The brothers Adam and Otto Hilger came from Germany to London in the 1870s making precision optical instruments in Tottenham Court Road. In 1900 they moved to 77-79 Camden Road, and Rochester Mews behind. They were joined in 1898 by Frank Twyman who from 1902 became manager and made innovations in spectroscopes and prismatic equipment. Twyman was elected Fellow of the Royal Society and led the company until 1946, when its workforce – from making wartime equipment – had risen to four hundred.[1]


Schemes to generate electricity privately in London developed from the 1880s: St Pancras Vestry was the first public authority to develop its own production. Sydney Barnes came to St Pancras in 1895 as chief electrical engineer and saw the opportunity for public use in lighting and cheaper power for manufacturing. Following an initial site at Stanhope Street, near Regents Park, a larger plant was built in Kings Road in 1896, adjacent to the Regent’s Canal for coal fuel and water cooling.[2] The St Pancras service was notable also for linking electricity production with burning refuse – in a ‘Dust Destructor’ (refuse burner) – that had for many years been collected nearby at the ‘dust’ fields of Battle Bridge and Somers Town.


Other innovative engineers also lived in Camden Town. John Seaward, at 20 Brecknock Crescent, and his brother Samuel, were the first to develop steam engines for naval use, as well as designing swing bridges, dredging machines, cranes and machinery for saw and sugar mills.[3] Walter West, who lived at 9 St Paul’s Road, was part of a family making equipment for cotton presses in north-east India (‘West’s Patent Press Company 1874-1911’). His correspondence includes accounts of journeys in Europe and a proposal for improving the water supply of Bombay.[4] Eugenius Birch was brought up on Euston Square. Between 1853 and 1884 he built 14 seaside piers (including Brighton and Hastings, Figure 3.12), based on his innovations in design. Perhaps  the stucco style of the south coast resorts influenced the choice for his Italianate house at 6 Rochester Terrace.[5]

Figure 3.13  Hastings Pier by Eugenius Birch, opened 1872[6]


The lives of scientists in Bloomsbury have been recently described.[7] In Camden Town, several scientists worked from their homes, keeping links with the scientific colleagues through the Institutions of their disciplines in London. Some had an interest in popularising knowledge, through public associations and writing.[8] Some are noted for collaborating with their wives, but no independent woman scientist is yet recorded in this period.


Oliver Heaviside is the only native son of Camden Town to become a Fellow of the Royal Society. Born at 55 King Street and attending local schools,[9] he recounted his early life as ‘in a very mean street in London, with the beer shop and baker and coffee shop right opposite …’ His father was an engraver and his mother converted their home into a small school. His aunt was first the governess and then wife to Charles Wheatstone who lived in a large house nearby Regent’s Park. Wheatstone had invented the telegraph, and Heaviside went to work with an electrical cable company, first in Denmark and then Newcastle. Self-taught, his work on the mathematics of electricity included showing that electrical power does not flow within a wire but in the space along side it. The Heaviside family had moved from King Street to College Street in 1863, and in 1875 moved again to 3 St Augustine’s Road: and ‘it was here, over the next fourteen years, that Oliver produced a brilliant succession of startlingly original papers’. In 1889, colleagues George Fitzgerald and William Lodge visited him at his home, to talk about his findings. Yet, still without formal employment, that year he moved with his aging parents to live with his brother in the West Country, where he remained for the rest of his life.[10]


Augustus de Morgan, who was professor of mathematics at the University of London from its foundation in 1828 through to 1866, from 1844 lived at 7 Camden Street with a family of seven children. ‘An inveterate Londoner, he loved the town, and had a humorous detestation of trees, fields, and birds.’[11] Through his wife’s social connections with the Byron family, de Morgan was tutor to Ada Lovelace 1840-1842.[12]  Also with his wife Sophia he became interested in spiritualism and carried out paranormal investigations in his own home with the medium Maria Hayden.[13] De Morgan was followed at University College by Olaus Henrici, who in the 1881 census lived at 21 South Villas in 1881. He became Fellow of the Royal Society in 1874 and was President of the London Mathematical Society – which Augustus de Morgan had founded – in 1882-1884.[14]


From 1831, at 5 Camden Terrace West (in ‘Mocca’s Cottages’) lived James de Carle Sowerby.[15]  A zoologist and scientific artist, he worked with his father on the authoritative book on fossils, Mineral Conchology (1812–46) and created many publications – Charles Darwin wrote ‘I picked him out as most capable of doing the work’.[16] As well as active with the Camden Town Scientific and Literary Society, he founded the Botanical Society of London in the inner circle of Regents Park, which later became Queen Mary’s Gardens.  John Salter, son of a bank clerk of Kentish Town, was his apprentice and lived at his house. Salter contributed drawings and engravings to many of Sowerby’s publications. He was appointed to the Geological Survey in 1846, when he married Sowerby’s daughter Sally, and became the leading authority on trilobites. He suffered, however, from depression and died from suicide, jumping overboard when travelling home by boat with his son from Margate.[17] The printing of plants and molluscs required fine skill. James Edwards, living at 69 Camden Road Villas led the firm Savill, Edwards & Co,[18] whose publications included Conchologia iconica, by Lovell Reeve, which from 1843 – 1878 went through 20 editions.


Figure 3.14. Tortoise drawn by James de Carle Sowerby and engraved by Edward Lear[19]


Directly next door to the Sowerby family, at 4 Camden Terrace West, lived James Buckingham. He had worked as a journalist in India and was an MP in the Reform Parliament of 1832-7, with a strong interest in social affairs. In 1842 he published a two-volume 1500 page study The Slave States of America with a dedication to Prince Royal.[20]  Dr George Swiney (c1786-1844), an eccentric physician lived, in some seclusion, at one time in Molesworth Place on Kentish Town Road, next to Camden Terrace. He was buried in the St Martin’s cemetery, Pratt Street, directing that ‘the coffin be covered with bright yellow cloth, and that the pall and the mourners’ cloaks be the same material’.[21] In his will, he established two lectureships, at the Society of Arts and the British Museum. George Symons, created the British Rainfall Organisation to collect meteorological data across Britain ‘a mass of data of standard value, unmatched in any other country’. His house at 62 Camden Square still has, in the back garden, the flag pole topped with instruments where he made an unbroken series of observations for forty-two years, assisted by his wife Elizabeth until her death in 1884.[22]

[1] Alexander Menzies, ‘Frank Twyman,’ Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 1960;5:269-279.

[2] LMA, ‘St Pancras electricity’: LMA/4278/01 series

[3] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: John Seaward.

[4] LMA, ‘West family’: F/WST/- series.

[5] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: Eugenius Birch.

[6] Hastings pier <>

[7] Michael Boulter, Bloomsbury scientists, London 2017

[8] Bernard Lightman, Victorian popularisers of science, London 2007:15;

[9] Basil Mahon, The forgotten genius of Oliver Heaviside,. New York USA 2017.

[10] Ibid, ‘Heaviside’:147ff.

[11] ODNB: Augustus de Morgan.

[12] Christopher Hollings, Ursula Martin, Adrian Rice, ‘The Lovelace–De Morgan mathematical correspondence: a critical re-appraisal’, Historia Mathematica  2017;44(3):202-231.

[13] Janet Oppenheim, The other world: spiritualism and psychical research in England, 1850–1914, Cambridge, 1988:335.

[14] Olaus Henrici <>

[15] Royal Society, London, correspondence MS/682.

[16] ODNB: James de Carle Sowerby.

[17] ODNB: John Salter.  James Secord, ‘John W Salter: the rise and fall of a Victorian palaeontological career’, Archives of Natural History 1985;1(1):61-75.

[18] LMA:MH13/268/259.

[19] John Gray, James De Carle Sowerby, Edward Lear, Tortoises, Terrapins, and Turtles drawn from life, London 1872.

[20] James Buckingham, The slave states of America, London 1842.

[21] ‘George Swiney’, Gentleman’s magazine 1845:133-5. “He lived in the greatest seclusion, not going out of doors more than five or six times during an entire year. He had not shaved for the last two years, and his beard extended nearly to his waist … for the last month he peremptorily refused to allow the slighted nourishment to pass his lips, excepting small quantities of cider and water.”

[22] Jim Burton, ‘Pen portraits of presidents – George James Symons’, Weather 1993;48(3):75