Royal Society Publishing

Sir Kingsley Charles Dunham. 2 January 1910 – 5 April 2001 Elected FRS 1955

G.A.L. Johnson


The history of the Dunham family goes back to the researches of Kingsley Dunham's grandfather, Rev. Charles Dunham (1848–1942), a Methodist Minister and diarist who, at the age of 72, brought together facts and recollections of the Dunham family. Apparently the family migrated from East Anglia and settled in the Bedford area for 200 years, centred on the village of Shillington. By the middle of the nineteenth century the family were bootmakers and shoemakers and moved to north London. Kingsley Dunham's father, Ernest Pedder Dunham, was trained in estate management at the Duke of Bedford's office in Trafalgar Square, and in 1904 he was given a position in the Pitt-Rivers estate office at Hinton St Mary, Dorset. To here he brought his bride, Edith Agnes Humphreys, to live at Newton House, Sturminster Newton. The first child, Kingsley Charles Dunham, was born on 2 January 1910. The family's time in Dorset was short, because Ernest Dunham's post came to an end in 1913 and be obtained a new appointment at Lord Boyne's estate office at Brancepeth near Durham. Although this estate was later sold to the Duke of Westminster, Ernest Dunham stayed on as agent throughout his career. Kingsley Dunham's mother Edith was a trained schoolteacher and chapel organist, and she gave him the foundations of his education and an introduction to music. Aged seven years he joined the school on the estate, Brancepeth Village School. Here he was well prepared to sit for a County Scholarship in the spring of 1921, when he was 11 years old. Dunham won the scholarship and entrance to the Durham Johnston School, a notable secondary school in the district. The teaching at the Johnston School was extremely efficient and he flourished, developing a particular interest in physical science and mathematics. His hobby was music and he was taught the organ at Durham Cathedral by the Canon Precentor, A.D. Culley. He was also a chorister at St Brandon's Church, Brancepeth, for five years, where, despite his Methodist background, the liturgy of the Anglican prayerbook made a deep and lasting impression. He was head of school in 1927 and sat for a Durham University Open Foundation Scholarship, winning a junior award. Thus, early in October 1927, aged 171/2, Dunham went up to Hatfield College, University of Durham, a scholar and later organ scholar. He was advised to read honours in chemistry with two auxiliary subjects, for which he chose physics and geology. The chemistry course was enjoyable, but the real joy was the geology course, with lectures on physical fundamentals given by Professor Arthur Holmes (FRS 1942) and practical work and fieldwork with Dr William Hopkins. The geology course and particularly the fieldwork proved to be life changing. At the end of the first year, Dunham was encouraged to continue with geology and found himself the only honours candidate in geology in his year, with almost individual attention from Professor Holmes and Dr Hopkins.