Scratched image discovered at Woolsthorpe Manor using method that reveals detail invisible to the naked eye
The drawing is believed to have been made when Newton was a boy and saw a similar mill being built nearby. The habit of drawing on the walls stuck. His friend and biographer William Stukeley wrote: “The walls, amp; ceelings were full of drawings, which he had made with charcole. There were birds, beasts, men, ships, plants, mathematical figures, circles, amp; triangles.”
A friend of Isaac Newton once described him as a compulsive scribbler on walls. Almost 300 years after the scientist’s death, a wobbly drawing of a windmill has turned up, scratched into a wall at his childhood home.
The image was found during a conservation study at Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, now owned by the National Trust, where there is also an apple tree said to be the one that inspired Newton’s theory of gravity.
Appropriately, in the house where Newton first used a prism to split white light into its constituent colours, the drawing was found using reflectance transformation imaging, a method that combines multiple images to reveal detail invisible to the naked eye. It was beside a fireplace in the hall, formerly the main family room of the house.
Drawings were revealed on the walls in the 1920s and 30s when farmhouse tenants were peeling away layers of old wallpaper. The National Trust believes more remain to be found and it will continue the hunt in the new year.
Chris Pickup, who made the discovery, said: “It’s amazing to be using light, which Newton understood better than anyone before him, to discover more about his time at Woolsthorpe. I hope that by using this technique we’re able to find out more about Newton as man and boy and shine a light on how his extraordinary mind worked.”