100! I’m still not even halfway through my list of properties but it certainly feels good to reach this particular milestone. I’m into triple figures at last. And at the same time, I’ve ticked off my third completed county with Lincolnshire joining Cumbria and Nottinghamshire in the ‘done’ pile.
And it feels appropriate to have marked an important point on my voyage of historical discovery at the birthplace of a man who embarked on his own impressive voyage of scientific discovery over the course of his life. Everyone knows the story of Isaac Newton and his falling apple and here you can see the actual apple tree – or at least one that sprouted from the same base as the original tree, which toppled over in 1820. But there is much more to Newton than this and I came away having learnt a lot more about him, his early life, his discoveries and his future successes (as a member and later President of the Royal Society, as a member of Parliament and as the first scientist to be knighted).
Although this entry is called Woolsthorpe Manor, this property is much more than just a house and is more of an all-round educational experience. An introductory film poignantly introduces you to a young Isaac Newton from the point of view of his mother, with stories about his obsession with the truth of things, which led to the exclusion of all else at times – he is said to have let the animals stray while concentrating on other things and even came back from market one day without the horse!
Moving on inside the house, you learn more about the investigative Newton, with the hayloft upstairs featuring some information boards about his schooling and his annus mirabilis during 1665-66 when he was forced to come home from Cambridge University due to fears of the plague, and spent the time building on his mathematical theories, developing his three principles now known as ‘Newton’s Laws of Motion’ and conducting experiments with prisms to discover the characteristics of light. Several of Newton’s most famous quotations are also painted on the walls in this room (which reminded me of the Disraeli quotes appearing on the window blinds at Hughenden, a clever device). Meanwhile, you can visit the room in which a tiny, premature Isaac was born, while across the landing is his own bedroom, where you can see how he would have set up his prism experiments, allowing light into the room through a hole drilled in the window shutter.
As Newton’s heir squandered his inheritance and sold off the house, there is nothing original left of the Newton family at Woolsthorpe, with the Trust having simply introduced a selection of furnishings typical to a house of this kind in the 17th century. However, they have tracked down a number of other display items relevant to Newton, including books, art and even a pewter cast of Newton’s death mask. Woolsthorpe is only a modest manor house of the period and offers just six or seven rooms with relatively sparse contents, but I still came out feeling better informed than when I went in.
From there – after a quick stop to pay our respects to the apple tree – we went down to the Discovery Centre, housed alongside the tearoom in the old barn. And the education kept coming… There we found a timeline of Newton’s life presented around the walls, plus a series of interactive displays so children (and interested adults like me!) can play with Newton’s theories about light and gravity. As someone who has previously studied gemmology and what effect the refractive index of an object can have on light, the prism experiment was particularly interesting and we played around with this for a while, splitting light into its component colours and then putting it back together again! There was a group of German students visiting Woolsthorpe today and they also appeared to be having great fun with the activities on offer. It just goes to show that, given an enterprising and enthusiastic curator, a barn in Lincolnshire can more than hold its own against far bigger museums.
Despite the relatively small size of the property at Woolsthorpe, we were still there for almost two hours and I purchased a brief life of Isaac Newton by Peter Ackroyd on the way out so I can continue my education at home. For someone who never liked science – and particularly physics – at school, I had a surprisingly good time at Woolsthorpe and came away fascinated at how much this strange man managed to achieve from relatively humble beginnings, looking deeper into the simple things he saw around him in this quiet spot in Lincolnshire and then pushing the boundaries of human knowledge. It takes a certain kind of mind to want to understand the hows and whys of things, and while I am one of those people who would see a falling apple and wonder if it was too bruised to eat, Newton clearly thought differently. From now on, I will also feel somewhat differently about Newton himself. There was so much more to him than just that falling apple.
Highlights: Biographical insights into Newton; interactive science displays
Refreshments: Pot of tea and slice of fruit cake (Mum had the apple shortcake, which is reported to be a speciality of Woolsthorpe)
Purchase(s): Guidebook; ‘Isaac Newton’ by Peter Ackroyd