Prof T P Hilditch









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A composite of four portraits of Thomas Percy Hilditch: young child to graduate.

Four views of Proffessor Hilditch


Bible inscription


In 1898, while attending Montem Street School, Thomas Percy was presented with a bible for his "Excellence in Biblical Knowledge": early evidence of academic achievement. This was a school very near to Marriott Road where he was born.


Later Thomas Percy moved on to Owen's Grammar School, Islington. This school was established in 1613 by Dame Alice Owen, widow of a brewer, as a mark of her gratitude that she had survived a near fatal accident when, as a young girl, her hat was pierced by a wayward arrow from the nearby butts. The event explains the presence of crossed arrows in the school's crest. Two other significant features, barrels and hops, recall the school's links with the Worshipful Company of Brewers who still present pupils with "beer money" annually.



It appears that the Worshipful Company of Brewers also presented geometry sets when the professor was a student. Geometry set
Geometry set



Bible inscription

On 8 June 1904, The Times announced in its University Intelligence that T P Hilditch had received an award for Mathematics and Science from University College London. He hadn't yet severed all links with Owen's School however. Either the award was for the following year or he returned to the school for Visitation Day because on 19 July 1905 he was presented with a Bible with this label inside the front cover.

Then on 5 July 1906 in the University Intelligence section of The Times came the announcement that T P Hilditch had been awarded the Tuffnell Scholarship in Chemistry and that this was worth £80 per annum for two years.

He graduated in 1907 with a first class BSc degree and commenced post-graduate studies in the Universities of London, Jena and Geneva.


In 1911 he was awarded a DSc by the University of London and also elected a Fellow of the Institute of Chemistry. By this time he had written the first of several books on chemistry. A review of A Concise History of Chemistry appearing in Science Magazine in June 1911 began “This little treatise is an attempt…” and ended with “In spite of these defects the volume may be serviceable to advanced students.”  His later books were better received.

He married Elizabeth Monica Lawrence in 1912 and moved to Cheshire where he was working as a research chemist for the Warrington-based soap manufacturer Joseph Crosfield and Sons, later part of Unilever.


Cigarette box from Crossfields

He stayed with Crosfields until 1926 which may have been when he was presented with this cigarette box as a memento. The title "Professor" certainly indicates that he was no longer employed there.




Cigarette box from Crossfields

During the First World War he was engaged in research to develop a process for producing acetic acid, which was required by aeroplane manufacturers. After the war he became chief research chemist at Crosfields and continued with his earlier research for the company on fats and oils.


In 1926 he was appointed to a professorship at the University of Liverpool: the Campbell Brown chair of industrial chemistry. He reportedly enjoyed his newfound freedom to pursue research in areas that were of interest to him and not just those that were commercially useful.

During the Second World War Professor Hilditch became an Honorary Fire Observer, compiling reports on fires in the Merseyside region to send to the Fire Research Division in London. His duties included attending all types of fires whether or not they had been initiated during an air-raid, and after the war he continued with this work, developing a particular interest in cases of spontaneous ignition occurring during storage of oil-based products.

In 1942 he was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society. The Certificate for a Candidate for Election cited his research on the chemistry of fats and on catalytic action, and his books, in particular The Chemical Constitution of Natural Fats published in 1940.

To see the citation proposing his admission to the Royal Society visit the Royal Society website. From the menu, select Library, then Collections, and carry out a Quick Search for Hilditch.

He retired from teaching at Liverpool in 1951 but continued to be active in the chemical industry, founding the Oils and Fats Group of the Society of Chemical Industry; and he also found time to publish revised editions of his books.


On 1 January 1952 his name appeared in the London Gazette in the list of those awarded a CBE: in full, an Ordinary Commander of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. His obituary in The Times in 1965 cites his work with the Colonial Products Research Council as a reason for the award.


CBE awarded in 1952




Lampitt medalIn 1962 the Society of Chemical Industry awarded Professor Hilditch the Lampitt Medal, recognising his long and varied service to the Society.





Chevreul Medal


And in 1964 he received the Chevreul Medal from the Groupement Technique des Corps Gras (the French Association of Fat and Oil Technicians). This is awarded to French or foreign leaders in the field of lipid research.



Bailey Medal


His final award came in 1965 when one of his former students, Dr F D Gunstone, accepted on his behalf the Alton E Bailey medal presented by the North Central Section of the American Oil Chemists' Society. The citation reads "In recognition of his outstanding contribution to lipid chemistry through a life long career as a teacher, researcher and author."



The same society also presented him with a mounted representation of the alchemist's symbol for olive oil which is shown below.







Olive oil symbol


He died on 9 August 1965 at his home in Birkenhead at the age of 79.


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