, p.6. Headlam, pp.139-140 & 312.]
The Museum of the History of Science (Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3AZ; tel: 01865-277280; fax: 01865-277288; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; web: http://www.mhs.ox.ac.uk/ ) has many items of mathematical interest and is also of considerable interest for the history of science and of museums. See [Simcock] for a general account and see [Gunther & Simcock] for more details. The Museum has recently started an informative newsletter named Sphæra. The building was originally the Ashmolean Museum, built for the collections of Elias Ashmole (1617-1692), largely obtained from the Tradescants. It was opened by the Duke of York (later James II) on 21 May 1683 and then opened to the public on 6 June - the first public museum in Britain. It continued as the Ashmolean until 1845 and then was part of the Ashmolean until 1939. It is often claimed that Wren assisted in its design [Baverstock, p.11; Hobhouse, pp.74-75; Piper, p.94] and Gunther encouraged this idea, but it is generally ascribed to the Oxford master mason Thomas Wood (1643-1695) with possible inspiration from an unused design of Wren - Wood's master was a William Bird (1624-c1690) who had been Mason to Wadham College and an associate of Wren, collaborating on the Sheldonian Theatre and sculpting the colossal heads of 'Emperors' around the Sheldonian and in front of the Museum [Simcock, pp. 4-6]. The Museum cost £4500, which so depleted the University's funds that it could not afford to buy books for some years. It was the first public museum in England (or in the world [Danilov, p.15]) when it opened. Indeed, Sir Ray Lankester [Science From an Easy Chair, Second Series; (1913), 3rd ed., Eyre Methuen, 1920, p.313] says this was the first usage of the word 'museum' in its current sense. The word 'museum' was simply the Latin translation of the English 'repository' rather than a conscious derivation from past usages [Simcock, pp.23-24]. Two of the three floors were largely used for teaching - the basement chemical laboratory was the first purpose-built teaching laboratory in Britain. In 1714-1729, the Keeper was John Whiteside (1680-1729) who established courses in experimental philosophy which developed into the Physics Department of the University. James Bradley gave his astronomy lectures here. The lecturing moved out in 1832.
On the upper floor is the collection of c160 astrolabes, the largest group in the world, 63 coming from the Lewis Evans collection. It includes the only extant complete spherical astrolabe, dated 1480/1 [photo in Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Science - An Illustrated Study, World of Islam Festival Publishing Co., London?, 1976, p.123 and in Sphæra No. 1 (Spring 1995) 4]. The oldest example here is a 1068 astrolabe from Toledo. (But [Gunther (4), p.13] describes a Persian astrolabe of 984, 'the earliest dated scientific instrument known'.) Gunther describes: an astrolabe made by the noted Florentine, Egnatius Danti, c1580 or c1569; one made by the nephew of Gemma Frisius, 1567; a 1527 example that belonged to Archbishop Laud; a c1340 example, called the Oriel astrolabe, that may derive from Simon Bredon; an Anglo-Saxon sundial, possibly from c675 [Gunther (4), pp.17-20, 22, 51]. There is an astrolabe made by Thomas Gemini for Queen Elizabeth I in 1559 [Piper, pp 95 & 141, with photo]. The Museum has two early 17th-century globes by Blaeu, the colleague of Brahe.
[Gunther (4), pp.26-30] describes the Orrery collection as being in the Museum of the History of Science, as a loan from Christ Church and it is still in the Museum. These instruments were collected and presented by Charles Boyle, 4th Earl of Orrery, (1676-1731), great-nephew of the scientist. Gunther says it is "the largest, if not the only considerable collection now in existence of scientific apparatus formed by any one person who lived so long ago." The first orrery was made by George Graham, before 1715. Thomas Rowley developed the idea, adding some new features and producing the first one c1713 - at one time in the Science Museum in London. Christ Church has a 1731 example by Thomas Wright and Queen's College has a c1750 example by Benjamin Cole. [Gunther (4), p.56] mentions a Gunter's chain in the Orrery case. [Gunther (4), p.84-85] describes 'perhaps the oldest known example of the [Gregorian] telescope'. There is a nice orrery by Thomas Tompion and George Graham, c1710 [Piper, pp.96 & 141, with photo] - this is not mentioned by Gunther.
[Gunther (4), pp. 36-44] describes a polygonal sundial, with Cardinal Wolsey's arms, 'almost certainly designed by Nicolas Kratzer' (a postcard of this is on sale); a portable Roman dial of the second or third century CE, 'the only perfect example known'; and dials by Humphrey Cole, Elias Allen, John Rowley, Thomas Wright and Dollond. [Gunther (4), p.45] describes a chilindre or pillar dial, already mentioned as the Oxonion Chilindre in medieval manuscripts and possibly dating from the 11th century, 'the oldest unaltered scientific instrument in the world.'
One case has mathematical instruments, including the oldest known slide rule - a 'Circles of Proportion' from 1635 by Elias Allen. This is the property of St. John's College. [Gunther (4), p.55.] [Gunther (4), pp.53-54] says there is a c1620 set of Napier's bones and an example, made by Lewis Evans, of a cube passing through a cube of the same size. There is also an example of a calculator by Morland (described in [Gunther (4), pp. 53-54] - I recall this is a rather simple adding device of 1666 which was rightly disparaged by Pepys, but Morland produced, at the same time, the first successful multiplying calculator). The first mechanical logical calculator was devised by the third Earl of Stanhope in 1777, but he never described it publicly. An example of this 'Logic Demonstrator' was in the Ashmolean Museum [Gunther (2), p.43 & plate opp. 41], but is now here. [Gardner, pp.80-90] gives a description of the machine based on [Robert Harley, "The Stanhope Demonstrator", Mind 4 (1879) 192-210]. Harley says four demonstrators exist: one with the present Earl Stanhope, two with General Babbage and a small one with himself - where are they now?? An Arithmometer of Thomas of Colmar is here. Jevons' Logical Machine of 1869 was given to the Science Museum in London in 1914, but transferred here in 1934 [Gardner, p.103]. There is a piece of Babbage's Difference Engine. [Gunther (4), p.57] describes a waywiser - Everest's Differential Perambulator - used by George Everest in his survey of 21 degrees of a meridian in India in the 1830s. [Gunther (4), pp.57-71, 84] describes a number of other instruments by P. & J. Dollond (a c1770 telescope, Savery's heliometer, microscopes), John Rowley (the earliest known circular bubble level, an ivory quadrant), Humphrey Cole (said to be the earliest theodolite, dated 1586, based on Leonard Digges' design published in 1556, found at St. John's - but there is another example by Cole dated 1574 at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich [G. L'E. Turner, p.43]), Thomas Wright. The Museum's collection of microscopes is one of the world's largest and certainly the finest.
The Museum has the fine late 16C Flemish painting The Measurers depicting a mathematical instrument maker and numerous applications of simple measuring instruments. In 1995 they had a special exhibition based on this and the catalogue is available and interesting. There is also a copy, done by Gunther's grandmother, of the painting of the dodo [reproduced in Gunther & Simcock, p.50]. There is also a painting showing Bacon's Tower on Folly Bridge [Gunther & Simcock, p.69 reproduces it].
In the stairwell going down are a portrait of Sir Henry Savile (1549-1622), founder of the Savilian Professorships, and a reproduction of John Dee's 'Holy Table'. Archbishop Laud's mathematical instruments are here [Gunther (3), p.240]. An achromatic telescope of Bradley, one of the earliest examples, is here. (Bradley actually taught in this room for a while.) The Museum has a great deal of the equipment used in, and material produced by, John Herschel's work on photography beginning in early 1839. Lewis Carroll's photographic equipment is in the Museum. In the basement is a bust of H. J. S. Smith, who became the second Curator of the University Museum in 1874 - see below. The spectrometer used by H. G. J. Moseley to discover the concept of atomic number is here [Gunther (3), p.236] - when the Museum acquired this in the 1930s, Gunther described it as 'perhaps the most important single piece of apparatus that the Museum could receive' [Gunther & Simcock, pp.71 & 90]. At the bottom of the stairs is a blackboard used by Einstein on 16 May 1931 when he lectured on the relation between general relativity and the recently discovered red-shift and the expansion of the universe [Huxley, p.18]. A postcard of this is on sale.
In the staircase there should be a stained glass window commemorating Ashmole and a ship's compass by Kelvin [Gunther (4), p. 8]. There is a 1938 window commemorating Gunther. There is also a replica of Hooke's air-pump somewhere. The Museum has Priestley's 'Thunder House', a model house for demonstrating the effect of lightning with and without lightning rods.
Gunther was succeeded as Curator by Frank Sherwood Taylor, a student of Gunther's student Charles Singer.
New College: For some years, the Savilian Professor of Geometry has been attached to New College. See: Berkeley, Bradley, Carroll, Gosset, Halley, Hardy, Spooner, Whitehead.
The facade of Oriel College on the High Street has a chronogram commemorating the benefactor: "e Larga MVnIfICrntIa CæCILII rhoDes". St. Mary's Hall was merged into Oriel in 1902. See: Bredon, Harriot, Keble, Powell, Raleigh.
Oxford University Press started in 1586. The first printing in Oxford was done by Theodoric Rood of Cologne, in 1478-1486, producing some 15 books, though details are obscure - e.g. the first book was dated 1468, but this is clearly an error in the Roman numeral date [Headlam, pp.276-277]. OUP was housed in the Sheldonian Theatre from 1669, then in the Clarendon building until 1830, when it moved to its present premises in Walton Street.
Pembroke College. See: Bliss, Higgins, Price, Smithson.
Port Meadow is near Godstow in the northwest of Oxford. Lewis Carroll and the Liddell girls often rowed there and picnicked. On 4 July 1862, Carroll, his friend Robinson Duckworth (the Duck) and the Liddell girls set out from Salter's Boatyard at Folly Bridge and rowed upriver to Port Meadow - Alice was begun there on that hot summer afternoon. A bit further on is the hamlet of Binsey where there is a 'treacle' well in St. Margaret's Churchyard - treacle denoted any healing fluid in medieval times. This well is associated with the local St. Fridewide and there is a window in Christ Church showing her healing at the well. [Manley, p.27. Gill, p.16, with photo.] Aristotle Lane leads to the meadow.
The Queen's College: Its coat of arms has three eagles on a shield, being a rebus on the name of its 1341 founder, Robert de Eglesfield. The Chapel was built by Hawksmoor in 1714, based on a c1682 design of Wren. See: Bentham, Halley, Hyde, Wilkins, Wingate, Wren.
The Radcliffe Observatory was proposed and supervised by Thomas Hornsby. It was built in 1772-1794, in what is now Green College, on land bought from St. John's. Architecturally, it is generally considered the finest observatory in Europe. The astronomical work moved to Pretoria in 1937, where it was known as the Radcliffe Observatory, but this has closed and the telescope has moved to Sutherland in Cape Province for better viewing [P. Moore (4), p.75]. The Oxford building remains - an octagonal tower vaguely based on the Tower of the Winds in Athens. [Huxley, pp.15-16. Photo provided by Eddie Mizzi.] Until the death of Rigaud in 1839, the Savilian Professor was also Radcliffe Observer.
The Royal Society had its origins about 1649 as an informal gathering of scholars, including Boyle, William Petty, Laurence Rooke, Wallis, Seth Ward and Wren, which met at John Wilkins' Warden's Lodgings at Wadham College, over the College gate. They formed a club in 1651. They met for a brief period in 1652 at William Petty's lodgings, now 106 High Street. After Wilkins went to Cambridge in 1659, the group met at Boyle's lodgings, where University College is now. By 1658, several of the group had moved to London and commenced meetings there (see Gresham College under London). [Purver & Bowen]
The Sheldonian Theatre was Wren's first major architectural project. He designed the suspension for the flat ceiling, some 70 ft by 80 ft, when the longest available beams were 40 ft., Wallis helped in the calculations which lead to a system of 25 linear equations! There is a portrait of him inside. The ceiling is an allegory of truth descending on the arts and sciences, which are arranged in a circle about Truth. Astronomy is at about 7 o'clock, Arithmetic at about 4:30, Optics at about 4:00, Geometry at about 3:30. See under Windsor for a Wren legend sometimes attached to the Sheldonian. Wren's design was based on a design by Sebastiano Serlio, whose book also contains the first example of a 'vanishing area' puzzle - though Serlio didn't notice that any area had vanished!
Somerville College was one of the first two women's halls, founded in 1879 and named for Mary Somerville, the great Victorian populariser of science. They have the library of John Stuart Mill, presented by his niece in 1905.
Trinity College Gate Tower has statues of Geometry, Astronomy, etc. [Piper, p. 128; Heyworth, p. 136]. This is the successor of Durham College (c1326-1544). In c1330, Bishop Richard Aungerville (1287 1345) established the first lending library in England here, though it was probably(?) just for members of the University [Myers, p.5]. See: Allen, Gellibrand, Moseley, Potter, Sinclair, Ward, Wren.
University College: See: Boyle, Digges, Hawking, Strode, Twysden.
The University Museum, Parks Road, was built in 1855-1860 to accommodate the Old Ashmolean's lecturing and to bring together many of the University's collections. It was the initial seed of the 'Science Area'. It has statues of Aristotle, Francis Bacon, Roger Bacon, Galileo, Leibniz, Newton, Oersted, etc. [Fahie, p.133; Piper, p.90]. The display on the dodo is based on the surviving remains which came from the Tradescant collection via Ashmole and it inspired Lewis Carroll [Yurdan, p.39; Huxley, p.12]. It may well be the oldest extant natural history specimen [Gunther & Simcock, p.73]. It was here that the famous debate on Darwinism between T. H. Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce took place at the BAAS meeting in 1860 [Huxley, p.13]. The Museum had a small observatory for the professor of astronomy, but it was replaced by another Observatory in 1875, which is now the Department of Astrophysics [Simcck, pp.14, 15, 42, 44 - the location is shown on the map facing p.15]. H. J. S. Smith became the second Curator in 1874 and then lived in the Curator's residence, demolished in 1954, which was behind the Museum [Hannabuss; Simcock, p.15, with a map facing p.15 showing the location of the residence].
One of John Robinson's mathematical sculptures is in the chapel of Wadham College . There is a patio by the Student Union bar which is tiled with Penrose pieces. See: Halley, R. V. Jones, Sir W. Jones, Lewis, Rooke, Ward, Wilkins, Wren.
Information on individuals associated with Oxford is on another page.
Return to the top.
Written by David Singmaster. Last updated on 28th February 2003 by TM (A.Mann@gre.ac.uk). Copyright © BSHM and David Singmaster 1998 - 2003. All rights reserved.
The British Society for the History of Mathematics is registered as a company limited by guarantee, no. 3326816, and as a charity, no. 1061229. Its registered office is c/o Andrew Thurburn & Co, 38 Tamworth Road, Croydon, Surrey CR0 1XU, UK.