William Charles Evans, 1 October 1911 - 24 July 1988
Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society
WILLIAM CHARLES EVANS was an outstanding scientist who was able to extend his early training in chemistry into the fields of medical biochemistry, agriculture, animal physi ology and microbial biochemistry, and throughout his life make fundamental contributions to each of these fields. He was a polymath and a man of wide culture and warm personality who treasured his Celtic roots. E arly years Charles Evans was bom in October 1911, the third son of Robert and Elizabeth Evans, in the small
... in the small hamlet of Penrhos, near the village of Bethel, three miles from Caernarvon. This was a mral community dependent mainly on poorly paid work at the Dinorwic slate quarries and on small hill farms. The slate quarries at that time employed about 3000 men and Robert Evans was a stone-mason at the quarries. He had other skills besides, which included grafting of roses on to wild root stocks and the carving of blackthorn and rosewood sticks. He was a quiet man by nature. Elizabeth Evans came from a small hill farm in Merioneth. She was a talkative and spirited person and clearly the genetic source of the effortless loquacity of her third son. Robert and Elizabeth Evans had five children. The eldest, Robert David, worked in the quarries and died of silicosis in his 50s. The second son, Harry, Central School. An enlightened headmaster of the Central School, Mr W J. Griffiths, B.Sc., devised a scheme whereby his brightest pupils could take the Oxford Senior and Higher School Certificate examinations (the examinations could only be taken under the invigilation of an Oxford graduate!). Harry made history for the school by passing both examinations and proceeded to the University College of North Wales at Bangor. Charles followed by passing his School Certificate but then transferred to Caernarvon County (Grammar) School to take his Higher Certificate. Charles spent much of his childhood on the farms roundabout and his intimate practical knowlege of fanning was acquired from these earliest days. A letter that he wrote to P.W. Ladkin in 1979 captures the background: It was in a humble but warm hearth in a village near Caernarfon where I saw the light o f day; Cymraeg was its language -I was about ten years old before I knew any English! Life was hard in these slate quarry cum fanning communities -alas, the former industry but a pale shadow o f its former glory. It is remarkable that two of the Evans boys broke out of this poor rural community and made very successful careers in Science. Harry was the first to do this; in the same letter to Peter Ladkin in 1979, Charles Evans comments on this: Now, I and my brother Harri turned towards Science. Why? There was no tradition o f this nature in our family except that my father was a craftsman (stone-mason) -and Science is an extension from craft -we must have thought that the activity of Man to understand his nature and that o f his environ ment, was very attractive -i.e. through the scientific method. I might have become a preacher, but in trying to find a career which had a chance of contributing to the human condition -we chose Science, although recognizing that other things in life were important too. My teachers at the Grammar School, Caernarfon, -who were exceptional men and women -also must have contributed to this decision. Another thing, which eventually was decisive -was an inborn curiosity about the World of Nature. So, instead of following father to the slate quarry (which incidentally he had taken me to see, when I was about 14), I quietly made up my mind to try and follow in the footsteps o f Harri -and by my own efforts, somehow, try and gain entry to the University College o f North Wales, at Bangor. With this aspiration in mind, I realized that I had to exert m yself to win a place by open competition.