16 July 2013

New Master of Sidney Sussex
continues in a long tradition

Morning sunshine on the Master’s Garden and the Master’s Lodge in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

Each morning this week, I am strolling past the Master’s Garden and the Master’s Lodge in Sidney Sussex College on my way from my rooms in Blundell Court out to the Morning Eucharist on Saint Bene’t’s before breakfast, or between my rooms and the Mong Hall, where the IOCS Summer School lectures are taking place.

Earlier this month [July 2013], a new Master took off office in Sidney Sussex College and moved into the Master’s Lodge. Professor Richard Penty, who was elected as the 27th Master of Sidney Sussex earlier this year, succeeds Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill.

Professor Penty is a distinguished electrical and electronic engineer, and before becoming Master he was a Fellow and Vice-Master of Sidney Sussex College. He read engineering and electrical sciences as an undergraduate and was a post-graduate student at Sidney. He was then was elected a Junior Research Fellow in Pembroke College, Cambridge.

He later became a Lecturer in Bath University and Bristol University, and then Professor of Photonics in Bristol, before returning to Cambridge where he has been Professor of Photonics since 2002.

His current research interests include optical data communications, MMF systems (digital and analogue), high-speed optical communications systems, optical amplifiers, and optical switching. He was elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Engineering last year.

After his election as Master, Professor Penty said: “It is a great honour to be elected as Sidney’s next Master, and I look forward to serving the Fellows, Students and Staff of the College to the best of my ability.”

Inside a house in Pompeii … Andrew Wallace-Hadrill says we are “wreaking a damage far greater than Vesuvius” (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The outgoing Master, Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, is a distinguished classical scholar with a particular interest in both Pompeii and Herculaneum – I visited both sites about ten days ago. He is standing down as Master of Sidney Sussex to give more attention to the Herculaneum Conservation Project.

So he can concentrate on this major opportunity, Professor Wallace-Hadrill is becoming Director of Research in the Faculty of Classics in the University of Cambridge from 1 October. But he is keeping his links with Sidney Sussex College, where he has become a Fellow.

Some years ago, in an interview on an Australian television programme 60 Minutes, he was caustic in expressing his views about the neglect of the archaeological site at Pompeii. He was described as an “angry archaeologist” when he argued that the conservation issues that need to be acted upon urgently at Pompeii are being neglected and that the site is suffering from a “second death.”

Commenting on the deterioration of Pompeii, he said: “Man is wreaking a damage far greater than Vesuvius. The moment of Pompeii’s destruction was also the moment of its preservation. The public needs to understand that unless constant efforts are taken to arrest the decay, the site will, within decades crumble to nothing.”

The Knox-Shaw Room in Cloister Court is named after another former Master of Sidney Sussex College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

I was also interested to learn that another master of Sidney Sussex College, Thomas Knox-Shaw (1895-1972), who was Master from 1945 to 1957, was associated with some of the mission agencies whose work is continued by Us – the new name for the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.

Knox-Shaw was a trustee of the Cambridge Mission to Delhi and an active member on the committee of the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA), which amalgamated with SPG to form USPG. He is credited with doing much to beautify the chapel in Sidney Sussex and to increase its importance in the life of the college.

The son of a Harley Street doctor and homeopath, Knox-Shaw went to school at Blundell’s School, whose founder is also remembered in the name of Blundell Court, where I am staying this year, and where I stayed in 2011.

Knox-Shaw’s name is commemorated in Cloister Court in the Knox-Shaw Room, which is one of the principal meeting rooms in the college. He also gave his name to Tomminox, one of the Sidney Sussex Boat Club’s racing shells. His gifts to the college include the picture of Oliver Cromwell which hangs in the Hall, under which I have dined for the last two evenings.

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