Richard Hartree

Richard Hartree
13th Feb 1931 – 16th March 2020

Richard Hartree had an international career in the metals industry, working for Alcan, which translated into a long interest in the history of engineering, including as a member of the Association of Industrial Archaeologists (AIA) and a member of its Council. Late in life – and originally for family reasons – this resulted in his thorough study of John Penn and Sons of Greenwich (2011), the great 19th century marine engineers for whom his great-great grandfather, William Hartree, first worked and then became a partner in the firm after marrying John Penn senior’s daughter, Charlotte. Despite contact with other Penn descendants, the research was a considerable achievement given that no Penn business papers survive. The outcome – a handsome paperback with over 900 illustrations – was a well-referenced model of self-publication, as the only way he could produce it. He deservedly recouped the costs, mainly from sales at or through the many talks on the subject that he later gave, and it is likely to remain a standard and increasingly collectable work.

Hartree was born on 13 February 1931 in Didsbury, Manchester, younger son of Professor Douglas Hartree FRS (1897–1958) and his wife Elaine (née Charlton). She came from Keswick and family holidays there gave Richard a lifelong love of the Lake District. His father – a distinguished mathematician latterly involved in the early development of computers – held the Beyer Chair of Applied Mathematics at The University of Manchester from 1929 and from 1946 to his death was Plummer Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge. On evacuation in 1940 to Canada, which began a long relationship with that country, Richard and other children became guests of staff at the University of Toronto, until his return in a vast convoy three years later.

In 1944 he went to Bedales where he enjoyed drama and began lasting proficiency as a French-horn player. Leaving as head boy he went on to Christ’s College, Cambridge, where his father was by then a fellow, to read natural sciences with physics and geology as main subjects. At university he continued to play the horn and met John Gilham, a fellow science student and lifelong friend (including later in the AIA) with whom he made a motorbike sidecar trip to Europe in 1952. It was through John’s brother – a Royal Academy of Music student who brought a string quartet up to Cambridge – that Richard met its viola player, Ann Eddy, who subsequently taught music briefly at Gresham’s School in Norfolk.

In 1954, attracted by the possibility of returning to Canada, Hartree joined Northern Aluminium (part of Alcan) as a metallurgist and management trainee. His first full job was as an engineer in a depot at Rogerstone near Newport, Monmouthshire. On the strength of that, he and Ann married in Christ’s College chapel on 1 September 1956, and their elder daughter Rachel was born at Newport in 1958. The following year saw a move to Banbury where a son (Justin) was born in 1960 and the family accompanied Hartree when he was sent to the International Business School in Geneva in 1961-62. A second daughter (Alexandra) followed after their return in 1965 and the family again went abroad when he was posted to Montreal in 1968-72, returning when he became Alcan’s Banbury works manager.

From 1959 the Hartrees had a cottage at Cropredy near Banbury and made early friends there. They included the politician Richard Crossman and his wife Anne, who owned historic Prescote Manor, and the painter Terry Frost and his family. Both of them also became players in the Banbury Symphony Orchestra and Warwickshire Symphony Orchestra and, after return from Canada, moved to a larger and historic Elizabethan house at Hornton in 1973. Three years after Richard Crossman’s death in 1974, Ann Hartree set up the Prescote Gallery at the Manor, renting the space from Anne Crossman, who ran the related buttery. Both aspects were a success and, with Ann Hartree’s drive and inspiration, the gallery became a flagship enterprise (until 1994) in the developing field of British crafts, including glass, ceramics, fabrics, silver, bookbinding, toymaking and furniture. Owing to its launch, however, and with children at school, Richard’s next postings abroad were on his own, the first back to Montreal in 1979. He and Ann also separated in 1980 on his subsequent move to be Area Technical Officer for Alcan Allatina in Rio de Janeiro, where his role was to ensure that South American company interests were making the best use of technology.

After Richard met a new partner, Maria Clara Costa Dias de Figureido, in Rio in 1983, the Hartrees divorced in 1985 and Richard remarried (thereby acquiring a stepdaughter, Sofia). He and Clara then moved to Vancouver when he became Alcan’s Vice-President Technology for the Pacific Region. This involved further travel, including to China where, in 1989, Alcan was finalising agreement to open a sheetrolling plant on the coast at Bohai. In Beijing that June, Hartree walked through the democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square and recalled a large number of troops looking ‘sheepish’ when faced by chants of ‘the People’s Army against the People’. The next morning tanks rolled in, the Alcan project was cancelled and he took early retirement when the Pacific office closed later in the year.

In 1992 his second marriage also came to an amicable end and he returned to England, settled at Sibford Ferris near Banbury, re-established contact with his children and enjoyed the company of eight grandchildren as they appeared. He rejoined the Banbury orchestra, became a business counsellor in a local support office and also made a number of treks to the Himalayas, with further visits to Kathmandu as treasurer of a small charity working there. Golfing trips took him to France and family ones back to Canada to see Clara, Sofia and the latter’s son (they too often visited him). He also joined the AIA, relishing its excursions in company with John Gilham, and served as its treasurer for four years in the 1990s. Apart from his later Penn researches, he helped Fischer Charlotte Froese with her scientific biography of his father (2003) and in 2012, was at the opening of the Hartree Centre named after him at Daresbury, Cheshire, with his brother and sister. Founded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council with a £37.5-million government grant, and others following, the Centre focuses on the development of super-computing in support of academia and British industry.

In 2014, when early signs of dementia appeared, Richard moved to a flat closer to family in Cheltenham where he continued to enjoy walks, concerts and family visits until an incapacitating stroke in June 2019 necessitated sheltered care. He died peacefully there on 16 March 2020, aged 89.

Richard Hartree was intelligent, musical, practically able, kind and very good company. He and Ann (who moved to Edinburgh in 1983 and died in 2017) were both talented individualists who, despite their divorce, rebuilt an affectionate late-life friendship, aided by mutual devotion to and from their family. All recall him as an ever-encouraging father and grandfather, and greatly missed: others who knew him will no doubt feel the same.

Pieter van der Merwe
based on family notes

Reproduced from the Old Bedalian Newsletter 2021 with thanks to Bedale School, Petersfield, Hampshire


The late Richard Hartree was a great enthusiast for the industrial heritage and travelled near and far in pursuit of his interests. He was a member of the AIA for many years, performing the role of treasurer for four of those years, and adopted a similar role for WIAS. He gave several presentations to WIAS, including one in 2010 on The Aluminium Works at Banbury 1929-2009, which accompanied the publication of a book on the subject written by Richard. He was splendid company, genial at all times, and ever-willing to share his knowledge with others. Richard made the journey from his home in Sibford Ferris, Oxfordshire to most WIAS meetings.

Martin Green
Chairman, Warwickshire Industrial Archaeology Society