Blue plaque tribute to notable scientists

Category: General, Community, Featured

A blue plaque has been put up in Tonbridge to commemorate two notable scientists, John Children and his daughter Anna Atkins, both born in the town.

The plaque is fixed to Ferox Hall, one of the school’s boarding houses, which was once the home of the Children family. This is the second plaque at Ferox Hall: the first is in honour of renowned cricketer Colin Cowdrey.

Erected by Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council and the Tonbridge Town Wardens, the plaque is the latest in a series celebrating distinguished people who have lived in the town.

John George Children was born at Ferox Hall in 1777, and was educated at Tonbridge School, Eton and Queens’ College, Cambridge. He and his friend Humphrey Davy conducted scientific experiments in a laboratory behind Ferox Hall, culminating in 1813 in the construction of a large galvanic cell, an early forerunner of the modern electric battery. In 1824 he discovered a method of purifying silver without using mercury, the rights to which he sold to several American mining companies. He was also made a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Anna Atkins, his only daughter, was born at Ferox Hall in 1799 and received a scientific education from her father, which was unusual for a woman of her time. Combining her interests in botany and photography, she had privately printed in 1843 Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, which is generally considered to be the first book anywhere in the world illustrated with photographic images. Her work featured prominently in a major exhibition on early photography at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam in 2017.

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