Herbert Charlton (Nuffer) Morris: [Heath 1947–1973]

We were sorry to hear of the death of Herbert (Nuffer) Morris in the spring of this year and are extremely grateful to Professor Alan North for having contributed the following obituary.

Herbert Morris was born in Ipswich. He attended Ispwich Grammer School and then read physics at Clare College, Cambridge from 1930–1934. He was lectured by Rutherford and J.J. Thomson and later recalled to me how 1932 was the annus mirabilis during which Chadwick discovered the neutron, Cockroft and Walton first split the atom by purely artificial means and Blackett discovered the positron. He was indeed lucky to be in the Cavendish laboratory during one of its most brilliant periods; the intellectual atmosphere had a major effect on him.

He taught at Coventry and Watford before enlisting in 1940 in the Royal Corps of Signals. He was commissioned after a year, went round the Cape to the Middle East in 1942 and finished up in north Italy as a Captain. On his return to Watford he found that the senior job had been filled and he moved to Heath in 1947.

I came under his influence as a sixth former from 1960–62. He was an avid experimentalist, brilliant at devising new demonstration experiments with everyday bits and pieces. As his (student) laboratory assistant, I was responsible for setting up some of the experiments; these included the determination of ‘little g’ to several decimal places with some lamp black and a swinging block of wood and the explosion of large hydrogen-filled bubbles of detergent produced by hydrolysing acid.

Together we unpacked, cleaned and restored some ancient apparatus for producing and studying electrostatic electricity, the Ramsden amchine. It had been given to the school by Mr John Lister of Shibden Hall but its prior history was unknown. ‘Nuffer’ Morris later admitted how much he enjoyed playing with that electrostatic equipment — lining up a whole form around the lab, telling them to hold hands firmly and then discharging the Leyden jars through all of them.

[He discovered much later that Jesse_Ramsden (1735–1800) was himself a Heath boy [Heath 1744–1747] who later distinguished himself as a maker of scientific instruments (such as the theodolite), by being elected to the Royal Society and winning its Copley Medal and by arriving one year late for an appointment with the King!1]

Intellectual rigour and particularly the precision of experimental observations were transmitted effortlessly and unknowingly by ‘Nuffer’ Morris to generations of students. The analysis of errors which always accompanied experimental measurements sometimes led to the conclusion that no conclusion could be made; initially met with disappointment in his students, such realisations had lasting impact. Though rigour and the precision were part of his personality and, although it never entered his teaching, he was an avowed humanist. One could easily see how physics would admit no beliefs not firmly supported by experimental evidence.

Yet the superficial aloofness hid a friendly, human person. He loved photography and introduced students to darkroom work — then as now more art than science. And, together with Mr Haigh, he widened the horizons of dozens of students on annual summer excursions to Switzerland and Austria. His interest in photography continued well after his retirement from Heath through his membership of the Halifax Photographic Society. He was also active in the Halifax Civic Trust2 and enjoyed golf, bowls and bridge. He never married but was an affectionate uncle to his nieces and their families.

Crossley Heath School has instituted the H.C. Morris prize, an annual award to a student excelling in the study of physics. It honours in perpetuity a teacher who held to a standard in the pursuit of knowledge and encouraged his students to do the same.

Professor R. Alan North FRS [Heath 1955–1962]

First appeared in the Newsletter dated .

1Eric Webster talks about Jesse Ramsden on the Heath: 400 years on audiotape.
2Which planted a tree, now taken down, in his memory.

This tree and plaque were erected in 2000 by Halifax Civic Trust in memory of Herbert C. Morris a long serving officer of the Trust who also taught physics at Heath Grammar School from 1947 to 1972
Memorial plaque