Isaac Newton 'Graffiti' Discovered in Historic English Manor

A painting of Sir Isaac Newton by Sir Godfrey Kneller, dated to 1689. (Image credit: Sir Godfrey Kneller)

Towering thinker Sir Isaac Newton carved a now-barely visible doodle of a windmill into a stone wall in his childhood home, according to a news release from the National Trust.

The drawing was discovered at Woolsthorpe Manor, the Lincolnshire, England,home where Newton was born in 1642, said the National Trust,which protects the house and other heritage sites in the United Kingdom.

Newton is famous for his laws of motion, theory of universal gravitation and an experiment that involved shooting sunlight through a prism to create a rainbow effect (and inspire a very famous Pink Floyd album cover). But before Newton was a Sir, he was a boy — and apparently that boy had a thing for drawing on walls. [The Mysterious Physics of 7 Everyday Things]

Chris Pickup, an independent conservator and doctoral candidate at Nottingham Trent University in England made the discovery while investigating the manor. Pickup used a photographic technique called reflectance transformation imaging (RTI). By bathing the interior walls of the manor in light coming from multiple different directions, Pickup was able to capture details of the surfaces that would be otherwise invisible to the naked eye, including the faded outlines of Newton's alleged doodle.

"It's amazing to be using light, which Newton understood better than anyone before him, to discover more about his time at Woolsthorpe," Pickup said in the news release. "I hope that by using this technique, we're able to find out more about Newton as man and boy and shine a light on how his extraordinary mind worked."

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Young Newton

Newton was born at the manor on Christmas Day, 1642, and spent the first few years of his life at the house. Decades later, in 1665, Newton returned to Woolsthorpe when the University of Cambridge, where he was studying, closed due to an outbreak of the plague. It was at Woolsthorpe that Newton performed many of his experiments involving light and optics, including the famous work with prisms that led him to conclude white light contains all other colors in combination. An apple tree still standing in the nearby orchard is said to be the very tree that inspired Newton to develop his law of universal gravitation, after watching an apple drop from the branches to the grass below.

The newly identified drawing is thought to have been inspired by a mill that was built near the manor during Newton's childhood. The construction of any mechanical object would have likely stoked the boy's curiosity, the National Trust said.

"The young Newton was fascinated by mechanical objects and the forces that made them work," Jim Grevatte, a program manager for the Illuminating Newton series at Woolsthorpe Manor, said in the release."Paper was expensive, and the walls of the house would have been re-painted regularly, so using them as a sketch pad as he explored the world around him would have made sense."

Newton-era drawings were previously discovered on the manor walls in the 1920s and 1930s, after various farmhouse tenants peeled away the old wallpaper. In 1752, Newton's friend and biographer William Stukeley wrote that the walls and ceilings of Newton's home were "full of drawings, which he [Newton] had made with charcole. There were birds, beasts, men, ships, plants, mathematical figures, circles & triangles."

There was "scarce a board in the partitions about the room" that Newton hadn't scrawled upon, Stukeley wrote.

Originally published on Live Science.

Brandon Specktor

Brandon is the space/physics editor at Live Science. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Reader's Digest,, the Richard Dawkins Foundation website and other outlets. He holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from the University of Arizona, with minors in journalism and media arts. He enjoys writing most about space, geoscience and the mysteries of the universe.