
Shropshire History 
Charles Babbage 
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Charles
Babbage was born in 1791 in
London (a blue plaque on the
junction of Larcom Street and Walworth Road commemorates the event). He was
one of four children of Benjamin Babbage and Betsy PlumleighTeape. His
father was a partner of William Praed at the bank Praed & Co of Fleet Street, London. In 1808, the Babbage family
moved to East
Teignmouth and Babbage
was sent to schools at Alphington near Exeter, King Edward VI Grammar School in
Totnes and Holmwood Academy in Enfield. With the help of tutors, he managed to be accepted by Cambridge
University, where he went in 1810. He was apparently disappointed with standard
of mathematical instruction available at Cambridge, having been selftaught
beforehand. He and several friends formed the Analytical Society, Ghost
Club and the Extractors Club. Babbage obtained his degree in 1814 and by the
following year was lecturing at the Royal Institution on astronomy. During this whole period, Babbage had to depend on his father's support
and in 1814 married Georgina Whitmore. They went to live
at Dudmaston Hall and, while there, he
engineered the central heating system. After only a year, they moved back to London and set up
home in Marylebone to have a
large family. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1816. In 1819, Babbage and his friend Herschel visited Paris and the Society of Arcueil, meeting leading French
mathematicians and physicists. Babbage then worked with Herschel on the
electrodynamics of Arago's Rotations, the results
of which were published in 1825. Babbage then calculated actuarial tables for
insurance
companies, based on mortality
rates from 1762 onwards. Babbage helped to form the Astronomical Society, whose initial aims were to reduce
astronomical calculations to a more standard form and to circulate data.
These directions were closely connected with Babbage's ideas on computation
and, in 1824, he won its Gold Medal for his invention of an engine for calculating mathematical and
astronomical tables. Upon his father's death in 1827, Babbage inherited a
large estate (equivalent to £7.8 million today), making him
independently wealthy. After his wife's death in the same year, he spent time
travelling. In 1828, he became professor of mathematics at Cambridge University,
a position he had three times failed to obtain. Babbage had a wide interest
and got involved in mathematics, philosophy, inventing and mechanical
engineering. He is best remembered for originating the concept of a
programmable computer. Full details of his career are summarised in Wikipedia. Babbage died in 1871 and his brain was
preserved, being currently on display at the Science Museum. He wrote several
publications, ie “A Comparative
View of the Various Institutions for the Assurance of Lives” (1826) “Reflections
on the Decline of Science in England and on Some of Its Causes”
(1830) “On the
Economy of Machinery and Manufactures” (1835) “The Ninth
Bridgewater Treatise, a Fragment” (1837) “Table of
the Logarithms of the Natural Numbers from 1 to 108000” (1841) “The
Exposition of 1851” (1851) “Passages
from the Life of a Philosopher” (1864) 