Thinking again of Daddy Adair

I wrote this post a couple of years ago:

Gilbert Smithson Adair FRS, worked in a lab in the building on Downing Street in Cambridge which housed the Low Temperature Research Station, the LTRS. He was a brilliant man, a renowned physiologist and biophysicist, but I knew him as a kindly, eccentric old man, a smiley, rounded, charming old gent who I would visit in his lab when I was little, and occasionally at his home in Grantchester. We lived in a small flat, and to go into his large old house obviously impressed me, because I looked round in wonder and exclaimed “You must be a very rich merchant!”

Dr Adair was born in St Bees near Whitehaven in Cumbria in 1896, and was the son of Harold and Anna Adair. Harold had a clothiers shop, and as well as Gilbert he had a daughter Lucy; in 1901 the children were taken care of by a young nursery maid and there was a servant living in the house to help with its care. ten years later Harold and Anna were living alone with servants and he was now a managing director; there is no sign of where the children are, so I guess maybe they are away at school somewhere, possibly in Scotland.

Gilbert and Muriel had no children which was a great sorrow to them and which is why they were always so kind to me and my sister when we visited. They seemed so elderly when we met them, and yet of course they weren’t! There house was always fantastically untidy, even worse than ours now! Muriel sometimes spent all day in bed, reading and working… or so I remember! Gilbert had been a great mountain climber in his youth; while at King’s he had scaled the pinnacle on the famous chapel roof and put a potty on top! He still had all the equipment when we visited, and when I expressed an interest – I was probably only about five at the time, he got out his ropes, put a harness on me – and probably my dad who was with me, and we climbed up the ropes into his attic! I think my mum was amused and slightly alarmed when I returned home with this story.

Gilbert became a most eminent scientist; he had studied at King’s College Cambridge, and in 1925 had presented a paper, The Osmotic Pressure of Haemolglobin in the Absence of Salts… I’m afraid I stopped studying science when I was fourteen so it’s a little beyond me! later he supplied the Nobel winner Max Perutz with some haemoglobin crystals which he had ‘grown’ himself.

In trying to find out a little more about “Daddy” Adair who I remember so well I came across this fascinating letter from Linus Pauling… if you know anything at all about science and scientists then the names mentioned are a roll call of the greatest of the twentieth century:

Dr Adair was a most generous man… our family knows this as he was very kind to us when we needed it.I’ve also found out that he left £500 in his will to the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland.

You can just make him out in my featured image, he is in the middle row, fifth from the left.

If you want to know more about Max Perutz:

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