Bevan Braithwaite Baker

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10 May 1890
Canonbury, London, England
1 July 1963
Wednesbury, Staffordshire,England

Bevan Braithwaite Baker graduated from University College London. After service in World War I he became a lecturer at Edinburgh University. He left to become Professor at Royal Holloway College London.


Bevan Braithwaite Baker's father was George Samuel Baker (1860-1935) who was born in Murray, Northumberland, Ontario, Canada, on 6 July 1860. George was educated at the Collegiate Institute, Kingston, Ontario, Canada until 1878 when he went to London and became an apprentice in the works of Joseph Baker and Sons at 58 City Road, London. He was a bread and biscuit machinery engineer and manufacturer but, after arriving in London, had also studied Geometrical Drawing and Electricity at the Finsbury Technical College. He became manager of the works at City Road in 1885 and a partner in the firm in the following year. Bevan's mother was Martha Braithwaite (1853-1932) who was born in St Pancras, Middlesex, England on 26 March 1853. George and Martha were married in St George, Hanover Square, Middlesex, England, on 14 April 1886. Bevan Baker had two older siblings: Sarah Martha Baker (born July 1887, died 1817), who became a well-known botanist and ecologist, and George Ralph Baker (born 9 August 1888, died December 1963) who went on to be awarded a B.Sc. and a B.Sc. Engineering, becoming a draughtsman.

Bevan Braithwaite Baker was always known as Bevan Baker but only after World War II did he officially change his surname by deed poll to Bevan-Baker, see his announcement of this at THIS LINK.

Let us note the mathematical comment, that in changing his name, B3B^{3} became B4B^{4}.

Bevan was born into a Quaker family with both his parents having Quaker backgrounds. At the 1891 census, the family are living in Willesden, Middlesex and have two servants, a cook and a nurse. By 1901 they are living with Bevan Baker's paternal grandmother, and a three year old niece of his father. They had four servants, a governess, a cook and two housemaids. We also note that, as well as their main London home, the family had a country house at Mersea Island in Essex, south east of Colchester.

Baker attended Sidcot School in Somerset before entering University College, London, to study physics. After graduating with a Second Class Honours degree in physics in 1909, Baker went to Munich to undertake research but quickly decided that his love was mathematics rather than physics so he returned to University College, London to take an Honours Mathematics degree.

During World War I, as a Quaker, he would not fight but he served with the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St John. At the end of the war he served with the Friends Ambulance Unit in Italy. He was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. After ending his war service in 1919 he taught for a short time at University College, London before being appointed as a Lecturer in Mathematics at the University of Edinburgh in 1920. He had married Margaret Stuart Barbour in Edinburgh on 6 September 1918; they had five children, three girls Sarah Margaret Bevan-Baker (1919-1999), Helena Nelson Bevan-Baker (1925-2000), Davida Martha Bevan-Baker (1925-2007) and two boys Alexander Hugh Bevan-Baker (1921-1937), John Stuart Bevan-Baker (1926-1994). John Stuart Bevan-Baker became an acclaimed composer and we give a short biography at the end of this article.

Let us return to the career of Bevan Baker, the subject of this biography. Baker was a member of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society, joining in December 1920. In 1921 he cooperated with E B Ross in an important paper On the Vibrations of a Particle about a Position of Equilibrium in which they explained the long-noted phenomenon of the great difference between the orbit of Jupiter and that of Saturn. Baker served the Society as Secretary from 1921 until he left Edinburgh in 1924. He contributed papers to the meetings, for example on Friday 10 November 1922 he read The Vibrations of a Particle about a Position of Equilibrium, Part 3 to a meeting of the Society.

In fact, while on the staff at the University of Edinburgh, he published six articles in the Proceedings of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society. For information on these papers, see THIS LINK.

While on the staff of Edinburgh University, Baker submitted a 2-volume thesis "The Convergence of the Trigonometric Series of Dynamics" for the degree of D.Sc. which he was duly awarded. This 2-volume work contained complete details of work he had undertaken and published parts of in the six papers referred to above. The D.Sc. thesis was never published but a copy is available from the University of Edinburgh library.

Already a member of the London Mathematical Society, Bevan Baker joined the American Mathematical Society in April 1923. In 1924 he left Edinburgh when he was appointed Professor of Mathematics in Royal Holloway College, University of London. Stimulated by a course of post-graduate lectures on the Partial Differential Equations of Mathematical Physics which Professor E T Whittaker gave in 1923 in the Mathematical Institute of Edinburgh University, Baker planned a comprehensive treatise covering the whole of this field. Unfortunately, his years as Professor of Mathematics in Royal Holloway College, University of London were ones in which ill health and pressure of other duties prevented from carrying out his intention and, in fact, prevented him from publishing any further research papers. He taught there until 1944 when, although only 54 years old, he was forced to retire through ill health.

Bevan Baker was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 7 March 1921, his proposers being Sir Edmund T Whittaker, Cargill G Knott, Ellice M Horsburgh, Alexander H Freeland Barbour. An obituary of Bevan-Baker, written by E T Copson, appears in the Royal Society of Edinburgh Year Book 1964, pages 7-8. We give a version of this obituary at THIS LINK.

In 1939 Bevan-Baker published the book The Mathematical Theory of Huygens' Principle in collaboration with E T Copson. This was his only mathematical publication while at Royal Holloway College and the high quality of the work shows that the world of mathematics was considerably poorer for the fact that 'ill health and pressure of other duties' prevented him completing further work. The book was reviewed by Harry Bateman who wrote [2]:-
Huygens' geometrical construction, with its restriction that only one sheet of the envelope of the spherical wavelets is to be considered, is first justified in Chapter I by Poisson's analytical solution of the equation of wave-motions. A discussion is then given of the ideas of Fresnel and of the formula of Helmholtz which expresses these ideas in analytical form and gives the principle of Huygens for periodic processes. The diffraction formulae of Fresnel and Stokes are then obtained.

Kirchhoff's famous formula is first derived from the formula of Helmholtz and then proved directly. The formula is interpreted physically and the question of the uniqueness of the solution discussed. It is pointed out that to extend the theorem of Kirchhoff to the space outside a closed surface it is necessary to prescribe the asymptotic behaviour of the wave-functions under consideration. The peculiarities of wave-propagation in two dimensions are next indicated and Weber's analogue of Helmholtz's theorem is given. The analogue of Kirchhoff's formula, due to Volterra, is derived and an interesting account is given of a method, devised by Marcel Riesz and based on the theory of fractional integration, which provides a powerful method of solving initial value problems for equations like the wave equation.

The rest of the book is devoted chiefly to the problem of diffraction. Part of Chapter II includes a useful discussion of an important type of definite integral which occurs in the analysis of diffraction problems. Diffraction by a black screen is discussed in some detail. In Chapter III Huygens' principle is formulated for electromagnetic waves and Tedone's proof is given for some formulae which are associated with the names of Larmor and Tedone. Chapter IV contains a good account of Sommerfeld's theory of diffraction.
A second edition of the book, which differed from the first by the addition of a new chapter on the application of the theory of integral equations to problems of diffraction theory by a plane screen, was published in 1950. A third edition, with some minor improvements, was published in 1987 and reprinted by the American Mathematical Society in 2001, 2003, 2009, 2014. For further reviews of this classic monograph, see THIS LINK.

Finally let us give some details of John Stuart Bevan Baker, the youngest of Bevan and Margaret Baker's children. John was born in Staines, Middlesex, on 3 May 1926. He had a natural talent for art, music, English and mathematics. From Preparatory school at The Downs in Colwall, England, he proceeded in 1939 on an Art Scholarship to Blundells School in Devon. Completing his studies in 1944, his pacifist disposition (coming from his Quaker family background) took him down Newbiggin coal mine in Northumberland as a Bevin Boy between 1944 and 1946, thus fulfilling his war service. Then, in 1946, he entered the Royal College of Music to study organ and music composition where his tutors included Ralph Vaughan Williams. In 1949 he became an assistant to the organist of Westminster Abbey. He stayed in this position for two years, and then became a freelance organist playing in London. In 1958 he moved to Aberdeen followed by full-time teaching posts at Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen, at Whitehill Secondary School in Glasgow, and then at the Fortrose Academy in Fortrose on the Black Isle in the Scottish Highlands where he composed many works. Peter Maxwell Davies has described these compositions as 'beautifully crafted, transparently honest music, of great warmth and melodic fecundity.'

References (show)

  1. A C Banerji, Review: The Mathematical Theory of Huygens' Principle, by B B Baker and E T Copson, Current Science 9 (5) (1940), 237-238.
  2. H Bateman, Review: The Mathematical Theory of Huygens' Principle, by B B Baker and E T Copson, Mathematical Reviews 1 (October) (1940), 315-316.
  3. Biographical Index of Staff and Alumni (University of Edinburgh).
  4. W E Bleick, Review: The Mathematical Theory of Huygens' Principle, by B B Baker and E T Copson, Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 46 (5) (1940), 386-388.
  5. S Chapman, Review: The Mathematical Theory of Huygens' Principle, by B B Baker and E T Copson, The Mathematical Gazette 24 (259) (1940), 131-132.
  6. E T Copson, Bevan Braithwaite Bevan-Baker, M.A., B.Sc. (London), D.Sc. (Edin.), Royal Society of Edinburgh Year Book 1964,7-8.
  7. W Franz, Review: The Mathematical Theory of Huygens' Principle (2nd Edition), by B B Baker and E T Copson, Zentralblatt MATH, Zbl 0040.12702.
  8. Graduates in Arts, 1884-1925 (University of Edinburgh).
  9. Graduates, 1859-88 (University of Edinburgh).
  10. Graduates in Arts (University of Edinburgh).
  11. T H Piaggio, Review: The Mathematical Theory of Huygens' Principle, by B B Baker and E T Copson, Nature 145 (1940), 531-532.
  12. I N Sneddon, Review: The Mathematical Theory of Huygens' Principle (2nd Edition), by B B Baker and E T Copson, The Mathematical Gazette 35 (311) (1951), 67.

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Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update July 2020