Inspired by amazing Ada
A special day to celebrate the life and work of computer pioneer Ada Lovelace takes place this month. CHRISSY HARRIS finds out more…
Even the greatest mathematical minds on earth need to take a break sometimes to gather their thoughts and be inspired by the scenery.
Computing visionary Ada Lovelace, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, did just that in the beautiful surroundings of her summer retreat in Porlock Weir.
Her husband, William King, owned Ashley Combe House and the pair enjoyed many a happy, peaceful moment here, even spending their honeymoon in the romantic setting in 1835.
Victorian heroine Ada is world famous for her role in helping fellow mathematician Charles Babbage develop his proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine, first described in 1837.
She was the first to realise its wider potential and published the first set of programmed steps, or algorithm, the machine could follow.
Because of this, she is widely regarded as the world’s first computer programmer.
Somerset is proud of its connection to Ada and her pioneering work at a time when women were expected simply to marry and stay indoors.
To celebrate Ada Lovelace
Day on 9 October, residents of Porlock Vale are coming together to hear a series of talks from inspirational women.
In a separate tribute, staff at Exmoor National Park are working to clear and restore the woodland pathways near Ada Lovelace’s holiday home to allow visitors to enjoy some of the spectacular scenery that helped to inspire her life’s work.
“There is just something about her,” says Rosalinde Haw, who is organising Porlock’s ‘Afternoon with Inspirational Women’ as part of the internationallycelebrated Ada Lovelace Day. “There she is, living in Victorian England and she speaks all these languages and was involved in mathematics and the first computer. Women weren’t generally like that but she didn’t let anything hold her back.”
Porlock’s Ada Lovelace event at the village hall has been running for six years and is always a sell-out.
Speakers from a range of backgrounds come and spend some time talking about their lives. This year’s line-up includes a local GP and a dance teacher. “We always have a great variety,” says Rosalinde. “We’ve had people from universities, a lady in her eighties, a local hill farmer, all sorts, really. We have six women speakers from all different fields, medical, dance, farming, engineering, science, with a Somerset cream tea served in the interval. It’s a very popular event.”
‘There she is, living in Victorian England and she speaks all these languages and was involved in mathematics and the first computer. Women weren’t generally like that but she didn’t let anything hold her back’
Over on the North Exmoor coast, a team of workers is busy clearing a series of walkways in woodland near what was Ashley Combe House, Ada’s holiday home.
The building, which went on to become a Dr Barnardo’s children’s home and later a country club, was closed and then fell into disrepair. Its owner, the 4th Earl of Lytton decided to pull it down in 1974 but the gardens and terraces of the estate still remain.
Part of the terraces – known as Philosopher’s Walk – are
where Ada and Charles Babbage are thought to have discussed mathematical principles.
There are also many designed landscapes dotted around the area, including Culbone Wood, where Ada and her husband are thought to have strolled and taken in the views.
Some of these historic spots are now being opened up and the lines of yews, strawberry trees and other conifers, which carefully framed certain outlooks, will be reinstated.
“We want to give people an idea of what she saw,” says Graeme McVittie, Exmoor’s senior conservation officer for woodland. “It would be great if people who go there could experience what Ada Lovelace experienced. Most people aren’t really aware.”
Recent archaeological reports have detailed the various viewpoints and footpaths in the area and the plan is to restore some of the original routes.
“It’s amazing to think that Ada Lovelace was here,” says Graeme. “She was this early feminist who developed her own way of doing things and achieved a huge amount. And she was associated with this place and this landscape of the North Exmoor coast. It’s astonishing really. We want to help bring that story back to life and celebrate her connection here.”
To find out more, see exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk and porlock.org
‘It’s amazing to think that Ada Lovelace was here. She was this early feminist who developed her own way of doing things and achieved a huge amount’
ABOVE: The landscape restoration in Culbone Wood, North Exmoor. William King – Earl of Lovelace and Ada Lovelace would have walked these paths
ABOVE:Some of the inspirational women at the Ada Lovelace Day event in 2015: Dr Sally Day, Emma Britton, Claire Woollacott, Evelyn Marsden, Margaret Casely-Hayford and Rachel Southwood