Ockham and Horsley

Ada Lovelace
by Beth Roberts

Ada Lovelace. Image sourced through Wikimedia Commons

The mother of the computer, Ada Lovelace, spent many years of her life in the quiet, quaint realms of Ockham and East Horsley, following her marriage.

Lovelace was born Augusta Ada Byron, Lady Byron, on December 10, 1815, in Piccadilly Terrace, Middlesex to infamous Romantic poet and romantic philanderer, Lord Byron, and Annabella Milbanke. Just two months after her birth, her parents separated, with Byron leaving Britain and Lovelace never forging a relationship with her absent father.

She received a private education through tutors at a young age, but her mathematic intrigue bloomed when the first professor of mathematics at the University of London, Augustus De Morgan, elected to help her with her studies. Lovelace was introduced to computer scientist and inventor, Charles Babbage by their mutual friend, author Mary Somerville, and what followed was a collaborative relationship that would see both Lovelace and Babbage soar to new heights in the world of computing.

Whilst Babbage and Lovelace did not fully realise their proposed Analytical Engine (which would have been the first computer), their efforts, calculations and ideas live on. In Lovelace’s case, her detailed notes on the function and processing of the Analytical Engine were not only astute and correct, but also beautifully written.

Lovelace’s connection to Surrey arose through her marriage. She married William King-Noel, 1st Earl of Lovelace in 1835, just three years before he was created Viscount Ockham and Earl of Lovelace. William and Ada lived in two Surrey residences: Ockham Park and Horsley Towers. Ockham Park was built in the seventeenth century and is a large red-brick English country house, whilst Horsley Towers is an ornate vision, built in the Tudor Revival style.

Ockham Park. Image sourced through Wikimedia Commons
Horsley Towers. Image sourced through Wikimedia Commons

During her life, Lovelace was most famous as the daughter of Lord Byron, despite her distanced relationship with her father. However, her historical legacy remembers her as a pioneering woman of science whose research and imagination led to Alan Turing’s development of the Turing Machine. The Lovelace test became an early version of the Turing test, with Ada’s assertion that “the Analytical Engine has no pretensions whatever to originate anything” and “it can do whatever we know how to order it to perform” (Nature Computational Science, 2023: 807) becoming a boundary which artificial intelligence programmes must cross to be considered ‘intelligent.’

Lovelace’s life has been the subject of many dramatisations. She was played by Tilda Swinton in the 1997 film Conceiving Ada (Leeson) and by Emerald Fennell in the ITV series Victoria (Goodwin, 2017). Prolific playwright, Lauren Gunderson, whose work often focuses on historical women in the sciences, also wrote a play about Lovelace in 2015, called Ada and the Engine, demonstrating Lovelace’s global impact as an inspiration to women. There is even a children’s book about Lovelace written by Diane Stanley and illustrated by Jessie Hartland, called Ada Lovelace: Poet of Science, which traces her life from childhood to adulthood to inspire the next generation of young girls interested in science.

A pioneer, an intellectual tour-de-force and an inspiration for women interested in science all over the globe, Lovelace defines the best aspects of Surrey’s heritage and history. Take a trip over to Horsely Towers any time you’d like to see where this brilliant mind envisioned the future of the computer.

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