Oral history of British science
Higton, Dennis (Part 1 of 24). An Oral History of British Science.
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Interviewee’s home, Shrewton, Salisbury
Higton, Dennis, 1921-2012 (speaker, male)
Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)
Part 1: Dennis Higton [DH], born 15 July 1921 Aldershot. Remarks on: father Jack W Higton: coach body builder, served in World War 1, eventually became production designer; mother, from Arundel, Sussex, one of seven sisters, died of pneumonia aged around 30 leaving DH, brother and sister; 1930s depression; father's remarriage and move of home, meaning DH missed the chance on a scholarship and had to attend a basic state school; DH attending technical school on Guildford until 14, when he began work at the Mid Wessex Water Company in Frimley Green as a drawing office junior. [04:55] Remarks on: DH at 15, rough diamond, no tact; Mr Sawyer at the waterworks taking DH under his wing; stepmother giving him an advert for a Royal Aircraft Establishment [RAE] Farnborough engineering apprenticeship, which he won; dedicating himself to his work because he knew he wouldn't have another chance; attending night school; skills gained in apprenticeship, both practical and academic; finishing apprenticeship at 21 in 1942 and joining RAE aerodynamics department as a Junior Scientific Assistant. [10:10] Story about being named Dennis in preference to Swithin. [pause phone] [11:10] Description of father: farming background in Wetton Derbyshire; hard background; limited schooling, but DH suspects he was bright; hard father, with demanding job; smoked heavily, died of lung cancer in 70s; DH worshipped him because of practical skills and morals; played organ in Farnham Church; hard personality; argued with DH's mother; anecdote about DH being told how unpopular his father was, when he began at the RAE; DH's brother Ken having more difficult relationship with father than DH or sister Brenda; [17:33] DH admiring his father's integrity; details of father's job building car coach bodies for pre-build chassis; observant, such as birdwatching, which he passed on to children; [20:20] a period DH and siblings were cared for by guardians before father remarried; attending mother's funeral in Arundel; father's remarriage; father's dedication to work; good relationship between father and stepmother. Remarks on: being children expected to do gardening; becoming one-track in his outlook; moving house after remarriage, meaning he went to technical school in Guildford rather than Grammer school; step-siblings and mother's attitude toward them. [25:15] Remarks on: stepmother, clerk, with accurate mindset; DH expected to do chores; Father working for E D Abbott; step-brother Derrick recently brining family photos round; father's interest in cars, smoking and money; DH staying with neighbours when parents went on holiday. [28:50] Story about DH and brother Ken staying with neighbour Mrs Coal during an air raid, which damaged their empty home and killed a horse. [30:00] Remarks on: wartime food shortages leaving him hungry; stepmother Olive Gwendolin's influence on DH's education and insistence of chores. [32:25] Comments on mother: one of family of girls; higher class to father; regular churchgoer, who enjoyed music; mother pushing him for education at East End Boys School Aldershot; encouraging DH to play piano, until they couldn't afford it; DH and Ken sent to relations in Peterborough after her death, whilst sister sent to Ross-on-Wye. [35:15] Remarks on: staying with higher class auntie at Peterborough, better conditions, helpful cousins, watching trains; personalities of siblings Ken and Brenda; being restricted to kitchen at home; DH loving drawing; gardening at school in Farnham, where the headmaster also helped his maths. [39:45] Comments on schooldays: East End Boys School Aldershot, and better conditions at East Street School Farnham; favourite subjects including maths; corporal punishment; anecdote about teacher Mr Barrett singeing his suit on a fireplace; music, especially at East End School; playing football with jackets for goal posts at Farnham Park. [45:29] Remarks on: freinds, sometimes guardian’s families, friend Dick Harden; food, mainly sandwiches; walking to school with friends; sisters friends; conditions in Farnham.
Interview with aeronautical engineer Dennis Higton.