Fred Hoyle An observer of the world and a ponderer on its problems ...

A Yorkshire Childhood

On returning from the First World War in 1919, Hoyle’s father found a son well advanced in numbers and with a great interest in things around him – the workings of a steamroller or the Five Rise locks on the canal. Encouraged by his parents at 4 he learnt to tell the time, at 8 he constructed a wireless set with his father and by 10 was making gunpowder in the kitchen.

Hoyle’s broad interests and love of the outdoors soon brought him into conflict with the education system. Between the ages of 5 and 9 he attended 3 separate schools and was absent through illness or truancy for three quarters of the time.

When punished by his teacher with a blow on the ear for proclaiming his specimen of a flower had 6 petals when the teacher said it had 5. Hoyle refused to return to school. His parents were called before the Education Authority, supporting their son who had retained his specimen. This incident serves to illustrate Hoyle’s intolerance of inequity, reflected in later life in clashes with the establishment.
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Hoyle completed his primary education at Eldwick village school, sitting the County scholarship exam for grammar school at age 10. Under the weather from the onset of mumps, he did not meet the required standard. With the results in the area being poor, the papers were remarked and he was called to Bingley Grammar School for an interview.

The headmaster, Alan Smailes, a graduate of the Mathematical Tripos at Cambridge, was clearly impressed by Hoyle’s accounts of the books on chemistry and stars he had read and a scholarship place was offered. During his time at Bingley Grammar School Hoyle learnt systematically and was an avid reader.
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In 1927 he read Eddington’s book on Stars and Atoms, which increased his resolve, originally formulated from his observations of the night sky, to find out what those things up there were.

Hoyle ‘matricked’ at the age of 15 and returned to school to study for the Higher Certificate. His aim was to gain a County Major Scholarship to support him at university, studying Chemistry at Leeds. Hoyle attained the previously accepted standard,
but because of cuts to the education budget in the depression Yorkshire raised its standards in 1932.

In September 1932 Hoyle returned to school unhappy at repeating a year. With the support of the headmaster, Alan Smailes, and the chemistry teacher, Herbert Haigh, Hoyle and his cousin, Fred Jackson, embarked on an assault at the Cambridge scholarship examination of the St John’s College group in December. Once again Hoyle just failed to attain exhibition standard in all papers – laboratory practicals and mathematics having let him down.

It required both exhibition standard in the Cambridge exams and a County scholarship in the summer exams for Yorkshire to fund a Cambridge degree course. With
Smailes’ unerring support Hoyle achieved both and set off for Emmanuel College Cambridge in October 1933.

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