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Ludlam, William (bap. 1717, d. 1788), mathematician and writer on theology, was baptized at St Mary's, Leicester, on 8 April 1717, the son of Richard Ludlam (1680–1728), physician, and his wife, Anne, daughter of William Drury of Nottingham. His father graduated MB at St John's College, Cambridge, in 1702, and practised medicine at Leicester. His uncle Sir George Ludlam (d. 1726) was chamberlain of the City of London. , the theologian, was his younger brother, and one of his sisters became the stepmother of the writer, Joseph Cradock, and another the mother of , dean of Canterbury.

After attending Leicester grammar school Ludlam became a scholar at St John's College, Cambridge, where he matriculated in 1734. There he graduated BA in 1738, MA in 1742, and was elected to a fellowship in 1744. He was rector of Peckleton, Leicestershire, 1743–9, having been ordained deacon in Lincoln in 1741 and priest in the following year. In 1749 he gained his BD and in the same year became vicar of Norton by Galby in Leicestershire, on the nomination of Bernard Whalley. From 1754 to 1757 he was junior dean of his college, and from 1767 to 1769 he was Linacre lecturer in physic. He was, however, unsuccessful in his bid for the Lucasian chair of mathematics in 1760, losing the contest to Edward Waring despite powerful support from William Samuel Powell, then principal tutor of St John's.

Ludlam enjoyed a considerable reputation at the time for his skill in practical mechanics and astronomy, as well as for his mathematical lectures. In 1765 he was a member of the committee of outside experts appointed by the board of longitude to examine John Harrison's fourth chronometer. His report, published in the Gentleman's Magazine (1st ser., 35, 1765, 412), was cautiously favourable. In 1768 he accepted from his college the rectory of Cockfield in Suffolk, thereby vacating his fellowship, and moved to Leicester where he spent the remaining twenty years of his life, at first living with his brother Thomas in Wigston's Hospital. In 1772 he married: his wife's name is not known. Two of their children survived him.

While Ludlam appears to have contributed in early life to the Monthly Review, most of his writings were produced during his Leicester years. His Rudiments of Mathematics (1785) became a standard Cambridge textbook, passed through several editions, and was still being used in 1815. His ‘Essay on Newton's second law of motion’ was, however, rejected by the Royal Society. He wrote extensively on issues relating to astronomy, mechanics, and mathematical instruments, his main publications in these fields appearing between 1761 and 1771. Later works included An Introduction to and Notes on Mr Bird's Method of Dividing Astronomical Instruments (1786) and some mathematical essays. He also contributed to the Gentleman's Magazine ‘A short account of church organs’ (1st ser. 42, 1772, 562), and various papers relating to mechanical inventions and to astronomical observations which appeared in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

In 1788 Ludlam published Two Essays on the Justification and Influence of the Holy Spirit; this followed some earlier theological essays published in 1785. Together with some others, written by himself and by his brother Thomas Ludlam, these essays were republished posthumously under the title Essays, Scriptural, Moral, and Logical (1807). The essays on the Holy Spirit which came out in 1788 brought a sharp response from the evangelical academic Isaac Milner (1750–1820), whose brother, the historian and Christian apologist Joseph Milner (1744–1797), Ludlam had forcefully criticized. Such plain speaking was typical of Ludlam's life and writings and was one of the traits for which he was best remembered. Thomas Vaughan, a Leicester contemporary, presented him as a man of independent character, sound judgement, and pungent wit.

Ludlam died at Leicester on 16 March 1788; he is commemorated in a tablet on the south wall of St Mary's, Leicester, where he was buried. His instruments and models (said to have been very valuable) were sold by auction on 6 May 1788.

Thomas Ludlam (c.1775–1810), colonial governor, was the elder of William Ludlam's two surviving children. In early life he was apprenticed to a printer, and later joined the Sierra Leone Company. After going out to Africa he became a member of the colony's council and later served as its governor. He retired his governorship when the company's rights were ceded to the British government, and was commissioned to explore the neighbouring coast of Africa. He died on the frigate Crocodile at Sierra Leone on 25 July 1810.

Charles Platts, rev. H. K. Higton


Venn, Alum. Cant. · J. Nichols, The history and antiquities of the county of Leicester, 2/2 (1798); repr. (1971), 733–4, 738; 4/2 (1811); repr. (1971), 873 · E. T. Vaughan, Some account of the Rev. Thomas Robinson (1815) · J. Cradock, Literary and miscellaneous memoirs, ed. J. B. Nichols, 4 vols. (1828) · GM, 1st ser., 58 (1788) · GM, 1st ser., 80 (1810), 386–7 [Thomas Ludlam] · Nichols, Lit. anecdotes, 2.525; 3.639–40 [Thomas Ludlam]


MHS Oxf., letters


L. Vaslet, pastel drawing, 1785, Queen's College, Oxford