Jeffery, George Barker

(1891-1957), mathematician and educationist

by E. C. Titchmarsh, rev.

© Oxford University Press 2004 All rights reserved

Jeffery, George Barker (1891-1957), mathematician and educationist, was born in Lambeth, London on 9 May 1891, the son of George Jeffery, corresponding clerk, and his wife, Elizabeth McDonald McKenzie. He was educated at Strand School, King's College, London, and Wilson's Grammar School, Camberwell. In 1909 he entered University College, London, for a two-year course, followed by a year at the London Day Training College. He then returned to University College as a research student and assistant to L. N. G. Filon and obtained his BSc in 1912. In the same year his first research paper was communicated to the Royal Society. In 1914 Filon went away on war service and Jeffery, aged twenty-three, was left in charge of the department. In 1915 he married Elizabeth Schofield; they had one son and two daughters. Jeffery was a Quaker and in 1916 spent a short time in prison as a conscientious objector but was later allowed to do work of national importance. In 1919 he returned to the college, again as an assistant to Filon.

During this time Jeffery published a series of papers on the mathematical functions which occur in the solution of Laplace's equation and on the theory of viscous flow. He was particularly interested in the general solution of Laplace's equation given by E. T. Whittaker in 1902. He used this formula as a means of obtaining relations between spherical harmonics, cylindrical harmonics, and other such functions which occur in the solution of Laplace's equation. In fluid motion his object was to obtain exact solutions of the Navier-Stokes equation, and he discovered a number of new and interesting types of flow. His point of view was very practical: he was looking for exact solutions of definite physical problems.

In 1921 Jeffery became university reader in mathematics and in 1922 professor of mathematics at King's College, London, but in 1924 he returned to University College as Astor professor of pure mathematics. His researches at this time were mainly inspired by Einstein's theory of relativity, and he published a small book, Relativity for Physics Students (1924). He was elected FRS in 1926. In the years following the war he published a series of original papers in rapid succession. They were entirely in the field of applied mathematics in which his real scientific interest lay. (He made no further original contribution to pure mathematics.) He was becoming increasingly absorbed in the problems of college and university administration, and even in applied mathematics his original work came to an early end. In all he published twenty-one original papers, the last in 1929.

Jeffery had many activities outside the work of his own department. He was Swarthmore lecturer to the Society of Friends (1934); president of the London Mathematical Society (1935-7), of the London Society for the Study of Religion (1937-8), and of the Mathematical Association (1947); and a vice-president of the Royal Society (1938-40). He became a member of the senate of London University in 1935 and in 1939 chairman of the matriculation and school examination council of the university. In 1948 he became chairman of the South-West Middlesex Hospital management committee.

In 1939 a section of University College, London, moved to Bangor where Jeffery acted as pro-provost. When the war was over the college returned to London. Soon afterwards he resigned his chair to become director of the Institute of Education and entered upon what was in some ways the most successful period of his life. In 1945 London University accepted responsibility for the training of teachers in more than thirty colleges, many in the London area, but others scattered over the south-east of England. The shaping of the scheme for the whole area was almost entirely due to Jeffery who produced a comprehensive plan in two days of concentrated work.

Through its colonial department the Institute of Education had strong overseas interests, especially among west African students, and Jeffery became interested in the problems of west African education. In December 1949 he visited west Africa to report upon a proposal for an examination council, spending eight weeks in Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, and the Gambia. In his report (March 1950) he recommended the foundation of a west African examination council to control all the examinations in the area. In the next year Jeffery led a study group which visited west Africa for six months at the same time as another group was visiting east and central Africa. Presumably the west African section of the report African Education: a Study of Educational Policy and Practice in British Tropical Africa (1953) was largely Jeffery's work. Subsequently he paid an annual visit to west Africa to keep in touch with the work of the Examinations Council of which he was the founder. He also visited Russia with a study group and contributed to a report on the country's schools and training of teachers.

Jeffery was also much interested in craftsmanship. He was descended from a family of wheelwrights and was himself an expert cabinet-maker: several tables in the staff common room at University College were made by him. Late in life he took up silversmithing and registered his own hallmark with the Goldsmiths' Company. From 1952 he was dean of the College of Handicraft. It was while driving home from the annual conference of this college, on 27 April 1957, that he died from a sudden seizure on the Great North Road near Woolmer Green, Hertfordshire. He was survived by his wife.


CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1957)
E. C. Titchmarsh, Memoirs FRS, 4 (1958), 129-37
private information (1971)
personal knowledge (1971)

W. Stoneman, photograph, 1944, NPG
W. Stoneman, black and white photograph, RS
W. Stoneman, black and white photograph, repro. in Titchmarsh, Memoirs FRS

Wealth at death  
£5416 4s. 11d.: probate, 3 July 1957, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Oxford University Press 2004 All rights reserved


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