Sir John’s family meet for civic reception

Members of Sir John Cockcroft's family and friends with Mayor Coun Michael Gill and Town Clerk Catherine Emberson at the Town Hall
Members of Sir John Cockcroft's family and friends with Mayor Coun Michael Gill and Town Clerk Catherine Emberson at the Town Hall

Family and friends came from far and wide last week to attend a reception and plaque unveiling marking the achievements of one of Todmorden’s Nobel prizewinners, Sir John Cockcroft.

Mayor of Todmorden, Coun Michael Gill, hosted a reception for members of the Cockcroft family, and friends, at Todmorden Town Hall, before a plaque was placed at Sir John’s birthplace.

More than 20 members of the Cockcroft family were among those at the reception, where the Mayor showed them the beautiful certificate produced on the occasion of the presentation of the honorary freedom of the Borough of Todmorden to Sir John on October 5, 1946.

The group then proceeded to Stanley Terrace, Halifax Road, where John Cockcroft was born on May 27, 1897.

At the Town Hall, his son Christopher had spoken of his father’s life and times.

John Cockcroft was educated at Todmorden Grammar School (1909-1914), where his physics teacher would later teach another future Nobel Prize winner, Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson, who received his award for Chemistry.

Sir John studied mathematics at the University of Manchester (1914-1915) and then became a signaller in the Royal Artillery in the First World War.

In 1919 he returned to Manchester, to the College of Science and Technology, to study electrical engineering.

He then went to St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he received a mathematics degree, and began research work at the Cavendish Lab under Sir Ernest Rutherford.

In 1928, with his partner Ernest Walton,he began work on the acceleration of particles.

In 1932 they bombarded lithium with high energy protons and succeeded in transmuting it into helium and other chemical elements.

This became known as splitting the atom, with the possibility of huge new sources if energy, and led to the Nobel Prize.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, he was appointed Head of Air Defence Research, working on radar.

In 1944, he became Head of the Canadian Atomic Energy programme at Chalk River. The team, which included Geoffrey Wilkinson, built an atomic pile, the first ever built outside the USA.

In 1946, he returned to Britain to set up the Atomic Energy Research establishment at Harwell, charged with developing Britain’s atomic energy programme.

Sir John was then asked to be responsible for the building of a new college, Churchill, in Cambridge, where he became the first master in 1959.

He died there on September 18, 1967, and is buried in Cambridge, besides his wife Elizabeth, and first born John, known as Timothy.

Christopher and his four sisters were all able to attend the reception, held on April 7.