Wadham at the Royal Society

Date Published: 26.01.2018

Two familiar faces - Wadhamites Sir Christopher Wren and Warden John Wilkins - greeted Wadham alumni arriving at the Royal Society this week.

Members of Wadham’s 1610 Society, attending an exclusive reception and private tour of the Royal Society, were delighted to discover the strong historic links between Wadham and this prestigious group of polymaths.

Portraits of these two great Wadham alumni, Sir Christopher Wren and Warden John Wilkins, grace the entrance lobby at the Royal Society’s headquarters at Carlton House Terrace, London.

John Wilkins (1614-1672), a founder fellow of the Society, promoted the ‘new experimental philosophy’ through his writing and the Philosophical Club that met in the Warden’s Lodgings at Wadham. He and Henry Oldenburg were named as Secretaries of the Royal Society in the First Charter of 15 July 1662.

Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) entered Wadham College in 1650 where he became closely associated with the Warden, John Wilkins. He went on to become Professor of Astronomy at Gresham College, and it was after one of his lectures there, on 28 November 1660, that the Royal Society was founded.

Among many of the artefacts shown to 1610 Society members during the tour, a model of one of Robert Boyle’s vacuum pumps had particular significance for Wadhamites. Robert Hooke (1635-1703) was also studying at Wadham in the 1650s, joining the group led by John Wilkins. After meeting and working with Robert Boyle he built the vacuum pumps used in Boyle's gas law experiments. Hooke was also the author of the first major publication of the Royal Society, Micrographia, the first book to illustrate insects and plants as seen through microscopes. The book, a copy of which can be found in Wadham Library’s rare book collection, inspired a wide public interest in the new science of microscopy.

Among the rare books demonstrated to Wadham alumni was one written by another Wadham alumnus, Thomas Sprat (1635-1713) who held a fellowship at Wadham from 1657 to 1670. Sprat’s History of the Royal Society in London was published in 1667.

Keith More and Dr Louisiane Ferlier from the Royal Society led the fascinating tours, highlighting an exhibition of influential women in science, and describing a variety of exhibits, from early telescopes and electric light bulbs to original portraits of Royal Society members.

Following the tour and a discussion with The Warden, Ken Macdonald QC and 1610 Society committee members, Wadham guests enjoyed a drinks reception in one of the impressive Royal Society meeting rooms.

The 1610 Society was developed to bring together a group of like-minded people and specifically to promote legacy giving and/or significant lifetime gifts that would provide the College with adequate funds to allow it to pursue its goals. Membership of the 1610 Society is open to those who pledge to remember the College in their wills or who make donations totalling £10,000 or more in their lifetime.