Fred Mudd      -   Physics teacher & Housemaster of Orwell House - 1951 to 1961

My happiest times at WHS from an intellectual viewpoint were my first two years of physics. Fred Mudd was the teacher of 1B and 2B, someone I liked very much and whose departure for the Prince Rupert School in Wilhelmshafen (from where Mr Smitherman came) I felt quite deeply.

One had studied some aspects of natural law at primary school, but WHS was a totally different ballgame. This was PROPER science. I think in general that most people take the laws of the universe for granted, so familiar are they. This is a bit like our attitude towards the air we breathe (the existence of which is truly astonishing given the cold, dark emptiness of the rest of the universe), except that the laws of nature are probably much more permanent than the air!

In fact, what is more exciting, mysterious, wonderful and magical than finding out why things are as they are: electricity, light, gravity, chemical combinations, the behaviour of gases, the nature of matter and so on. I have tried never to be blase about all this, which still fascinates me even though I gave up science after the 5th form in favour of boring old French, German and English.

Most of Fred’s lessons followed a familiar pattern:

  • a brief explanation by Fred of a theory or phenomenon
  • a demonstration by himself with apparatus
  • boys in pairs copying his experiment using real apparatus
  • a group discussion of the results
  • the writing-up of same, which I think we sometimes started in class and finished for homework

Using apparatus was such fun: bunsen burners, thermometers, test tubes, electrical devices whose names I have mostly forgotten. And Fred had a friendly and interesting manner, conveying to us his huge enthusiasm for the subject.

One day he got ten of us holding hands in a line, and connected up the boys at each end to a source of electrical power (I think it must have been the mains, but am not sure). When he turned it on I remember feeling a mild sensation, and afterwards he said something to the effect that:

“You felt almost nothing because the current was in series not parallel, and the power thus diluted 10 times. Doing this with a single boy would have killed him."

I remember thinking it was a jolly good job he knew what he was doing, otherwise the headline next day in the EADT would have been:

“Mad teacher electrocutes ten boys in lunatic experiment.”

All this was before the agony (in my case) of adolescence really kicked in; we were no longer children but not quite real teenagers; we could concentrate on the lesson without hormonal distractions. It was intellectually fascinating and challenging. I have never had such a thrill of learning since. I don't think I have ever been happier than in my second year at WHS: in Berners House, the sport, the lessons, the music, woodwork .....

This account hasn’t mentioned so far Fred’s much-appreciated work as Housemaster of Orwell House for ten years. I wasn’t in Orwell, but I do remember going to the darkroom there to copy a photo of an IHS girl and being grateful for having such a facility.

I have tried to find out something about Fred’s life after leaving WHS, but failed *SEE BELOW. I do know that he went to the Prince Rupert School in Wilhelmshafen, from where John Smitherman came to Woolverstone. He was a really great teacher, and I think of him often to this day, some 60 years later. Thank you Fred. (Chris Snuggs - Berners/Halls 58 to 65 - link to the PRS NEWSLETTER referring to him)

Incidentally, the best book I have EVER read on science is “The Ascent of Science” by Professor David Silver. This stunning book covers in manageable chapters the whole of the history of science from Egyptian times right up to modern chaos theory and quantum physics. Written for the layman it would be a wonderful present for any youngster interested in science. Sadly, David Silver died before seeing the extent of his great work’s success.

My favourite and truly inspiring story of the development of science (there are so many) is the life and work of Michael Faraday (1791–1867), whose picture was one of three that Albert Einstein had hanging on a wall, the others being Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) and James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879). Faraday was a scientific experimenter (possibly the greatest in history), not a theorist. The story goes that when he sent results of his experiments to James Clark Maxwell the latter eventually sent back a mathematical explanation and description of the findings, which prompted the somewhat mathematically-challenged Faraday to ask if the great man could not make it a bit easier to understand! I have always found this to be a beautiful story.