Oral history of British science
Nye, John (Part 1 of 16). An Oral History of British Science.
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Interviewees home, Bristol
Nye, John, 1923 - (speaker, male)
Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)
Part 1: John Nye [JN], born Hove, Sussex, 26th February, 1923. Mentions mother. Maternal grandfather’s career as oil painter. maternal grandmother. Mother’s childhood, late marriage; father’s service in WW1 (World War One); parents’ meeting; marriage c.1920; mother’s keenness that JN and brother should have excellent education; father’s childhood; paternal grandparents. [05:21] Paternal grandparents’ invention of Beresford photographic bag. Detailed story of father’s life and career. Father’s membership of Catholic Apostolic Church [CAC]; own church attendance as child. Father’s brother showing JN pictures of the Creation. Impression of CAC as a child; organisation of CAC. [14:58] Mother’s Anglicanism. Demonstrating father’s mix of tolerance and moral certainty. [18:07] father’s and own quarter-plate photography; paternal grandfather’s invention of ‘Beresford inverter’. [20:49] Brother Peter, born 1921. Playing tennis on/maintaining court at Hove home. [22:30] Description of family home in Hove until 1936; wireless built by uncle. Mentions drawing circuit diagram of wireless. [27:55] mother’s illness; lack of time spent with mother. Mentions a Mrs Pelling who took JN and brother out; mother’s playing of tennis. Summer holidays in Britain. Tour of England and Scotland, visiting cathedrals. Books read with mother: ‘Chatterbox’, ‘Lottie of London Bridge’, ‘Children of the New Forest’, ‘Kidnapped’, ‘Treasure Island’, nursery book about a giant. [31:27] Mentions attending kindergarten in house similar to home. Moral priorities of mother; tendency of parents not to say ‘I love you’; illustrative story of stomach ache before school. [34:07] Time spent with father; father’s moral values. Avoiding work as ‘Acolytes’ in church; father’s keenness to take sons to Sunday catechism; travelling through Brighton slums to church. Father’s view of poverty, patriotism, interest in planning for slum clearance. [37:29] parents Conservative politics; involvement in the Navy League; parents’ keenness to attend official dinners; lack of discussion of national or local politics at home. Brief description of Brighton slums viewed as a child. Father swimming on holiday, Norway. Lack of physical contact between JN and parents; father’s valuing of ‘correct’ pronunciation/grammar. [42:05] Effect of acquiring bicycle. Stories of exploring Sussex, including South Downs, with brother: playing golf; brother using speedometer on steep hill with JN as lookout. [46:43] Lessons at kindergarten, including handwriting, history, French. Stories of lessons at Holland House [HH] School, Hove from age 7. Mentions ‘sadist’ Headmaster. Father agreeing to fund HH; attendance at new school, Claremont in buildings of HH. Claremont school including teaching of geography, perspective drawing, lack of nature study; educational ‘holiday expeditions’ at HH. Academic success resulting in exceptional ‘form’ and additional tutor in calculus. Description of drawing of line of construction in Euclidian geometry. [1:00:11] finding mathematics easier/more interesting than languages; lack of science teaching at Claremont. [1:01:50] Meccano constructions, in response to question about childhood interest in science; using aunt’s gift of cameras to build an enlarger; winning box camera at school; stamp collecting; gift of electrical set and brother’s chemistry set. Description of experiments performed with chemistry set. Interest in conjuring, enhanced by father’s Boys’ Own book ‘Sports and Pastimes’ [SAPT]; experiment on expansion of metal, detailed in SAPT; failed construction of electric motor, bought from Marks and Spencer. interest in picture in Children’s Encyclopaedia of water molecules. Mention’s Arthur Mee’s ‘Wonderful Day’. Other uses of chemistry set, in attic of second house; buying of books and manuals. [1:12:06] Parents’ lack of interest in or verbal recommendation of science. Description of use of electrical set. [1:14:39] Mentions childhood wish to become a structural engineer; brother’s interest in chemistry. Not enjoying analysis in chemistry. [1:15:52] Description of chemistry demonstration at Stowe (public) School [SS]. Mentions brother’s school: Charterhouse. first and very positive second impressions of SS. Separation from brother. [1:19:48] Mentions choosing to study physics (rather than biology) with chemistry. Detailed description of teaching of physics at SS, including experiments using lenses, using calorimeter to find ‘specific heat’ of copper, demonstrations of vortices in a wind tunnel, waveforms in oscilloscope, electrical discharge in partly evacuated tube. [1:26:15] Science teaching at SS. Description of demonstration of oscilloscope at SS, c. 1938. Use of ‘ripple tank’ in own teaching on waves at University of Bristol, sending related paper to retired SS teacher W Llowarch (author of book on ‘ripple tank’), teacher’s reply. Asking question on rays of this teacher. Mentions catastrophe theory. [1:33:12] teaching of chemistry; preference for physics and mathematics. Taking photograph of chemistry master. Teaching of mathematics, including masters, teaching of vectors, textbooks, own ability, one-to-one teaching and small group teaching. [1:37:40] application to Kings College [KC], Cambridge influenced by master; achieving scholarship; final terms at SS studying shorthand, economics, mathematics. Description of one-to-one teaching in mathematics, based on Arthur Eddington’s [AE] book on relativity. Positive manipulation of symbols in calculus. preparing for Cambridge scholarship examination in mathematics and physics. School Certificate and Higher School Certificate. [1:43:30] difficulty making significant friends at SS; sense of self as ‘backward socially’; finding it easier to form friendships with more scholarly Cambridge peers. Spending time visiting art school at SS; activity in Home Guard, including dawn/dusk patrols watching for German paratroopers, carrying live ammunition, 1940, aged c.17. [1:47:55] Experience of WW2 (World War Two), including Daily Telegraph map with flags, Officer Training Corps, Local Defence Volunteers (later ‘Home Guard’), [1:50:17] scenes of bombing in London, digging of bomb shelters. Bombing of SS playing field and being asking to collect shrapnel to preserve the lawnmower blades; fire-watching from roof of KC chapel. Description of spent incendiary bombs; Daily Telegraph map; training in Home Guard. Death in WW2 of peers. own exemption from call up through interview with C P Snow. WW2 valuing of scientists, especially in relation to radar.
Life story interview with Professor John Nye, physicist.