St Bride's: News - Memorial installed for long-forgotten physicist and inventor, Denis Papin

Updated 21/04/21: We are delighted that St Bride’s doors are now open six days a week for those wishing to worship, pray and visit (closed on Saturdays). Our two Sunday choral serices have also resumed.
Further Information & Opening Times →

St Bride's: News

Memorial installed for long-forgotten physicist and inventor, Denis Papin

Memorial installed for long-forgotten physicist and inventor, Denis Papin

This memorial, carved by stone-letterer Tom Young, was installed in January 2019 at the West End of St Bride's. It shows his steam digester, precursor of the steam engine.

One of the wonderful things about St Bride's is that we are continually uncovering new and remarkable features of our history. We have recently discovered that one of the most significant pioneering figures in the history of steam engineering was buried here on 26th August 1713.


The name Denis Papin may be new to many of you, but he was a Frenchman who was a close associate of Robert Boyle, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and a ground-breaking inventor.

Denis Papin was born in Chitenay, near Blois, France, on 22nd August 1647 to Huguenots parents, the fourth of thirteen children. After completing a medical degree he became the assistant to the leading Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens. Papin moved from Paris to London in 1675 with a letter of introduction from Huygens which he presented to Henry Oldenburg, secretary of the Royal Society. After working as a tutor, he became assistant to the English physicist Robert Boyle who later attested to Papin's invaluable work in both experimental design, measurement and report writing.

In 1679 Papin invented the pressure cooker which he demonstrated to the Royal Society including a safety valve to prevent explosions also of his own invention. His friendship with Gottfried Leibniz was an argumentative one but out of it came his design for the first cyclinder and piston steam engine which others went on to refine and became a driving force of the Industrial Revolution. He also worked on the construction of a submarine, an air gun and a grenade launcher.


Boyle and Papin inspecting Papin's steam digester (pressure cooker)

Following an unsuccessful period in the post as professor of mathematics at the University of Marburg, Papin returned to London without his wife and step-daughter. With no relatives and little money he descended into obscurity and died sometime in 1713 and was formerly thought to have been buried in an unmarked grave. Though not honoured in his lifetime, his achievements were later recognised in France including celebrations of Papin's life at Chitenay in the Loir et Cher Department of France in 2013.

blog comments powered by Disqus