Sir Isaac Newton

Like the great Margaret Thatcher, Isaac Newton hails from Grantham in Lincolnshire, or as near as damn-it! The anniversary of his birthday is tomorrow (corrected to the Georgian* calendar which was not used in England until 1752) so here is a picture of the great man with obligatory apple. His mother, Hannah Ascough, I presume, is somehow linked to my primary school Ascoughfee hall in Spalding, a place in my day full of gorgeous stuffed birds and rather severe ballet teachers. One of its subsequent owners, a man called Johnson, founded the Gentleman’s society in 1710 which is one of the oldest antiquarian societies in existence and Isaac Newton was a member along with Alexander Pope, John Gay, Tennyson and George Gilbert Scott.

*this should read Gregorian of course! (thanks Chris Oakley!! grin)

Ascoughfee hall features a war memorial designed by Lutyens and I remember playing around it when I was very young. I don’t remember much more about the primary school though.

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Newton was an advocate of what has become known as “the glorious revolution”, and deeply suspicious of James II’s tendencies towards Catholicism, the story of which will be a major part in Lucy Worsley’s forthcoming BBC tv series, for which I did some illustrations and title sequences.

Rather more obscurely, Newton was the first to reconstruct the Judean calendar and work out the date of the Crucifixion: he reasoned it should be April 23rd,  AD 34, so about a year out of the accepted timing. He based this on the presence of a new moon, not on the documented lunar eclipse which might account for the moon appearing to be blood-red on 3 April AD 33, though a number of later scholars claim he was simply pushing his theories to make them fit a myth that Jesus died on St George’s day. I suppose that confirms that God is an Englishman?

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In fact, as Christ was probably born in 6BC, his death is more likely to have taken place either in AD 29 or AD30. The claims about appeasing Herod in Luke  (Luke 23:12) again point to an earlier date (following Robert Graves of course) to around the death of Sejanus in 31 AD.

Of course, the farcical Bishop Ussher dated the creation of the world to 6pm on Saturday 22nd Oct 4004 BC and his chronology was printed in bibles form 1701. (Lightfoot claimed it was in 3929 and St Bede in 3952BC) Just for the record, Newton corrects Ussher to 4000 BC, a nice round number.

Civic pride and what we can learn from Istanbul!

In 2006, the Turkish government, run by the AK PARTİ (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) under the leadership of Erdogan began a process to import tulips back into Istanbul.

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Today, there is such an abundance of tulips, that splashes of colour scythe through the city like a parade of multicoloured  dervishes, spreading the scent of Spring. I have been to Istanbul most years since 2004 and I have seen for myself how this transformation has taken place.

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The tulip is just one example of a horticultural revolution that says Istanbul is proud of herself. That pride is evident of course in the colours of the flowers but it is also evident on the faces of the people in the street, the ordinary people who go about their lives feeling better because they can see- and smell- that the Council really cares!

It is actually a fairly simple plan, but I will come to that shortly.

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The tulip was introduced to Turkey from Iran where it grew wild. It is a traditional image on the tiles that decorate some of the greatest mosques around the city and today it has been adopted as a symbol on the Istanbul logo.

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The cultivation of the Tulip became a mania in the Ottoman period, so much so that one particular epoch is called “the Tulip period” and at that time, rare bulbs sold for remarkable sums of money. Trade was international and soon, that mania had passed to Holland, the setting, for example, of “the black tulip” , a novel by Alexandre Dumas. My mother always said she had a black tulip bulb in the safe: I have no idea but it sounded very exotic.

I grew up in a small Market town in Lincolnshire where my mother was involved in the local tulip bulb industry. Spalding was so industrious and the ground so similar to that of Holland that, when I was a small child, the town held its own Tulip Parade to rival that of the Dutch mega-parades in Zundert and Keukenhof. Sadly, the flower parade in Spalding ground to a halt last year. But I loved the imagination that went into making these amazing floats; I loved the fact that they were decorated overnight, and, really, only lasted a couple of days (it’s actually very Buddhist!); and I also loved the complete sensory effect of the flower parade- the noise, the colour, the smell, the excitement, the overpowering beauty and the pride it gave to our small town.

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The mother of all tigers from the Keudert Flower parade!

Check out this archive flim:

I well-remember this parade!

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THE DAVENTRY PARK PROJECT:

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Here in Daventry, I have been campaigning for a restored Professional Park scheme. I am, of course, inspired by the wonderful images from my childhood in Spalding. But I am also inspired, perhaps more so by the practical approach taken in Istanbul by the city Council. I have been talking to members of the Council over the last year with a view to designing some children’s books to celebrate particularly the history of the Fatih district, but I have also been impressed by the overall scheme the council has followed to refresh the city. I intend to talk to Councillors about their scheme and also about how they sourced materials, especially the outside gym equipment which is so striking a part of the overall vision, and I think it would work here in Daventry too!

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I think there are three specific things that the AK party have done:

  1.  the training and courses set up in horticulture by the City in association with local universities and colleges, providing garden design and employees for the future.
  2.  the celebration of festivals and history that also involves research into plants of the past. It is because of this that the tulip has been so revived, but there are also “Monument trees”, that are replanted and tended, restoring the vistas of the past and improving the way the city looks today. It is partly this vision which ironically both inspired the protests in Gazi square to “save the trees” and also inspired the developments that threatened to redevelop the area. The compromise seems to involve some transplanting/replanting and rethinking. For all the negative image this protest created, it shows very clearly that our environment is something people care deeply about.
  3.  The city has established open-field gyms, taking exercise out into the parks and democratising sport in a very real way, giving access to children, the disabled and the elderly. I will be going to Istanbul soon to try to find out how the technology was developed for outdoor sports equipment taht would withstand a climate that is no less changeable and erratic than our own.

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If my vision of what we could do in DAVENTRY is shaped by my childhood in Spalding, my practical proposals follow what has already happened in Istanbul. What we can see there is that this sort of revitalisation works. It is a positive force in society and we can do something similar here in Daventry.