Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace

–      Mathematician, Scientist and First Computer Programmer.

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Many people may wonder about the origin of the names of two roads in Solihull, Lovelace Avenue and Lady Byron Lane. Lady Byron, the wife of the notorious poet Lord Byron inherited the former manor house of Longdon Hall. The estate had descended down through the female lines from the Greswolds, Dabridgecourt and Fulwood families to William Noel, who bequeathed it to Lady Byron wife of Lord Byron.

In 1860 on her death it was left to her grandson the 2nd Earl of Lovelace who died in 1893. In 1899 the long descent was ended when the estate was sold. Lady Byron Lane and Lovelace Avenue are named after them. Lady Byron lived at Longdon Hall during her separation from her husband and later reverted to her maiden name of Milbanke after her husband left her. Their daughter was born The Hon. Augusta Ada Byron on 10th December 1815. She was Byron’s only legitimate child. All his other children were born out of wedlock to other women. Ada never knew her father for he left a month after she was born. She later married William King-Noel, 1st Earl of Lovelace. Byron left England never to return, eventually dying of disease in the Greek War of Independence when Ada was eight years old.

Lord Byron expected his baby to be a boy and was disappointed that his wife gave birth to a girl. She was named Augusta after his sister Augusta Leigh, but Byron called her Ada. Ada’s mother, Annabella left to live with her parents and although by law, Byron was entitled to full custody of his daughter, he made no attempt to claim his rights. His wife was very bitter towards her estranged husband and encouraged Ada to study maths and logic, in the belief that she would not inherit her father’s insanity. It appears that Annabella did not have a close relationship with Ada, leaving her in the care of her mother Judith, Lady Milbanke.

Ada saw herself as Analyst and Metaphysician. Her mathematical talent led her to working relationship with mathematician Charles Babbage and in particular his Analytical Engine. In 1842-3 Ada translated an article by Italian engineer Luigi Menabrea on the engine. She made notes of her own and these contained what many considered the first computer programme, an algorithm designed to be carried out by a machine. She developed a vision of the capability of computers to go beyond calculating and number crunching.

In 1829 Ada became paralysed after a bout of measles. By 1831 she was able to walk with crutches, but despite being ill she developed her mathematical skills and at the age of 12 she decided she wanted to fly. She decided to design and construct wings, investigating different materials and sizes. She examined the anatomy of birds and decided to write a book called Flyology with illustrations.

Ada married William 8th Baron King in 1835. Her husband was made Earl of Lovelace in 1838. They had three children and later Ada suffered from an illness that took months to heal. She died at the age of 36 in 1852 from uterine cancer. She lost contact with her husband after she confessed something to him, which caused him to abandon her bedside. What that confession was is unknown, but there had been gossip and she was no stranger to scandal. She was buried at her request next to her father in Hucknall Nottinghamshire.

Throughout her life, Ada was strongly interested in scientific developments of the day. Before she died she wrote to her mother mentioning that she was working on the relation of maths and music. She remained friends with Babbage, who was impressed by her intellect and analytical skills. He called her the Enchantress of Numbers. Ada may not have reached her full potential in a man’s world, but she has been referred to as the ‘prophet of the computer age’. She was certainly the first to express the potential for computers outside mathematics. Since 1998 the British Computer Society has awarded a medal in her name. “Ada Lovelace Day” is an annual event celebrated in mid October, whose goal is to raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. She is also remembered in a Blue plaque in St. James’s Square, London.

Ada Countess of Lovelace, 1815-1852.

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