University of Leeds Logo

Dr Granville Schofield

 April 9, 2019 | Simon Jenkins


“I found a book about chemistry in the school dustbin. Someone was throwing it away.”

It was one of those moments on which a life can turn. The book was ‘Chemistry and Physics for Botany and Biology Students’ by Spratt and Spratt. “I rescued it, took it home, and by the age of 11, I knew that I wanted to be a chemist,” says Dr Granville Schofield (BSc Chemistry 1955, MSc 1956, PhD 1959), looking back to that fateful day.

Originally from Castleford, Granville’s family moved to London during the 1930s, but returned to Leeds after their home was bombed during the blitz. His father worked in the Barnbow armaments factory in East Leeds, while Granville enrolled at Colton Primary School where this chance discovery sparked a lifetime’s passion.

Shortly after passing the exams to enrol at Roundhay School, Granville’s fascination with the subject led to the first of a series of minor explosions which have punctuated his life.

“My father had bought me some chemical equipment and chemicals from a doctor’s son who had just started at Leeds Medical School, and I set up my own laboratory in the garage. While attempting to distil carbon disulphide, a retort exploded in a flash of blue flame which enveloped the brick walls. My mother tried to damp down the fire with a wet tea towel, but was beaten by the choking fumes of sulphur dioxide.”

Fortunately, the flames soon died back and mother and son lived to tell the tale, though shortly afterwards Granville lost his eyebrows, eyelashes and some of his hair to an experiment involving potassium chlorate and red phosphorus.

While studying at Roundhay, Granville moved with his parents to Whitkirk where they ran a newsagent’s shop. Here an unused attic provided the opportunity for a permanent laboratory – though he had to carry water upstairs and re-direct gas via a hosepipe from one of the bedroom heaters.

His passion for the subject grew. A combination of high marks at A-Level, and passing national chemistry and physics scholarship exams earned Granville a grant for University entry. But by now his father had become unwell; though he would have been able to enrol at Oxford or Cambridge, Granville instead chose to remain in Leeds, combining his studies with working in the shop. “I was the family’s main breadwinner at the time. And I knew Leeds had a good chemistry department with a lot of students and staff and a thriving research team.”

October 1952 saw Granville start on the BSc Special Studies Chemistry at Leeds: “I found it a bit of a struggle at first,” he admits. “Every morning was taken up with lectures and tutorials and every afternoon was lab work. We never had a free morning or afternoon. For the first two years we also had to study physics and for the first year maths as well.

“When we got home we had to make sense of the notes we had taken, write up the practicals we had been working on – and read the text books. I didn’t have any time to get involved in clubs and societies.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, of the 30 students who enrolled on this intensive course, by the end of the third year only 25 remained to graduate.

Granville stayed at Leeds to study first for an MSc and then a PhD, partly thanks to financial support secured by supervisor Dr Eugene Rothstein and a further grant from the Monsanto Fund. He also had support from the Brown Fund, which was established through the 1878 legacy of Henry Brown to provide Scholarships in Science – and is the first recorded legacy to the University in our Remembering Leeds book.

His research into Friedel-Crafts Reactions was published in the Journal of the Chemical Society, but not before a temperamental gas valve had painfully splashed Granville’s neck with sulphuric acid.

More mishaps followed during a period teaching science at Temple Moor School, Whitkirk, the first when he was showered with concentrated nitric acid during an experiment in class.

“The other mishap occurred during the reduction of copper oxide using ammonia gas dried through a tower of quicklime. All seemed to have gone well when there was a tremendous explosion. The laboratory was covered in lime and the boys had taken shelter behind their benches. Water had been drawn back into the quicklime with disastrous consequences.”

He later worked in the research department of ICI in Billingham, Cleveland, before returning to teaching, firstly in Chelmsford and later in Whitehaven, before being appointed Head of Applied Science and Mathematics at the University of Northampton in 1971. Here he also taught courses in leather chemistry, the town being a traditional centre of the footwear industry.

By now Granville had married Doreen Binns, who he met at the Astoria Ballroom in Leeds. Again fate played its hand: “A friend and I had been working on his car and it wasn’t going well. We knew we were going to have to strip down the pistons, and we were both covered in oil and thoroughly fed up. He suggested we go out to cheer ourselves up, but I wasn’t very keen. But we scrubbed up, went out – and that’s where I met Doreen, who was a nurse at Jimmy’s at the time. I asked her to dance and the rest is history.”

Later Doreen trained as a teacher, and the couple had a daughter, Jane, who is also a teacher. In 1962, Granville was elected a Fellow of the Chemical Society, a year later an Associate of the Royal Institute of Chemistry, in 1973 a Fellow and Chartered Chemist of the Royal Institute of Chemistry and in 1980 a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

He retired in 1995, and sadly lost Doreen ten years ago. In retirement he enjoys gardening, puzzles and is an active member of the National Trust. And though he hasn’t been back to campus since he completed his doctorate in 1959, he looks back fondly on his time in Leeds: “I enjoyed my life as a student – though it was tough at times. But I was always very proud to have been at Leeds and doing my PhD was the most enjoyable three years of my life.”

But Granville remains keenly aware that the financial landscape for today’s student is very different to that of the 1950s. “If it hadn’t been for the scholarship I received, I probably wouldn’t have been able to go to Leeds.”

And it is this which inspired him to leave a gift to the University in his Will to support postgraduate students in chemistry.

“For me a career in chemistry has been one of the most enjoyable experiences in my life. I have been so fortunate and proud to have gained a Doctorate from this University and the least I can do one day is to ensure that students following in my footsteps will experience this same pleasure – and have some financial help on their way, just as I had all those years ago.”

 

Dr Granville Schofield