Professor Robert Winston announces his top 10 Science & Discovery places
- Professor Robert Winston judges the Science & Discovery category in our campaign Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places, sponsored by Ecclesiastical
- 10 places, from the home of time itself at Greenwich to Bletchley Park, chosen from a long list of public nominations by Winston to represent England’s remarkable scientific past
- Brand new podcast hosted by well-known TV and radio presenter Emma Barnett explores the 10 selected places and how they’ve changed the world
The hut where the world’s first electronic computers were built, the Observatory in Greenwich where the modern measurement of time began and the world’s first commercial nuclear power station in Cumbria are among the 10 places announced by Professor Robert Winston for our campaign Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places, sponsored by Ecclesiastical.
Remembering our scientific past
Professor Winston, who has judged the Science & Discovery category, is the first expert judge in the campaign, from a panel including Mary Beard, George Clarke and David Olusoga, who will choose 10 places from a long list of public nominations.
The year-long campaign aims to find the 100 places which best tell England’s remarkable story and its impact on the world.
Together, the selected places in the Science & Discovery category demonstrate that England has long been a hotbed of invention, innovation and creativity.
Among Professor Winston’s chosen places are the humble hut in Gloucestershire where the world’s first vaccination was pioneered, the laboratory in Sheffield where stainless steel was invented and a 17th century feat of engineering in Cambridgeshire which protects 29,000 hectares of agricultural land from flooding every year.
A brand new podcast
All 10 places picked by Professor Winston will be explored in a new podcast series. Hosted by Emma Barnett, the series will begin by taking listeners on a journey to the extraordinary places which Professor Winston decided best demonstrate the importance of Science & Discovery to the identity of England, and help tell our national story.
The 10 Science & Discovery places
- Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire: Shortly before the Second World War began, the Government Code and Cipher School, in need of a safe and secret location away from London, moved to Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire. Large, plain huts were built in the grounds and it was here that the Bombe machine, designed by Alan Turing, helped break the Enigma code. This was also where Tommy Flowers created the semi-programmable electronic machine Colossus, the world's first electronic computers. The crucial work of the thousands of people who worked in the wider Bletchley organisation, 75% of whom were women, helped shorten the war by an estimated two to four years and saved countless lives. Block H is known as the birthplace of modern computing because large-scale handling of bulk data began here.
- Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London: Commissioned by King Charles II, and designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the Royal Observatory Greenwich was the first state-funded scientific institution in Britain. Over the course of more than 300 years the Observatory has played a fundamental role in the history of navigation, the progress of astronomy, the modern measurement of time, and our understanding of the universe itself.
- Jodrell Bank Observatory, Macclesfield, Cheshire: This is the only site in the world that can chart the entire history of radio astronomy and it remains a place of live scientific research. It has been at the heart of ground-breaking discoveries for more than 70 years and is home to the Lovell Telescope, a near 90-metre-tall structure that stands as an icon of British science and engineering. Also a site of cultural significance, it has played host to live music acts, inspired artists and featured in film, television, and literature – seamlessly bridging the gap between science and the arts. The Lovell Telescope was the first telescope in the world to be controlled by a digital computer and the largest steerable telescope in the world upon its completion in 1957. It was able to track Sputnik on its launch in 1957. Other space-age triumphs included being asked by the Soviet Union to track the moon spaceship Luna 9 which sent the first images from the surface of the moon.
- Ouse Washes, March, Cambridgeshire: This huge water channel was cut in the 1630s to drain the fenlands and make a temporary floodwater storage area between Earith in Cambridgeshire and Denver in Norfolk. It is one of the most important, largest and oldest drainage engineering structures in the country. It was created by Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden, whose ingenuity enabled the creation of the 'food basket' of the UK, because it protects approximately 29,000 hectares of agricultural land from flooding. This mid-17th Century feat of engineering is striking in its beauty when flooded between the banks built to hold the water and is a unique habitat for all kinds of animals, making it a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
- Calder Hall, Sellafield, Cumbria: Opened by the Queen in October 1956, Calder Hall was the world's first nuclear power plant to generate electricity on a commercial scale. It is not widely known that the primary function of Calder Hall was to create weapons-grade plutonium, although those activities ended in the 1990s. Initially designed to last for 20 years, Calder Hall ceased generating electricity in 2003, almost 47 years after its inauguration.
- Brown Firth Research Laboratories, Sheffield: This is the site where Harry Brearley accidentally made stainless steel in 1913 when he incorporated chromium into steel. The invention of a non-corroding steel revolutionised manufacturing worldwide: not only is stainless steel cutlery used by people around the world every day, but Brearley’s invention was also important for how buildings were constructed. The metal trade has been alive in Sheffield since the Middle Ages and by the 18th century, Sheffield was the nation’s principal producer of different types of steel. The invention of stainless steel, a lucky accident, remains perhaps Sheffield’s most important contribution to the industry.
- The Jenner Hut, Berkeley, Gloucestershire: Dr Edward Jenner performed early experiments with vaccination in a humble hut in the grounds of his house in Gloucestershire, where he created a vaccination for smallpox. Smallpox killed more than 400,000 people each year in 18th century Europe and was known as the “speckled monster”. Thirty years after Jenner’s death, smallpox vaccinations were made compulsory but perhaps his most important legacy was his dedication to sharing the importance of vaccines to human health. Such experiments with vaccinations and the subsequent start of the concept of immunology have saved and continue to save millions of lives across the world.
- Former MRC Biophysics Unit, King’s College London, London: In May 1952, at King’s College London’s Strand campus, Photo 51 (an X-ray diffraction image of DNA) was taken by Chemist and Research Associate, Rosalind Franklin. The photograph confirmed theories that DNA had a double helical structure and was used by James Watson and Francis Crick to correctly model DNA in the double helix form. Franklin died of cancer in 1958 and missed out on the Nobel prize, which her peers swept up in 1962. Although in the shadow of Watson and Crick’s work for many years, Franklin and her team’s contribution to the findings was incredibly important.
- Former Imperial Chemicals Industries (ICI) Chemicals laboratory, Widnes, Cheshire: It was in this small laboratory that a big step in modern medicine and a lifesaving invention was made. In 1951 the chemist, Dr Charles Suckling, first synthesised the non-flammable inhalation anaesthetic called 'halothane' which revolutionised surgery and the pharmacology of anaesthetics. Phased out for use on humans in the 1980s, its invention and use represents the importance of the chemical industry to England’s history, which is often forgotten.
- Water pump on the corner of Broadwick and Poland Streets, Soho, London: In 1854, a severe outbreak of cholera in London killed 616 people and thousands of people had died in previous outbreaks. At the time, nobody knew for sure how diseases like this one were spread but physician John Snow thought Cholera could be water-borne. He studied the causes and traced the outbreak to the contaminated water from this single pump in Soho. His findings led to fundamental changes in London’s water and waste systems, and then those of other cities around the world, resulting in massive improvements to public health on a global scale.
The campaign continues
Historic sites across the country have shaped England and bring our history to life. Historic England and Ecclesiastical still need the public’s help to create a list of the 100 buildings and places which best tell the country’s story and how it has shaped the world.
The panel of judges who will join Professor Robert Winston in each choosing 10 places includes Mary Beard, George Clarke, Tristram Hunt, David Olusoga and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.
Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said: “These remarkable 10 places, carefully chosen by one of our expert judges, Professor Lord Robert Winston, demonstrate that England has had a long tradition of meeting challenges and finding creative solutions to problems of worldwide significance. Many of the inventions and discoveries in this list have changed the world and remind us how regions across England have broken new ground. It’s vital that we remember these places and events as an inspiration to continuing our national tradition of experimenting, inventing and creating.”
Mark Hews, Group Chief Executive Officer of Ecclesiastical, said: “Discovery has been a tradition of the British people across many generations, moving us from the realms of ‘magic’ to the revelation of science. All the places selected by Professor Winston, some of which Ecclesiastical has the privilege of helping to protect, are part of the fabric of our history and are presented in a new perspective through this campaign. They help us to see how a fresh system of knowledge and fact came to be through human observation and experiment. British innovation continues to take us forward, also touching our ability to understand, maintain and conserve these iconic, irreplaceable places.”
Also of interest...
Got some spare time and want to make a difference? Find out about volunteering at Historic England or with other heritage organisatons.
Nominate the sites, buildings and places you think best tell England's remarkable story and its impact on the world.