Creative tension

I’ve blogged about this subject a few times, so forgive me, but the complex relationship between John Cockcroft, the Nobel-Prize-winning physicist who created Harwell and oversaw an incredible period of reactor design (from a scientific perspective), and Christopher Hinton, driven, brilliant engineer who built England’s nuclear-weapons-related factories and early power reactors, never fails to intrigue me. Over their two-decade side-by-side leadership of Britain’s reactors (and much more), they often worked productively together but also feuded. They were such different personalities! Did this clash of types hinder the nation’s reactor efforts, or, due to competitiveness, enhance it? I’m inclined to the latter view, but of course, it’s hard to tell.

What also interests me is that the voluminous archival records rarely show any discord. Both men were consummate professionals and hid their tempers. Mostly the historian has to rely on hints from official biographer Margaret Gowing, or hints from historians who have clearly managed to interview survivors. But here is a rare glimpse of anger, from Hinton’s diary in early 1955:

To the office. I was as mad as hell because Plowden has referred my specification for the siting of the BEA Pippas [eventually the famous Calder Hall] to Cockcroft.

Hinton, Christopher. 1955. Hinton diary 1955. “A.41,” Box “Hinton of Bankside – A.32 – A.45. Institution of Mechanical Engineers, London, Feb. 1.