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…

Somerset Life - - ADA LOVELACE DAY -

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

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