Other Institutions in central London

Westminster Abbey
Houses of Parliament
Banqueting Hall
National Gallery
National Portrait Gallery
Cuming Museum
Sir John Soane's Museum
Tower of London
Victoria and Albert Museum
Wallace Collection

There are several monuments to mathematicians in Westminster Abbey. Details can be found in a useful booklet entitled The Abbey Scientists by A. Rupert Hall.

Westminster Abbey

John Couch Adams (1819-1892), one of the predictors of Neptune, is commemorated by a relief medallion in the North Aisle of the Choir.

Isaac Barrow (1630-1677) is buried in Poets' Corner. He died on a visit to London while in lodgings near Charing Cross.

Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) has been recently commemorated in Poets' Corner (not for his mathematics, I guess).

William Cavendish (1592-1676), first Duke of Newcastle and ancestor of the Dukes of Devonshire and of Henry Cavendish, has a monument by Grinling Gibbons in the North Transept.

Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) is buried in Poets' Corner, in the floor near his monument. He wrote the first scientific book in English A treatise on the astrolabe. He was buried in the Abbey because he was Clerk of Works to the King. Poets' Corner was established around him. He lived in a house in the gardens of the Abbey in 1399-1400. Isaac Disraeli observes that Chaucer used a "suspicious shield, which the heralds opined must have been blazoned out of the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth propositions of the first book of Euclid." I don't know if this is on his monument here or elsewhere.

A plaque to Paul Dirac, adjacent to Newton, was unveiled on 13 Nov 1995.

Inside the Choir, to the left, is the grave of Canon Robinson Duckworth (1834-1911), the friend of Lewis Carroll, who was rowing on the immortal day that Carroll invented Alice.

There is a floor medallion to Michael Faraday (1791-1867).

There is a memorial to Henry Fawcett who started as a mathematician but went into political economy and politics, becoming Postmaster General, and the father of Philippa Fawcett (the first woman placed above the 'senior [male] wrangler').

A memorial to George Green (1793-1841) was unveiled on 16 July 1993 as part of his bicentenary celebrations (reported in BSHM Newsletter 25-6 (1994), pp.5-7).

A monument to Edmond Halley was unveiled in Westminster Abbey on the day of perihelion of Halley's Comet, 9 Feb 1986.

Sir John Herschel (1792-1871) is buried in the north aisle of the Nave, and there is also a commemorative stone to his father William Herschel.

Jeremiah Horrox (or Horrocks) (1617?-1641) has a tablet and portrait medallion at the west end of the nave.

The physicists William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) (1824-1907), Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) and J. J. Thomson (1856-1940) are buried near Newton. Kelvin is honoured by a stained glass window, along with Henry V and Dick Whittington.

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) is commemorated by a floor inscription nearby.

Charles Montague (1661-1715), first Earl of Halifax and the patron of Newton and Newton's niece, is buried in the Chapel of Henry VII.

Voltaire attended the funeral of Isaac Newton (1642-1727) here:

I have seen a professor of mathematics, only because he was great in his vocation, buried like a king who had done good to his subjects.
Newton's grave is under a stone floor slab marker His depositum est Quod Mortale fuit Isaaci Newtoni. His monument, designed by William Kent and sculpted by Rysbrack, is one of the most conspicuous sites in the Abbey and had long been denied to noble applicants. It shows him resting on a pile of his books. The stone parchment borne by the cherubs beside him once showed a 'Diagram' and a 'converging series', but these vanished when the monument was cleaned c1950. A putto holds (held??) a diagram of elliptic orbits from De Motu Corporum, and there is an inscription: Let mortals congratulate themselves that so great an ornament of the human race has existed. (The sources vary - there may be one Latin inscription and the above are parts of it, with varying translations in the different sources.) There are also epitaphs which were proposed or written much later and are not actually on the tomb, such as Alexander Pope's:
Nature and Nature's law lay hid in night.
God said, "Let Newton be!" and all was light.
Queen Philippa, wife of Edward III, in whose honour Queen's College, Oxford, was founded, is buried in the Chapel of Edward the Confessor.

Lord Rayleigh (1842-1919) and Thomas Young (1773-1829) have medallions in St. Andrew's Chapel.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine (1619-1682), nephew of Charles I, was a major military figure of his time, becoming commander-in-chief of Charles I's armies in the 1640s. He was also interested in science and devoted himself to scientific pursuits after retiring from military life in 1653 and continued upon returning to England after the Restoration.
He was a founder of the Royal Society.
The problem of passing a cube through another of the same size is sometimes called Prince Rupert's Problem and he is further commemorated in Prince's metal (a form of brass used for guns) and Prince Rupert's drops. He also greatly improved gunpowder and invented a quadrant for mariners. He is buried in Henry VII's chapel.

Admiral Sir Clowdisley Shovell (1650-1707) has a monument in the South Choir Aisle. It was his wreck of four ships with the loss of 2000 lives, including his own, off the Scilly Isles on 22 Oct 1707 which led to the Longitude Act of 1714. One of only two persons to be washed ashore alive, Shovell was promptly killed by a fisherwoman for his ring.

Lady Frances Sidney (1531-1589), Countess of Sussex and foundress of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, has a tomb in St. Paul's Chapel.

William Spottiswoode (1825-1883), President of the Royal Society and mathematical physicist, is buried in Poets' Corner.

Sir George Stokes (1819-1903), PRS and mathematical physicist, has a portrait medallion in the North Aisle of the Choir.

Thomas Tompion (1639-1713) and George Graham (1673-1751), the leading clockmakers of their time, are buried in the same grave.

"Alice" Liddell married Reginald Hargreaves here on 15 Sep 1880.

Christopher Wren designed the west towers of the Abbey, but they were built by his students Hawksmoor and James.

Houses of Parliament

The Houses of Parliament are an unlikely candidate for a mathematical monument, but qualify for several reasons.

First, Geoffrey Chaucer was Clerk of the King's Works at Westminster Palace in 1389-1391 and supervised the building of Westminster Hall, the only surviving medieval part of the Houses.

The British Exchequer used tally sticks until 1782. In 1834, the cancelled tallies were declared surplus and the clerks were ordered to incinerate them in the House furnaces. A chimney overheated and set fire to the whole building, providing the subject of one of Turner's finest paintings. Examples of the tally-sticks are displayed in the Terrace corridor.

This destruction had a further scientific footnote: the Imperial standards of length, weight, volume, etc., were destroyed and a major commission chaired by Airy was required to reconstruct the standards during 1838-1842.

Reminders of this are secondary standards of length in three places:

  1. Set into the wall of the north side of Trafalgar Square. (These were erected by H. W. Chisholm, father of Grace Chisholm (Young).)
  2. In the Great Hall of the Guildhall.
  3. By the gate of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

There also are (were?) a standard yard and pound built into the right wall of the staircase from the Lower Waiting Hall to the Upper Waiting Hall.
From 1869 to 1938, the Board of Trade used the adjacent Jewel Tower for its Standards Department.

Several mathematicians and scientists have also been Members of Parliament, including Francis Bacon (for Liverpool, 1588-1592), Henry Billingsley, George Cayley (the early aeronautical pioneer), Davies (Giddy) Gilbert (for Bodmin, 1808-1830; he wrote on negative numbers), Joseph Larmor (for Cambridge University, 1911-1922), John Stuart Mill (for Westminster, 1865-1868), Isaac Newton (for Cambridge University, 1688-1690 and 1701-1702, but he is only recorded as having spoken once, when he asked for a window to be opened), Samuel Pepys (for Harwich), David Ricardo (for Portarlington, 1819-1823), Sir John Sinclair (for Caithness), Sir George Gabriel Stokes (for Cambridge University, 1887-1892), James Stuart (6 times, for Cambridge University??), William Henry Fox Talbot (for Chippenham, 1833-1834) and Christopher Wren. William Parsons, as Baron Oxmantown, was MP for King's County (now Co. Offaly), Ireland, in 1823-1834; later, as third Earl Rosse, he sat in the Lords, as did his son, Laurence, fourth Earl. Rayleigh and Rutherford occasionally spoke in the House of Lords.

The father of Grace Emily Chisholm (Young) (1868-1944) was Warden of the Standards from 1867 to 1877 and she writes of her visits to the building and the nearby Jewel Tower, which housed the Standards Department from 1869 to 1938.

A short way down Broadway from Westminster Abbey is the (supposedly secret) headquarters of MI6, where the Government Code and Cipher School (GC&CS) was set up c.1918 and remained until its removal to Bletchley Park in Sep 1939..

Banqueting Hall

The Banqueting Hall in Whitehall is one of Inigo Jones' harmonious designs, built in 1622, with the main room being a double cube.

National Gallery

The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, was designed by William Wilkins, a mathematician turned architect (qv under Cambridge).

It has four mosaic floors in the entrance, made in 1926-1933 and 1945-1952 by Boris Anrep.
The Landing shows the Muses, including Lydia Lopokova (the ballet dancer wife of John Maynard Keynes) as Terpsichore, the Muse of Dancing, at the far left and Urania, the Muse of Astronomy at the back right.
The West Vestibule shows the labours of Life, including depictions of Astronomy, Engineering and Science.
The East Vestibule shows the Pleasures of Life. The North Vestibule, done after WW2, shows the Modern Virtues.
Bertrand Russell is shown as Lucidity pulling Truth from a well at the back left.
E = mc2 appears as an object of contemplation to T. S. Eliot at the back.
Rutherford is shown with a splitting atom at back right.
Fred Hoyle is depicted as a steeplejack in Pursuit, at the front right corner.
The middle right shows Alice in Wonderland.
[An Introduction to Boris Anrep's Mosaics at the National Gallery London; The National Gallery, 1993.]

In the Gallery is Hans Holbein's 1533 painting The Ambassadors which features an anamorphic view of a skull - i.e. a view with a distorted perspective - and some dials believed to have been made by Nicholas Kratzer. John Sharp has suggested that the proper view of the skull is from the right of the painting: previously it was thought that one should look from the left. For detailed discussion see the recent National Gallery exhibition catalogue about this painting.

National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery is located in part of the same building and contains portraits of many British scientists and mathematicians, some on permanent display. On a recent visit, I noted the following in an exhibit of 19 & 20C portraits and in the Room devoted to Science and Technology - some of these are the classic images of these people. C. Babbage, P. Blackett, T. Carlyle, C. L. Dodgson (L. Carroll), M. Faraday, H. and M. Fawcett, J. Herschel, D. Hodgkin, W. Thomson (Lord Kelvin), J. M. Keynes, J. S. Mill, C. J. Napier, R. Napier, F. Nightingale, B. Russell, E. Rutherford, H. J. S. Smith, H. Spencer.

Cuming Museum

The Cuming Museum, Newington Reference Library, 155-157 Walworth Road, SE1; tel: 020 7701 1342, is a small local museum with relics of Faraday, who was born and baptised nearby, including a bust, his family bible and some steel samples. A recent, but temporary, exhibit included a fine puzzle jug (probably Doulton of c.1850), a late 19C Chinese boxwood cube puzzle and an early example of the impossible arrow through a small hole, done as a Pears Soap Puzzle c1880.


The Guildhall has copies of the standards of length in its Great Hall. The Library's Clock Room contains the Clockmakers' Company Collection of old clocks and watches, including some of John Harrison's work.

Sir John Soane's Museum

Sir John Soane's Museum is at 12, 13, 14 Lincoln's Inn Fields, WC2. It has the watch that Queen Anne gave to Wren [Montizambert (2), p. 124].

The collection includes many original Hogarth works. One of these, The Election Entertainment of c1755, has a placard on the floor saying Give us our Eleven Days, a reference to the change to the Gregorian calendar in 1752 [A. Q. Morton, p. 17, is a dim reproduction].
Another, The Rake's Progress: The Madhouse of c1735 shows a lunatic in Bedlam drawing a scheme to determine longitude by firing bombs, but this appears in the first version of the painting and it doesn't show well (or at all) in this version. In both cases, the material is rather clearer in engravings of these pictures.

Tower of London

The Tower of London is where the Royal Mint was located from the 13C till 1812. Chaucer was imprisoned in the Tower at one time. Archbishop William Laud (1573-1645), once a mathematician, was imprisoned here and executed on Tower Hill nearby [Greenwood (2), p. 149 with portrait on p. 150]. Jonas Moore was governor of the Tower in the 1670s. Flamsteed lived here as Moore's guest from 1674 until becoming Astronomer Royal in 1675. Pepys was imprisoned here briefly in 1679. Newton (1642-1727) was Warden of the Mint from 1696 to 1699 while he supervised the complete remaking of the silver coinage. From 1699 until his death in 1727, he was Master of the Mint, a less responsible, but better paid, job. He may have lived briefly in the Warden's Residence, which was in the Tower, near the Jewel Tower, or he may have lived nearby in Haydon Square, in the Minories. [Dyer. Craig, p. 13.]

An assay furnace and a touchstone of Newton's were preserved at the Mint [Craig, p. 22]. After Newton's death, the Mastership was offered to Samuel Clarke, a noted expositor of Newton's work, but he declined and it was offered to and accepted by John Conduitt, husband of Newton's stepniece [Craig, p. 26].

In 1812, the Mint moved to the Old Royal Mint building just east/northeast of the Tower. Babbage applied for the Mastership in 1846 and 1849. John Herschel was appointed Master in 1849.

Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, has a display of Indonesian betel nut cutters collected by Samuel Eilenberg! (I don't know if they are still there?) It also contains "Tippoo's Tiger", a curious Indian sculpture of a tiger eating a European and containing a mechanical organ which moves one arm of the hapless victim.

Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, Manchester Square, is a famous art collection, but it includes an unrivalled collection of gold boxes, mostly for snuff. Box G80, of gold and cornelian, made in Dresden c1770, has a secret panel, only discovered in 1976, which has portraits of Voltaire and Madame du Châtelet on the two sides. She was his mistress and the translator of Newton into French.

Gazetteer Index Main MacTutor index

An extract from The Mathematical Gazetteer of the British Isles created by David Singmaster

The original site is at THIS LINK