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Isaac Newton drawings discovered on the walls of his childhood home in Lincolnshire

Isaac Newton drawings discovered on the walls of his childhood home in Lincolnshire

A drawing thought to have been hand-carved by a young Isaac Newton onto the walls of his childhood home has been discovered at the National Trust’s Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, near Grantham.

As part of a series of scientific investigations into the home of Britain’s most famous scientist, conservators using cutting-edge light technology have discovered an etching of a windmill next to the fireplace in the 17th-century manor’s downstairs Hall, thought to have been inspired by the building of a nearby mill during Newton’s childhood.

The discovery adds a new layer of understanding to Newton’s life at Woolsthorpe, where he was born in 1642 and where he returned in 1665 at the peak of his scientific studies. It was here that Newton undertook his ‘crucial experiment’ – splitting white light using a prism – and observed an apple fall from a tree, inspiring his law of universal gravitation.

Using Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) [1], a technique that uses light to capture the shape and colour of a surface not visible to the naked eye, conservator Chris Pickup from Nottingham Trent University was able to survey the walls of the 400 year old manor in painstaking detail to discover this previously unseen wall etching.

Chris Pickup said: “It’s amazing to be using light, which Newton understood better than anyone before him, to discover more about his time at Woolsthorpe. I hope that by using this technique we’re able to find out more about Newton as man and boy and shine a light on how his extraordinary mind worked.”

Newton was well known for sketching and making notes on the walls of his rooms as he developed his scientific and mechanical knowledge. Several sketches, thought to be his, had previously been uncovered by tenants removing old wallpaper in the 1920s and 30s.

William Stukeley, a friend of Newton and his biographer wrote that: “the walls, & ceilings were full of drawings, which he had made with charcoal. There were birds, beasts, men, ships, plants, mathematical figures, circles, & triangles.’’

In 2018 the conservation charity will continue its investigations using thermal imaging to sense tiny differences in the thickness of plaster and paint that have covered the walls since Newton’s death, which they hope could reveal more sketches left by the young genius.

Jannette Warrener, Operations Manager at Woolsthorpe Manor, said: “The young Newton was fascinated by mechanical objects and the forces that made them work as well as exploring the natural world around him. “This discovery could be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the drawings waiting to be uncovered, and it’s fitting that we’re using cutting-edge science inspired by Newton’s work to reveal more about his childhood and his thinking.”

The new discoveries will be on show during the House of Light season at Woolsthorpe Manor between December 8th and 20th February 2018.  The exhibition will include the original prism used by Newton which was discovered recently in a shoe box at Trinity College, Cambridge; Newton’s Alma Mata. 

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