Totnes, Devon

The family of Charles Babbage (1791-1871) came from Totnes. A grandfather was Mayor in 1754 and is listed on the plaque of mayors in the Guildhall. Although born in London, Charles spent much of his childhood at the family home of Birdwood House, in the High Street, which is now a senior citizens centre. His father also owned an estate near Teignmouth, where young Charles also spent some time. He attended the Totnes (King Edward VI) Grammar School, which was then adjacent to the Guildhall. There is a Babbage Room in Elizabethan House (Totnes Elizabethan Museum), 70 Fore Street, TQ9 5RU, tel: 01803-863821, with an exhibition funded by ICL in 1971 and refurbished by ICL in 1986. This gives a nice survey of his life and his many inventions. There is an excellent descriptive leaflet. There are some first editions of his books, notably a presentation copy of his A Comparative View of the Various Institutions for the Assurance of Lives of 1826, the first treatise on actuarial theory. There is a life-sized model of Charles, aged about forty(?), apparently an excellent likeness. There is a copy of the well known 1860 photograph, presented by his son General Henry Babbage. Perhaps the most interesting item is a version of his 1851 occulting lighthouse mechanism made by Henry in 1899 and donated by a descendant. [Stanier, p.58; Museum leaflet]

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Thomas Bodley (1545-1613), founder of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, married Ann Ball, a wealthy widow of 16 High Street, Totnes. Though he was already well off, his new wife's money helped fund the Library.

There is some material on William Froude (1810-1879), the hydraulics pioneer, cf Torquay.


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

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