Matthew visits Newton’s house

Matthew emailed me that he was lecturing at Isaac Newton’s house today, and would send a picture of the apple tree that supposedly inspired the theory of gravity. I responded that I thought the story was apocryphal, and here was Matthew’s response (along with two photos):

“Yes, the tree. And here’s the window the light came through that he split with a prism.”

img_3831

I’ve never seen Matthew this dressed up!

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UPDATE: How do we know that this is the window? Matthew says that the distances given in Newton’s own drawing of the experiment match that of his bedroom above. Here’s the drawing, which is included in Patricia Fara’s Roy. Soc. paper on Newton’s experiment:

f2-large

Newton’s House, Woolsthorpe Manor (pictured below), is in Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, near Grantham, Lincolnshire, England. This is where Newton was born and then, when Cambridge University closed in 1666 due to the plague, Newton repaired home. And it was here that he did many of his famous experiments, including the splitting of light with a prism. I still think the apple-falling incident is apocryphal, but readers are welcome to weigh in.

woolsthorpe_manor_-_west_fascade

 

67 Comments

  1. Posted September 22, 2016 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Cool. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Down House last summer (2015). It was moving to see Darwin’s own handwriting in his notebooks. It was fun to walk his Sandwalk.

    • Dominic
      Posted September 22, 2016 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      I know someone who is volunteering there – she mists plants in the greenhouse amongst other things!

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted September 22, 2016 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      I am envious. The Wife and I often talk about overseas vacations, including England. She talks about London, I talk about ‘The Sandwalk’.

  2. Posted September 22, 2016 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    And the other thing I noted about rural England: The immense number of stately manor homes that are still extant and in good shape and that you can visit. You can hardly swing a cat in England without hitting a listed building. It’s amazing.

    I thought France was pretty good in this way; but England has the most, seems to me.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted September 22, 2016 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      My thoughts about England was the density of it all. You can’t drive far before you are going through the next village or town. Compared to out here in the Midwest, much more density. Please don’t swing any cats. My thought on explaining how few people were even in the U.S. back around the time of the Constitution – you could shoot that single shot flint lock rifle all day and not hit anything. Not something you want to do today with an assault rifle.

      • Dominic
        Posted September 22, 2016 at 8:47 am | Permalink

        Sadly people do swing cats in rural England – but the furry variety not the ones with 9 tails…
        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-37429967

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted September 22, 2016 at 8:58 am | Permalink

          There should be very heavy penalties for anyone who does such a thing. Plus a few years in Jail. Never saw anything like that over there. Did not take the train to Norwich, always drove.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted September 22, 2016 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        I would like to know what it is like for someone from cities and narrow streets to drive our Midwest, with nothing but rolling hills of corn and wheat and straight, endless highways.
        I grew up there, so that is home.

        • rickflick
          Posted September 22, 2016 at 9:39 am | Permalink

          The biggest difference for me is the narrowness of the roads in the UK. They feel about half the width of American roads and they have virtually no shoulder – just hedges and stone walls, inches, it seems, from your car doors. Keep your hands and heads inside the vehicle please.

          • Steve Pollard
            Posted September 22, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

            Well, it depends where you drive! Motorways and most A- and B-roads are plenty wide enough, and usually have a decent-sized shoulder. If you go exploring the country, and sticking to unclassified roads, then yes, they can get a bit narrow. Adds to the gaiety of the journey, I feel.

            • Posted September 22, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

              Years ago I remember a B road in Wales (somewhere vaguely near Cardiff, I assume, since that’s where my relatives are) that was *one lane*, though. Am I misremembering?

              • Frank Bath
                Posted September 22, 2016 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

                Probably not, the roads of England have developed from cart tracks in town and the countryside and are hundreds of years old. It costs money to widen everything, farmers want money for taken land. You will often see lay-bys and passing points on country roads so as not to bash into oncoming vehicles.

              • David Duncan
                Posted September 22, 2016 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

                I remember driving on a one lane road somewhere near Durham. The vegetation at the side of the road was 8-9 feet high.

                An “interesting” experience.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted September 22, 2016 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

                You’re probably right. I know a number of ‘B’ roads in e.g. Cornwall that cut down to one lane occasionally. The white line down the middle of the road just stops for a few yards or a hundred. Nice! It makes driving interesting.

                More minor roads – anywhere from Kent to Conrwall – are often single lane with high hedgerows each side and passing places (just slightly wider bulges in the road) at intervals.

                Even within a few miles of London e.g. the Chilterns you can find them. In that area they seem to be quite often signposted ‘Single track with passing places’ – e.g. the delightful old sunken lane – ‘Holloway Lane’ – that runs from North End to Turville (it’s on Streetview). An even more interesting discovery was Chequers Lane (also on Streetview) which runs north from Fingest to the B482 – it was signposted just ‘Single track’. Obviously they forgot to mention the passing places? Well, no, there just aren’t any. The lane is one car wide between high hedges. You could, with caution, pass a motor bike if he stopped and leaned into his hedge and you scraped along the hedge on your side. Possibly. Other than that someone’s going to have to back up a quarter mile to the last farm gate they passed.

                cr

              • rickflick
                Posted September 22, 2016 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

                See below, I attached a link that may remind you.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted September 22, 2016 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

            It’s an effective way of managing vehicle speed. Seriously.
            There’s a particular road in North Yorkshire which I absolutely love, but am deeply scared to drive in the daylight hours. The road is up to 12ft wide (not : “up to”) with as much as 3 inches lean back on the drystone dykes (does that need a picture for Americans? Probably. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dry_stone#/media/File:Galloway_Dyke_on_Fetlar.jpg. The stones are loose, held only by the weight of the courses above.) If it is daylight, you can’t see more than 30 ft ahead for most of the course, though once you know the road you can see spots that are a few hundred feet ahead, a spot a thousand feet beyond that, and on the next hill crest you can even see down to the tarmac for a second or two. It’s great!
            By comparison, you can put 30mph onto your speed by night, IF (and only if) you assume that incoming traffic is using headlights.
            Eee, tha Austwick road is summut else, isnah?
            How can one stand the boredom of being able to see more than a couple of seconds ahead on a single track road? Why does my wife whimper (or even Whymper) when I drive the “interesting” roads? What are seatbelts for? And where else in the world can you describe a 30 year-old Transit van as being “sporting”? (It’s suspension gives the road a sporting chance of killing you.)
            Me: “The world is about to drop out of your bottom!”
            Driver : “What? After last night’s curry?” Me: “Have you ever made your van fly?” Driver : “No. I don’t think it’s posssibbblllllllleeeeeeee!”
            Me : “I thought it would fly. Did you see the upside-down car on the other side of the drystone wall, as if it flew there. It looks like the world did drop out of your bottom, is this your appendix, and please stop screaming.”
            Driver : [incoherent gibbering].
            Roads designed for horse and cart can be really fun in motor vehicles. Try it some time. Have you seen the death toll on the TT races?

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted September 22, 2016 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

              Damn – I forgot the link for the Austwick road. Ohh, a cyclist. How brave. I’d take my chances with the sheep and the sinkholes.

              • rickflick
                Posted September 22, 2016 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

                Beautiful countryside. Well worth the risk.

            • rickflick
              Posted September 22, 2016 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

              Here’s short clip documenting the “fun” you can have on these small roads. The GPS can be heard advising us to turn onto a small road. A half mile in we encountered a truck stopped to make a delivery. My wife is the narrator. This one is in Wales:

              https://youtu.be/xkMzrP_enTI+

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted September 22, 2016 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

                I’ve not turned any passenger’s hair white in Wales. Yet.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted September 22, 2016 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

              “It’s an effective way of managing vehicle speed. Seriously.”

              It is, too. I often feel safer on the really narrow single track lanes with passing places at intervals – you know if you meet a car coming the other way you’re going to have to stop in a passing place and let him past (or vice versa) – than I do on narrow two-lane roads where you pass at full speed but the margin for error is no greater.

              cr

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted September 22, 2016 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

                I don’t think it was Ralph “unsafe at any speed” Nader, but the idea that seat belts etc promote higher speeds and thence more dangerous driving certainly bears consideration.
                Simply designing roads with a 60deg tun every 20 metres is an effective way of keeping vehicle speeds below 30km/hr, without a single sump-buster of a speed bump. But that’s a continuing project, so sump-busters and speed limit signs.

            • Posted September 23, 2016 at 11:24 am | Permalink

              Maybe the British are more sane, or maybe this is just a prejudice on my part, but I’ve been told that similar roads (or worse – on hills) exist in Italy, where people would still insist on driving 150 kph.

              • Posted September 23, 2016 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

                Have you ever visited Capri? The narrow minibuses hurtle past each other on the narrow winding road up and down the mountain. Quite unnerving.

                /@

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted September 23, 2016 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

                Like the Centovalli road, from Santa Maria Maggiore to Locarno. It’s the direct route from Domodossola to Locarno, it parallels the delightful Centovalli railway line through steep broken country and little gorges. Very scenic, and extremely narrow and winding, especially the bit between Re and Intragna. Beyond Ribellasca the Swiss have widened it to two (narrow) lanes, but from Re to the border the Italians haven’t bothered (not that it would be easy to do). And early every morning, as I found, it’s like a rally special stage as – I’m guessing – Italians who live in Domodossola head to work in Locarno.

                I think I like to drive fast on winding roads, but all I could do was head as fast as I dared from one passing opportunity (anywhere with enough clear view to slow, pull over as far as I dared, and wave them past) to the next.

                cr

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted September 22, 2016 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

            Same goes for minor country roads (or, in fact, town streets) in France and Italy.

            What I do really notice in England (as opposed to New Zealand) is that they don’t cut the trees back from the edge of the road. This helps to give the impression that England is so green and wooded. There are many, many places where the trees form a green tunnel. Delightful.

            cr

    • Dominic
      Posted September 22, 2016 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      Unfortunately our revolution was too early to cut off the heads of all the nobs – we only got as far as the king. In rural Ireland there were a lot of big houses but many were burnt when they kicked us out 100 years ago. Many were lost in Britain due to the loss of estates, the cost of upkeep, death duties, fires etc
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Destruction_of_country_houses_in_20th-century_Britain

    • Mike Cracraft
      Posted September 22, 2016 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      Ah yes. And don’t forget all of those marvelous country pubs !

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted September 22, 2016 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

        Many of them on “drove roads”, along which meat travelled on the hoof (no refrigeration), and the drovers needed accommodation. So dit the meat – which is why there are a lot of drystone pens around about.
        “Inn” = sells beer PLUS has accommodation.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted September 22, 2016 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

          Beer = (stream- or well- water) PLUS boiled PLUS several % alcohol to keep the bacteria dead.

  3. Posted September 22, 2016 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Or, the story was: (drum roll) apple fall.

    • Dominic
      Posted September 22, 2016 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      Oh, no John, no John, no John, no!

  4. David Duncan
    Posted September 22, 2016 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    “I’ve never seen Matthew this dressed up!”

    Perhaps he’s on his way to a job interview.

    • AdamK
      Posted September 22, 2016 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      Perhaps he’s Mr. Fancy-Pants.

  5. Posted September 22, 2016 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 22, 2016 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Maybe that’s how the apple redeemed itself for its original sin in the Garden.

    The “tree of knowledge” stuff finally paid out. Somebody get hold of John Milton; tell him to get busy writing a sequel.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 22, 2016 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

      Somebody get hold of John Milton; tell him to get busy writing a sequel.

      [Shovel ; soil hits ground. Shovel ; thunk. Shovel ; thunk.]

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted September 22, 2016 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

        Oh yeah? How long ago? Seems like just yesterday he was secretary of foreign tongues in Cromwell’s cabinet …

  7. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 22, 2016 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Those are some fine looking shoes Matthew has on!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted September 22, 2016 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      Hey! I’m green!

  8. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted September 22, 2016 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Fascinating! Here is a figure drawn by Newton summarizing his prism experiment. Perhaps the above window depicts the same window in the drawing! (scroll down).
    http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/373/2039/20140213

    • Posted September 22, 2016 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      I just posted that when Matthew sent it to me. It’s now above the fold. Thanks.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted September 22, 2016 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

        The open shutter in the window has a hole in it. I doubt that is the original wood shutter, but it is a nice touch.

  9. Posted September 22, 2016 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    I always wonder why those derivative symbols are on the facade? If you go around back you can see some ‘Newton Stinks’ graffiti that Leibniz spray painted.

  10. Posted September 22, 2016 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I always wonder why those derivative symbols are on the facade? If you go around back you can see some ‘Newton Stinketh’ graffiti that Leibniz spray painted.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted September 22, 2016 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      Are you referring to the “S”-shapes just below the first-floor windows? They are iron wall-ties, probably fixed to similar ties round the back, to stop the walls bulging out and eventually collapsing.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 22, 2016 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

      As Steve Pollard (good forestry name there!) says, these are wall braces. If a wall is spreading (subsidence, or insufficient stiffness of the outer walls), a “quick and dirty” fix was to put an iron bar through the building with a screw thread on each end. Pit a spreader plate (“S”, “Z” or “X” shaped) on either end and do up the nut to tighten. Then – gas flames along the length of the bar ; do up the nuts ; flame off ; cool off ; bar contracts, walls pulled in.
      It’s a quick and dirty fix, but no substitute for fixing the real problem of subsidence, unstable walls, etc.
      My parents look at these fixtures in buildings across the road and say worried words. But none of the neighbours want to admit to knowing what the problems with their terrace are. Meanwhile, soil drying has necessitated one round of foundation reconstruction and we all worry about when the next round will fall due.

  11. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted September 22, 2016 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    when were the famous experiments done? while the university was closed? Got me naïvely wondering if he directly needed the university facilities for the work with the prism or he could do it at home?

    • Posted September 22, 2016 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      Plague, iirc.

      /@

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 22, 2016 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

      He did it at home, IIRC. The university was shut down that year because of plague in Cambridge.

  12. David Harper
    Posted September 22, 2016 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    If I recall correctly, the origin of the myth of Newton and the apple is this: seeing an apple fall from a nearby tree whilst sitting in his garden, Newton realised that the force which caused the apple to fall vertically towards the centre of the Earth must be the same force that kept the Moon in its orbit. This was a major epiphany, because medieval philosophy separated the universe into two realms: the mundane (i.e. everything on the Earth) and the celestial, which were believed to operate according to different laws. Newton’s realisation that the same law — gravity — operated in both spheres was the first step in demolishing the false division of the realms.

    • W.Benson
      Posted September 22, 2016 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      Interesting? Is there a reference?

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted September 22, 2016 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      Wikipedia says he did indeed see an apple fall from the tree (or he says so in his own diary) but the hit on the head is untrue.
      Semi-apocryphal as opposed to George Washington and the cherry tree which is Fully Apocryphal.

    • Flemur
      Posted September 22, 2016 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      “In the beginning of the year 1665 I found the method of approximating Series and the Rule for reducing any dignity of any Binomial into such a series. The same year in May I found the method of tangents of Gregory and Slusius, and in November had the direct method of Fluxions, and the next year in January had the Theory of Colours, and in May following I had entrance into the inverse method of Fluxions.
      [break added]

      And the same year I began to think of gravity extending to the orb of the Moon, and having found out how to estimate the force with which [a] globe revolving within a sphere presses the surface of the sphere, from Kepler’s Rule of the periodical times of the Planets being in a sesquialterate proportion of their distances from the centers of their orbs I deduced that the forces which keep the Planets in their Orbs must [be] reciprocally as the squares of their distances from the centers about which they revolve: and thereby compared the force requisite to keep the Moon in her orb with the force of gravity at the surface of the earth, and found them answer pretty nearly. All this was in the two plague years of 1665 and 1666, for in those days I was in the prime of my age for invention, and minded Mathematicks and Philosophy more than at any time since.”

    • Barney
      Posted September 22, 2016 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      Tom Levenson on the apple tree at Woolsthorpe: https://inversesquare.wordpress.com/2007/12/14/friday-isaac-newton-blogging-an-apple-tree-of-knowledge/

      (I’ve just finished his ‘Newton and the Counterfeiter’, and highly recommend it. Levenson’s latest book, The Hunt for Vulcan, was shortlisted for this year’s Royal Society Prize, just as Matthew’s book was last year)

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 22, 2016 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

      Newton repeated the story several times in his life
      …. Sorry, but Red Dwarf XI are mixing Special and General Relativities with 1930s speak-easies. Very distracting.
      Newton gave the story in multiple versions in his lifetime, some moderately incompatible with other versions. Shades of Haldane’s “inordinate fondness” line – too good a line to left unrepeated. Even if you did actually say it yourself one day.
      Well, the smegheads are back for series 11, and it’s up to scratch.

  13. loren russell
    Posted September 22, 2016 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    This tree is of course not in its fourth century, but it is a clonal descendant of the one that provided Newton with pomes and cider. There’s another cutting-grown Newton tree at the Cambridge Botanic Garden, and undoubtedly dozens or hundreds more Newton trees scattered around England, and probably elsewhere.

    Somewhere I have a picture of the much larger Newton apple tree at the Botanic, which I labelled “World’s First Linear Accelerator”..

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 22, 2016 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

      I thought “not old enough” too.

  14. Posted September 22, 2016 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    As far as I remember (I’d have to check to be sure) both Westfall in _Never At Rest_ (a biography of Newton) and the _Cambridge Companion to Newton_ don’t give the apple story much credence.

  15. Steve Gerrard
    Posted September 22, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    “I still think the apple-falling incident is apocryphal, but readers are welcome to weigh in.”

    Weigh in. Ha, good one.

    • rickflick
      Posted September 22, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Oh, you caught that. Nice catch.

      • Posted September 22, 2016 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

        Such levity.

        /@

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted September 22, 2016 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

        Well at least he didn’t anchor himself to misspelt nautical allusions. Probably didn’t fancy being keel-hauled the long way round over it.

  16. Pyers Symon
    Posted September 22, 2016 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    The BBC recreated the light splitting experiment at Woolsthorpe for Bronowski’s Ascent of Man in the 1970s. This is quite possibly still the greatest science series ever made

    Not sure on the copyright on this but this is the episode ( which also covers gravity and relativity )

  17. Susan Campbell
    Posted September 23, 2016 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    One has to take one’s tenuous claims to fame where one finds them…one of my father’s sisters married a direct descendant of Isaac Newton’s. In fact one of his brothers was called Newton; a tradition in the family. I don’t think there were any further brilliant members, just solid cattle breeders in Argentina. Must check the website with family tree.

    • Posted September 23, 2016 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      Sorry about this, and people can correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t recall Newton having any children …

  18. Posted September 23, 2016 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Very well dressed indeed! The gauntlet has been thrown– now I’ll have to worry about what I’ll wear to CoyneFest!


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