FRANKLAND, Sir Edward (1825-1899)
Plaque erected in 2019 by English Heritage at 14 Lancaster Gate, Bayswater, London, W2 3LH, City of Westminster
Sir EDWARD FRANKLAND 1825-1899 Chemical Scientist lived here 1870-1880
The chemist Sir Edward Frankland made a number of significant discoveries that enhanced our understanding of chemical science. He is commemorated with a blue plaque at 14 Lancaster Gate in Bayswater, where he lived between 1870 and 1880.
Edward Frankland started his chemistry career in the laboratory of Dr Lyon Playfair in Westminster, but it was in Germany that he made his first notable discovery. In 1847 at the University of Marburg he discovered a new branch of chemistry which he called ‘organometallic chemistry’, in which metals are linked to carbon. His next major breakthrough came three years later in Putney, by which time he had succeeded Playfair as professor of chemistry at the College for Civil Engineers. Here he discovered the phenomenon of valency, or an element’s combining power. Valency underlies all structural chemistry.
His influential Lecture Notes for Chemical Students (1866) further developed the principle of valency, and used a modern system of representing chemical compounds in diagrammatic form. The diagrams represented atoms by their letters and joined them with ‘bonds’ – a word he also introduced in the book.
Frankland’s greatest achievements were arguably in the field of water analysis. His notebooks record 11,000 analyses for clients around the world over three decades. His work led to the closure of multitudes of contaminated water sources at home and abroad, as well as to proper control of reservoirs, greater use of filtration, and important hygiene legislation.
14 LANCASTER GATE
Sir Edward Frankland lived at 14 Lancaster Gate for ten years between 1870 and 1880, when he was professor at the Royal Society of Chemistry. Frankland’s daughter Maggie complained when they viewed it that number 14 was ‘most frightfully damaged by the ex-tenants who must have been a dreadful vulgar lot’. However, the houses were said to be the most handsome in London in 1868 and the address reflected Frankland’s prosperity and high profile in the scientific community during the 1870s.
Guest lists for Frankland’s dinner parties included many of the best-known names in science at the time, among them the other eight members of the X-Club, an informal but exclusive group of men devoted to science ‘untrammelled by religious dogmas’. Another honoured guest was his friend and colleague Charles Darwin, who first visited in 1876 after Frankland conducted a number of experiments for him.
One experiment involved feeding a caged bullfinch and canary at home with cowslips. Frankland recorded that the bullfinch ‘attacked them ravenously and demolished 17 flowers in less than 10 minutes’ but only ate the ‘nectaries’ and ‘young ovaries’. The canary, however, ate everything indiscriminately. As the bullfinch was captured shortly after leaving the nest and hadn’t come into contact with cowslips before, Frankland concluded that the bird’s selective skill must be hereditary. Darwin’s letter of thanks finished with a postscript: ‘Your simple experiment of giving the flowers to caged birds never occurred to me. See what it is to be an experimental chemist!’.
Edward Frankland died on 9 August 1899 at Gålå in Gudbrandsdalen, Norway, his favourite holiday destination, and was buried at St Mary’s churchyard in Reigate, Surrey.