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Miscellaneous Newtonian sites in London

The Houses of Parliament

Newton was twice elected to the House of Commons as one of the two Members of Parliament for Cambridge University: first to the Convention Parliament of 1689-1690 and then to the parliament of 1701-1702. He failed in the election of 1705 despite receiving a knighthood.

The Palace of Westminster as it is officially known, was a royal residence from at least the eleventh century and subsequently became the permanent meeting place for the houses of Commons and Lords. However, almost all of the present buildings date from after a large fire in 1834. In Newton's day the Commons met in St. Stephen's Chapel, but only the crypt survived the 1834 fire.

National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery is on the north side of Trafalgar Square next to the National Gallery. The collection is intended to illustrate British history, arts and sciences with portraits of eminent men and women. Newton is portrayed by the 1702 Kneller portrait. Many of his contemporaries are shown nearby, including Kenelm Digby, Thomas Hobbes, Judge Jeffreys, Chrisopher Wren, Robert Boyle, John Locke, Samuel Pepys, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, and a self portrait by Kneller in 1685. (Most of these are in the NPG's Room 5 - 17th Century.)

The Science Museum

The Science Museum is one of the group of museums in South Kensington which owe their existence to the Great Exhibition of 1851 and Prince Albert's vision. The Museum is often claimed to be the largest science museum in the world and includes an impressive technology collection: from the oldest steam locomotive (1813) to the Apollo 10 command module.

There is no exhibit about Newton as such (the Museum is organised around subjects rather than periods or individual scientists) but several displays are relevant to Newton.

George III Gallery
The gallery has a large amount of eighteenth century apparatus which are mostly demonstrations of Newtonian science. At the right hand side of the entrance is a bust of Newton after Rysbrack. Of great importance is an ``Air pump by Francis Hauksbee'' c.1705, accession number 1974-24, from the Royal Society. This may have been used for Hauksbee's demonstrations before the Royal Society which Newton, as President, instigated.
This gallery has a reconstruction of a sixteenth century assayer's laboratory and various pieces of early chemical glassware, similar to those used by Newton in his alchemical studies.
Picture Gallery
In 1996 this small room showed a rather good copy of the 1689 Kneller portrait, made c.1860 (including a copy of Kneller's signature.)
Optics Gallery
There are several displays about seventeenth century optics, including pictures and diagrams of Newton's optical experiments. There is also a glass prism from this period and a replicas of telescopes and Hooke's microscope.

Old Royal Observatory at Greenwich

This stands in Greenwich Park and was founded by King Charles II in 1675 for John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal. It is now a museum with many important telescopes and clocks on display, and reconstructions of some rooms as they would have been in Flamsteed's time.
© 1994-2001 Andrew McNab. Back to