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London’s top ten geniuses

Posted at 5:30 pm, May 24, 2014 in Fun London
© National Portrait Gallery, London. William Shakespeare by John Taylor

Throughout history London’s had some of the biggest boffins. Seems, there’s nothing like a bit of smog to keep you sharp…

1. William Shakespeare

The English language was just a load of stupid words flopping around uselessly until William Shakespeare (1564-1616) sorted it out. A proud Midlander, history’s greatest writer did, nonetheless, find his success in London town with his company of actors, the King’s Men, who were first based in Shoreditch, then in Southwark.

2. Christopher Wren

Without the brilliant physicist, astronomer, mathematician and architect Christopher Wren (1632-1723), London as we know it wouldn’t exist. After the Great Fire of 1666, Wren and his firm rebuilt 52 of the city’s churches, including a little place called St Paul’s Cathedral. If they hadn’t, perhaps we’d all be staring despondently at big piles of ash to this very day.

3. Mary Wollstonecraft

Writing the first great work of feminist literature, 1792’s ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’, would be enough to qualify Spitalfields local Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) for geniushood. But she also chipped in one of the first travel books (‘Letters Written in Sweden, Norway and Denmark’), two novels, a history of the French Revolution, a kids’ book, and a tome of advice on how to raise daughters. Indeed, her daughter was Mary Shelley, herself something of a genius, so she clearly knew what she was talking about.

4. Frank Lampard

Sure, the words ‘footballer’ and ‘intellectual genius’ are not the most likely of bedfellows, but Chelsea and England midfielder Frank has an IQ of 150, a mere ten points behind Alfred Einstein and Bill Gates’s 160. He even got an A* in his Latin GCSE, which no doubt comes in very handy in the dressing room.

5. Ada Lovelace

Ada (1815-1852) was the only legitimate child of pathologically randy poet Lord Byron. Her mother Anna Byron was therefore keen that the child didn’t grow up to be ‘like her father’ and gave her daughter an education revolving around the twin joys of maths and logic. As a result, she went on to work closely with the mathematician Charles Babbage, writing an algorithm for his Analytical Machine – the precursor of the computer – that’s often cited as the very first computer programme.

6. Alan Turing

‘You needed genius at Bletchley and Turing’s was that genius,’ quoth historian Asa Briggs of Maida Vale-born Alan Turing (1912-1954). The godfather of computer science, Turing’s efforts to crack Nazi ciphers at Bletchley Park during the Second World War were invaluable to the Allied effort, and his Turing Test is still used today to identify the level of a machine’s artificial intelligence. He’s also a tragic figure: he committed suicide after being prosecuted for homosexuality.

7. Clive Sinclair

A genius in the mad-professor mould, Clive Sinclair has invented no end of things, some of them brilliant, some of them awful. A generation tapped diligently at the Richmond-born boffin’s pocket calculator, thrilled to the ZX Spectrum, and laughed heartily at his flop electric car, the Sinclair C5. He’s still threatening to put out a new version, and we can’t wait.

8. Rosalind Franklin

If she’d lived longer, the brilliant biophysicist Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) from Notting Hill might have shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for Medicine with Francis Crick and David Watson for the discovery of DNA. Sadly, she died of ovarian cancer aged 37 and missed out on the props she was due, though Crick was always quick to champion her.

9. Tim Berners-Lee

Richmond-upon-Thames boy Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. The actual web. That is all.

10. Adam Worth

Enough of these do-gooders – what about an evil genius, eh? Adam Worth (1844-1902) moved from New York to London in 1869, where he added to his already long résumé of pinching stuff to become Europe’s original master criminal. He established an underground network to conduct a string of major heists, ensuring that those carrying out his dirty work never knew his identity, while simultaneously managing to infiltrate the upper classes. He’s also said to have been Arthur Conan Doyle’s inspiration for Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis, Professor Moriarty. Andrzej Lukowski

Every genius needs brainfood, feed your mind with our guide to London’s best food and drink. 

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