Oral history of British science

Higgins, Julia (Part 1 of 9). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Materials Science; Scientific Instruments

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    The British Library

  • Interviewees

    Higgins, Julia, 1942- (speaker, female)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: Introduces self: retired Imperial College chemical engineering professor; outlines career, sitting Physics at Oxford, Chemistry department at Manchester, Grenoble research reactor, teaching; born Surbiton, grew up in New Malden Surrey; father civil servant, mother teacher; anecdote about father's hopes for her to go university. [01:30] Remarks on: paternal grandfather's background; father's civil service career in Greater London Council and Scotland Yard; maternal grandfather, Irish immigrant who worked in retail; JH born 1942, early memory of air-raid sirens and shelter, VE day flag, bomb sites; attended Catholic school; younger sister, and two brothers, and their careers. [05:15] Comments on father: George Stretton Downs, dark and good looking; intelligent, read classics at school; JH suspecting he would have made a good scientist; JH mother a nature study teacher and scientific occupations of JH siblings; father's logical nature; attending Manisa House Jesuit college school and enjoying sport, reading, 'The Times' crossword; asthmatic; [09:40] charming personality, interested in people, kind, hardworking good man, enjoyed retirement; money tight when JH growing up, spent on children's education; story about grandparents finding the money for JH to attend a reading party; father's increased salary as he got promoted. [12:00] Remarks about: money being tight in childhood; dresses home made until later in JH's life; JH enjoying doing things with hands, cooking, art and woodwork at school, evening classes in pottery and other practical art activities. [16:50] Discussion about childhood interests, JH considering it boring, reading many books, such as history books, Arthur Ransome stories and 'Ballet Shoes', happy childhood. [21:35] Remarks on mother: Irish family name Gavigun; siblings; teacher in East end of London before marriage; evacuated with school children to rural Devon; old family car; JH really enjoying history and family history; mother dying suddenly at 73; JH maternal great-grandmother Ferry stewardess, married ship's engineer; anecdote about mother teacher JH to swim; mother's contradictory attitudes toward people; father quite right wing. [25:40] Remarks on: father reading 'The Times'; JH early memories of news; anecdote about teacher's thoughts on JH family; [27:40] father joining supporters of Ursuline Convent School Wimbledon group. [28:50] Remarks on mother: went grey early; physical description; shy; good plain cook, with reference to a recent Jenny Uglow history of cookery books; taught JH cooking; importance of family; liked dancing when younger. [32:50] Description of Edwardian family home in New Malden; afternoon tea in garden; parents' left on retirement; JH love of living room. [36:15] Remarks on family life: busy; ballet classes; arguments with younger brother; anecdote about brother horrifying JH with Maggots. [39:45] Remarks on siblings: younger sister Frances, very different to JH, studied maths at Sussex, became maths teacher, married maths teacher; brother Giles, architect, helped rebuild Windsor Castle; youngest brother Nicholas;, works in computing; childhood playing arrangements; family holidays and holidays in Bognor Regis, Devon, Wales, and North Downs.

  • Description

    Interview with polymer scientist and physicist Professor Dame Julia Higgins

  • Related transcripts

    Professor Dame Julia Higgins interviewed by Dr Thomas Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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