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Plaque unveiled for Frome scientist

The new plaque for Charles William Oatley

The new plaque for Charles William Oatley

A DISTINGUISHED scientist from Frome, who made significant engineering developments including the development of radar during World War Two, has been honoured with a plaque at the place of his birth. 

Charles William Oatley was born on 14th February 1904 in a room above his father’s bakery at  5 Badcox.  Exactly 110 years later the Frome Society for Local Study and the Frome and District Civic Society were able to unveil a plaque in his honour on the building.

Charles Oatley became a distinguished scientist who made three outstanding contributions to the engineering sciences.  He was one of the team who developed radar during World War Two he revolutionised the teaching of electronics at Cambridge University and he will always be remembered for the development of the scanning electron microscope.

Charles Oatley was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1969, knighted in 1974 and, among other honours, was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Bath in 1977.

In 1930 Charles Oatley married Enid West and their two sons Michael and John, together with over 20 members of the Oatley family attended the ceremony to celebrate the installation of the new plaque to Sir Charles Oatley.  Speeches were made by David Heath MP, Dr Peter Clark (chairman of the Frome Society for Local Study) and Michael Oatley.  Michael Oatley’s speech made particular reference to his father’s happy childhood in Frome.

Frome was a smaller and quieter place then, with almost no motor traffic.  Young children could walk safely alone in the streets. Charles Oatley went on his own to school from the age of five, armed with a slate to draw and write on and a wet sponge in an empty syrup tin to wipe the slate clean. Later, he sat in the cabs of the bread vans as they delivered to the villages round about, drawn by horses stabled behind the bakery in Morgan’s Lane.

Frome had the luxury of a heated swimming pool, thanks to Queen Victoria’s jubilee. The young Charles Oatley learned to swim at an early age, and eventually water polo became quite a passion. He used to come home in the holidays from boarding school and university to play with the strong Frome side, which had an extensive fixture list and, in an Olympic year, held the Hungarian national team to the same margin of six goals by which England had lost to them in the Olympics!

The organisers said that despite the appalling weather, the plaque was safely installed and the event was followed by a short reception at the Olive Tree Inn.