A towering figure of the scientific world, Faraday made significant contributions to understanding the fields of electromagnetism and electrochemistry and was a key figure at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in the 19th century.

Faraday was born in Newington Butts in Surrey (now in south London, part of the Borough of Southwark) on 22nd September, 1791, and, coming from a poorer family, received only a basic education before, at the age of 14, he started an apprenticeship as a bookbinder.

The job proved, however, to be something of a godsend, for Faraday was able to read a wide range of books and educate himself – it was during this time that he began what was a lifelong fascination with science.

In 1812 at the end of his apprenticeship, he attended a series of lectures at the Royal Institution by the chemist Sir Humphry Davy. Subsequently asking Sir Humphry for a job, he eventually was granted one the following year – in 1813 – when Sir Humphry appointed him to the post of chemical assistant in the laboratory at the RA (the job came with accommodation).

Faraday’s ‘apprenticeship’ under Davy – which included an 18 month long tour of Europe in his company – was critical to his future success and from 1820 onward – having now settled at the RA, he made numerous contributions to the field of chemistry – including discovering benzene, inventing the earliest form of Bunsen burner and popularising terms like ‘cathode’ and ‘ion’.

But it was in physics that he made his biggest impact, making discoveries that would, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “revolutionise” our understanding of the field.

Faraday, who married Sarah Barnard, the daughter of a silversmith, in 1821 and was thereafter an active member of the Sandemanian Church to which she belonged, published his ground-breaking first work on electromagnetism in 1821 (it concerned electromagnetic rotation, the principle behind the electric motor). His discovery of electromagnetic induction (the principle behind the electric transformer and generator) was made in 1831 and he is credited with having constructed the first electric motor and the first ‘dynamo’ or electric generator.

Faraday, who would continue his work on ideas concerning electricity over the next decade, was awarded numerous scientific appointments during his life including having been made a member of the Royal Society in 1924, the first Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution, from 1833 until his death, scientific advisor to lighthouse authority for England and Wales – Trinity House, a post he held between 1836 and 1865, and Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, a post her held between 1830 and 1851.

He also, in 1825, founded the Royal Institution’s famous “Friday Evening Discourses” and the “Christmas Lectures”, both of which continue to this day. Over the ensuring years, he himself gave many lectures, firmly establishing himself as the outstanding scientific lecturer of the day.

Faraday’s health deteriorated in the early 1840s and his research output lessened although by 1845 he was able to return to active research and continued working until the mid 1850s when his mind began to fail. He died on 25th August, 1867, at Hampton Court where he had been granted, thanks to Prince Albert, grace and favour lodgings by Queen Victoria (she’d also apparently offered him a knighthood which he’d rejected). He was buried in Highgate Cemetery.

Faraday is commemorated with numerous memorials around London including a bronze statue at Savoy Place outside the Institution of Engineering and Technology, a Blue Plaque on the Marylebone property where he was an apprentice bookbinder (48 Blandford Street), and a rather unusual box-shaped metallic brutalist memorial at Elephant and Castle. And, of course, there’s a famous marble statue of Faraday by John Henry Foley  inside the RI (as might be expected, the RI, home of The Faraday Museum, have a host of information about Faraday including a ‘Faraday Walk’ through London’s streets).

PICTURE: Adambro/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

 

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A somewhat neglected area located in the Borough of Southwark, just south-east of Borough, Elephant and Castle takes its rather odd name from a coaching inn which once stood on the site – the Elephant and Castle.

The area is more correctly known as Newington but the name Elephant and Castle was apparently adopted informally in the mid 18th century as the area rose in prominence thanks in part to the opening of Westminster Bridge.

The inn, which stood on the site of a former playhouse, was apparently rebuilt several times but there is now no sign of it – the current, rather ugly, Elephant and Castle pub which is said to stand a short distance from where the tavern once stood, was built in the 1960s.

The origins of the sign of the Elephant and Castle, meanwhile, apparently comes from the mid-15th century when members of the Cutler’s Company adopted the sign of the elephant as their symbol (perhaps representing the ivory they used in their trade). The Worshipful Company of Cutlers still has an elephant carrying a castle on its back in its coat-of-arms.

The area of Elephant and Castle, meanwhile, was known for its shopping and theatres before it was heavily bombed in the Blitz. It still features a rather grim shopping mall (pictured is the sign of the elephant and castle out front) which was said to have been the first covered shopping mall in Europe when it opened in the mid-1960s – it is apparently due for demolition as part of a larger regeneration project. The area has already seen some major new developments like the the residential tower known as Strata.

Other prominent buildings include the Metropolitan Tabernacle – standing opposite the shopping centre, this was founded by preacher Charles Hadden Spurgeon in the 19th century and rebuilt after World War II (interestingly, the site of the tabernacle is where three men, known as the Southwark Martyrs, were burnt at the stake for heresy in 1557 during a period of religious persecution in the reign of Queen Mary I).

Famous residents have included Charlie Chaplin – who lived in a workhouse in the area as a child – while other notable features include a large stainless box which stands at the centre of the area’s major road intersection, linking what is now New Kent Road and Kennington Park Road (via Newington Butts) with roads leading to Lambeth, Westminster, Waterloo and London Bridges among others (this is actually a memorial to scientist Michael Faraday, who was born in nearby Newington Butts). The area also boasts its own Tube station, Elephant & Castle.

Cemeteries can often provide a fascinating insight into past lives and among the most prominent in London is Highgate Cemetery, located in the city’s north.

With the population of London growing rapidly in the early 1800s, the 17 acre Highgate cemetery was first opened in 1839 with the first burial taking place in May that year.

The cemetery quickly became one of London’s most fashionable and was extended by 20 acres before the opening in 1856 of a new cemetery to the east. These days both are open to tourists although the West Cemetery can only be explored on a guided tour, thanks at least partly to vandalism.

The atmospheric East Cemetery is primarily known for being the resting place of Karl Marx but also features the graves of authors George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) and Douglas Adams, Australian painter Sidney Nolan and co-founder of Foyles – London’s famous Charing Cross bookstore – William Foyle.

Features at the West cemetery, meanwhile, include an avenue of Egyptian-style vaults and the vaults in an inner ring known as the Circle of Lebanon. Among those buried there are physicist Michael Faraday and the parents and brother of Charles Dickens.

The cemetery is now operated by a non-profit charity, the Friends of Highgate Cemetery.

WHERE: Swain’s Lane. Nearest tube is Archway; WHEN: Eastern Cemetery – daily from 10am (11am weekends) to 5pm (4pm between November and February), Western Cemetery – guided tours only (weekdays at 2pm with phone bookings required, weekends hourly from 11am to 4pm (3pm between November and February); COST: Eastern Cemetery – £3 adults/£2 students, Western Cemetery tours – £7 adults/£3 children aged 8-16; WEBSITE: www.highgate-cemetery.org