The Miller and the Baronet

An improbable story links these two churches…

…with this windmill and a library that has appeared centre stage in recent postings.

 

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Green’s Mill, Nottingham. Restored 1985

 

We get closer to the story binding them together through these memorials at the churches.

The first is a memorial to a member of the Bromhead family of Thurlby Hall, south of Lincoln. Colonel Benjamin Parnell Bromhead, the fourth baronet, was the elder brother of Gonville Bromhead, the hero of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift in 1879 (played by Michael Caine in the 1964 film Zulu). Their uncle was Sir Edward Ffrench Bromhead (1789-1855), the second baronet. He was a mathematician.

The second picture is the grave of George Green (1793-1841), miller, of Sneinton (pronounced Snentn) in Nottingham. He was also a mathematician. Of the first order. There is a memorial slab to him in the nave of  Westminster Abbey in London, placed in his bi-centenary year between those commemorating Sir Isaac Newton and William Thomson, Lord Kelvin.

So how did mathematics bring about a connection between the miller and the baronet, who lived 30 miles and a social world apart ?

George Green was largely self taught when he published his first mathematical treatise in Nottingham in 1828: An Essay on the Application of Mathematical Analysis to the Theories of Electricity and Magnetism. He had spent one year at Robert Goodacre’s academy, leaving at the age of 9 to work in his father’s bakery. Goodacre wrote textbooks on arithmetic and lectured on science.

It is possible that Green was mentored by Rev. John Toplis, the headmaster of the Nottingham Free Grammar School, which was close to where his parents lived on Meynell Row and then on Goose Gate (they moved less than a mile to the village of Sneinton, on the eastern edge of Nottingham, in 1817).  He had translated a work by the French mathematician LaPlace, whose style of notation Green used himself. Before moving to Cambridge in 1819, Toplis was also a member of the newly-formed Bromley House Library, which George Green joined in 1823 and regarded as his “first university”.

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Sir Edward Ffrench Bromhead

One of the 51 subscribers to Green’s Essay, who each paid 7 shillings and sixpence (around £30 today) was Sir Edward Ffrench Bromhead of Thurlby Hall, landowner, magistrate, High Steward of Lincoln and Fellow of the Royal Society. He regarded it as his duty to encourage a “provincial” author in his own favoured subject. He had jointly established the Cambridge Analytical Society, along with student mathematician friends Charles Babbage and John Herschel, son of the Astronomer Royal. When he saw the Essay he immediately offered his help.

Green was encouraged by Library friends to put aside feelings of social inferiority and take up Bromhead’s offer. Interestingly, the President of the Library between 1819 and 1853 was Robert White Almond, Rector of St. Peter’s church in Nottingham, who was a Cambridge mathematics graduate and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. He also subscribed to Green’s Essay.

He followed up the offer after two years and was introduced to Bromhead’s old college, Gonville and Caius – an ancestor was one of the founders. After the death of his father in 1829, George was reasonably well off and could afford to keep himself at the college, which he entered in 1833 at the age of 40. He published another nine mathematical papers with Bromhead’s assistance and became a College Fellow but his scientific career was cut short by an early death in 1841 from influenza.

His first Essay is regarded as his finest. Albert Einstein visited Nottingham University in 1930 and spoke about Green being 20 years ahead of his time. His fame came only after his death, largely through his re-discovery by Lord Kelvin, one of the greatest Victorian scientists.

In the space of some 12 years, from 1828 to 1839, he introduced new concepts, new principles and new techniques which not only stimulated physics in the 19th century but re-emerged in the mid- 20th century and served as a natural vehicle for the expression of some of the most recent advances in modern physics.

 

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The simple and sadly neglected Green family grave at St Stephen’s, Sneinton. George Green paid £10 (over £800 today) into the church rebuilding fund 1837-1839.

Credits

George Green, Miller and Mathematician 1793-1841 by D M Cannell, 1988, published by the City of Nottingham Arts Department. Cannell suggests the link between Green and Toplis.

D M Cannell has written a fuller study: George Green : mathematician & physicist, 1793-1841 : the background to his life and work (2nd ed.), 2000, published by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, Philadelphia.

George Green, Miller, Sneinton. Essays on his background, scientific achievements and academic career by R M Bowley, L J Challis, F W Sheard, Freda Wilkins-Jones and David Phillips, published in 1976 by City of Nottingham Leisure Services. The quotation used above is from the chapter on Green’s scientific achievements.

Copies of all three books are held by Bromley House Library, Nottingham, who gave permission for the reproduction of the silhouette portrait of Sir Edward Ffrench Bromhead from the 1988 book.

The Westminster Abbey memorial is described at http://www.westminster-abbey.org/our-history/people/george-green

 

 

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