Cockermouth: More Men of Science

by David Murray on 10 September 2011

in Cockermouth, Cumbria, People, Scientists

On our main page about the Cumbrian town of Cockermouth there is mention of John Dalton the eminent early-nineteenth century scientist who first proposed the atomic theory of matter.

John Dalton was, however, not the only eminent scientist to be born in or around Cockermouth. Just a few years older was William Woodville (1752-1805), also from a local Quaker family, He followed a medical career and became Director of the St. Pancras Smallpox Hospital in London. There he kept systematic records of thousands of patients suffering from that most-feared disease of the time. Very soon after Edward Jenner’s 1798 report of vaccination with cow pox and in spite of much opposition to this development he began the first extensive clinical trials, having access to far larger numbers of patients than Jenner in Gloucestershire.

If you watched this excellent short YouTube video from CloudBio you will have noticed that Woodville was not mentioned. For a long time his contribution to the development of vaccination was under-recognised but in recent decades, without in any way detracting from the genius of Jenner, Woodville has belatedly been receiving more of the credit he deserves.

Birthplace plaque, Cockermouth - Fearon Fallows (1788-1831)
Birthplace plaque, Cockermouth – Fearon Fallows (1788-1831)

A third Cockermouth scientist is celebrated with a plaque on the wall of the house where he was born in 1788, just around the corner from the Wordsworth House. Fearon Fallows was born into a relatively poor but intelligent family. His potential was recognised locally and he was sponsored to attend university in Cambridge. He became an outstanding mathematician and astronomer, and a Fellow of the Royal Society. When thirty-two years old in 1821 he was sent by the Royal Astronomical Society to manage the construction of the Cape Observatory in South Africa, the first scientific research establishment in the southern hemisphere. In this connection was appointed an Astronomer Royal. Fallows was there for ten years. There were repeated problems with the construction but nevertheless in spite of dying at a relatively young age from scarlet fever in 1831 he has been credited with the discovery of several hundred stars.

Cockermouth, then, although just a small Lake District town, within a very few years in the late 18th century was the birthplace of three outstanding men of science, in very different fields of knowledge: physics, medicine and astronomy. The town has reason to be proud.

More on Cockermouth

Cockermouth on the Around-England blog

The Lake District, West: Cockermouth

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