Ockham Mill and Ada Lovelace – worlds first computer programmer

I wrote this about 10 years ago for the internet. Here it is once again published for #AdaLovelaceDay

Astute readers may notice a connection with Little Venice even though I havent exactly mentioned it here 🙂

Ockham is a village in Surrey, England. Just off the A3 London to Guildford road. It was originally known as Bocheham (Domesday Book of 1086.) Its most famous residents are William of Ockham (the famous philosopher who propounded Occams Razor, a philosophical conundrum) And Ada Lovelace (The Right Honourable Augusta Ada, Countess of Lovelace) was the world’s first computer programmer. Although Ockham doesn’t have a railway station, the nearby Horsley station on the Effingham to Guildford line was once known as Horsley and Ockham. In 1887 the population of Ockham was recorded as being 549 people. Now just half of the number live in the village.

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The restored Ockham Mill – built and owned by the Lovelaces

Ockham Mill is a couple of miles to the west of Ockham itself. Despite being closer to Pyrford the mill was under the manor of Ockham, and the Earl of Ockham was the mill’s owner and landlord. The mill is a splendid brick built structure in a beautiful setting. The mill and its waters are strongly associated with the River Wey. The Mill itself was served by the Wey Navigation. Barges loaded and unloaded at Pigeon House wharf and product was carted along Wharf Lane to/from the mill. Milled products were loaded onto the Wey barges and taken down to London whilst coal was brought up from London.

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There has been a succession of mills at Ockham since medieval times. The earliest record seems to be in 1296. The present structure was a replacement built by the first Earl of Lovelace (William King-Noel, 8th Baron King of Ockham) in 1862. The earl’s coronets can be seen either side of what is known as the lucam. This is the timber loading bay (the sack hoist) that is sited on the upper (fifth) storey of the building. The Earl of Lovelace loved gothic architecture (he also built the nearby Hautboy Hotel)and it is for this reason that Ockham Mill has its distinctively unusual style

The Earl was married to Augusta Ada (Annabella) Byron, the only legitmate daughter of Lord Byron. She was also known as Ada Lovelace, and her image is that seen on the authenticity hologram stickers used on older Microsoft products (eg Windows 95 and NT.) In some respects the modern computer is said to have ‘begun’ in Ockham. Augusta Ada Byron is generally recognised as being the world’s first computer ‘programmer.’ After seeing Babbage’s first machine sometime in 1833, and marrying the Earl of Lovelace in 1835, she began writing programs for Charles Babbage in 1843.

Where Babbage saw only limited capabilites for his ‘computers’ (the famous Analytical Engine.) Babbage had affection for Ada and called her his ‘Enchantress of Numbers.’ Ada saw the infinite potentials offered by computers and programming. She said of the computer that “the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.” In other words she thought Babbage’s machine could go beyond mere number crunching, and proposed a system of punch cards containing a program to use in the analytical engine, after seeing an example of Joseph-Marie Jacquard’s automatic loom.

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Several books on Ada as the ‘Victorian computer wizard’

Ockham also lent its name to a programing language known as ‘Occam,’ after William of Ockham’s Occam’s razor. Reinforcing the importance of Ockham and the Lovelaces, ‘Ada’ is also a computer language developed in the 1980’s by the US Defense Department. Also there’s ADA (Automatic Data Acquisitions.) In recognition of Ada Lovelace’s contribution, the British Computer Society have the Lovelace Medal, an annual award for those who have made a major contribution to Computing Information Systems.

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