Faraday’s Study

This is the room in which, after a hard day in the laboratory, Michael Faraday would write up neatly the rough notes he had made earlier.

Note-taking transformed Michael Faraday’s life. As a bookbinder’s apprentice, he used to attend scientific lectures in his spare time, note them, and then bind his notes. The results so impressed a wealthy acquaintance that he gifted the young man tickets to Sir Humphry Davy’s sell-out lectures at the Royal Institution. Faraday noted them, too, and presented the book to Davy—who later gave him a job.

In time, the apprentice outdid the master. When he became the resident professor at the Royal Institution, Faraday would sit in his study of an evening and write up neatly the rough notes that he had made earlier in the day. In the watercolour by his friend Harriet Moore, we can see the table at which he worked and the bell-pulls with which he summoned servants.

Faraday was neat almost to a fault. A later sketch, showing Sir William Henry Bragg at work in the room a half-century later, suggests the Nobel-winning crystallographer was less tidy. In the 1970s, when Lord Porter became the building’s resident professor, his bulldog Spencer used to recline in his basket in front of the fireplace.