Ezer Griffiths, obe, dsc, frs

Llew from a rugby team photo at his Fleetwood school
Photo by permission of The Royal Society
‘Biogr. Mems Fell. R. Soc. 1962 8, 41-48’

Ezer Griffiths was the first pupil of the school to achieve an international reputation as a distinguished scientist.

He was born on November 27th, 1888, the son of Abraham Lincoln Griffiths, a colliery winding engineman, and his wife Ann1, née Howells. Both parents were Welsh speaking and were raised in the Cynon Valley. The family home was at 23 Ann St in the Gadlys, just behind the Park Cinema. Ezer was the third of the family’s nine children2 and was the eldest of the six sons. The children attended Ysgol y Comin (Park School) and Ezer transferred to the Intermediate School (later County, and finally Grammar) in 1901 when the school was still coeducational, and the headmaster was its first, W. Jenkyn Thomas. In 1906, in his final year, he took part in the School’s play when he was cast as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night3. We also see his name on two of the School’s Honours Boards, which can be seen elsewhere on this website. Ezer’s brother, Jenkin also attended the school, from 1909-11. Census data suggests that the family had moved by 1911, and were living in Oakland Terrace, Cilfynydd.

Ezer transferred to the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire (now Cardiff University), where he graduated with a first class degree in physics. He remained at Cardiff on an Isaac Roberts Research Scholarship working under Professor, and Principal, E.H. Griffiths from Brecon, on the thermal properties of materials. His work there included the measurement of specific heat capacities of metals at very low temperatures. This data was used in the development of the quantum theory treatment of specific heat which had been put forward by Einstein and refined at a later date by Debye. Ezer was elected a Fellow of the University of Wales, and at a later date was awarded the degree of D.Sc. by the university.

He remained at Cardiff until 1915 when he was appointed to the National Physical Laboratory, NPL, in Teddington, Middlesex. He remained there for the rest of his career until he retired in 1953 as a Principal Scientific Officer. Whilst at the laboratory, he was elected to the Royal Society in 1926, and awarded the OBE in 1950.

Although he had published material in the scientific journals whilst at Cardiff, the majority of his papers, just over 100, resulted from his work at the NPL. He had a practical approach to physics and the ability to design and assess effective experiments. His main achievements were in the practical applications of his subject to industrial problems. He identified two particularly successful investigations in this sphere of activity. In 1923, he was a member of a team sent to Australia to investigate the problems of the transportation of Australian apples to Britain. The team successfully developed methods of refrigeration and humidity control in the holds of ships so that apples arrived at their destination in excellent condition. The success of this project led in 1930 to a similar trip to New Zealand to devise suitable conditions for the refrigerated shipping of New Zealand lamb to Britain.

In such a long career, Ezer also tackled many other problems: evaporation, thermal conductivity of metals, insulation, refrigeration, instrumentation related to temperature measurement, calorimetry, heat loss from buried cables, the measurement of flame temperatures, ‘con trails’ from high flying aircraft, and the discomfort of high temperatures experienced by the crews of fighting tanks during the Second World War. Just before he retired, he was invited by the Medical Research Council and the Admiralty to study the effects of extreme temperatures on human beings. This required the design of experiments whereby human-like dummies were observed in varying conditions that were set up in heated wind tunnels.

Ezer Griffiths’ achievements resulted in many awards and honours, and his placement on various committees. In 1935 he was jointly awarded the Moulton Medal of the Institute of Chemical Engineering. He was, for a time, secretary of the Physical Society and later, one of its two Vice Presidents. He was a Recorder of Section A of the British Association and served on its Council; he sat on the committee concerned with Symbols and Units of the International Union of Physics; was President of the Institute of Refrigeration, 1936-38; and President of the Institut International du Froid, 1951-59. In his retirement he served on the General Board of the NPL, committees of the British Standards Institution and was Chairman of the Governing Body of Twickenham Technical College.

Apart from his academic papers, Ezer Griffiths was the author of three books, and contributed to Glazebrook’s Dictionary of Applied Physics, and Thorpe’s Dictionary of Applied Chemistry. His books were, Methods of Measuring Temperature, Griffin & Co. (1918), Pyrometers, Pitman (1925), and Refrigeration: principles and practice, Newnes, 1951. He also authored several reports of a scientific nature.

Ezer did not marry, but lived with his younger sister Bessie at 18 The Grove, Teddington. Ezer’s elder sister was a member of staff at Abertillery County School, where she was a cookery mistress. In her retirement she moved to London where she and her husband were able to spend more time with Ezer and Bessie. Of his brothers, two were successful academics who also authored several books.

Ezer maintained his reputation in Aberdare even though he lived far away in London. In the late 1930s he was invited to be guest speaker at the annual Prize and Certificate ceremony of the County School. Ezer also wrote a tribute to W. Jenkyn Thomas in The Aberdarian of 1960. When Ysgol y Comin celebrated its centenary, he was guest speaker at a function held at Ebeneser Chapel in Trecynon, when he paid tribute to headmaster John Griffiths. Also speaking at Ebeneser, was another past pupil of both Comin and the County School, Dr John Thomas, who was later to write The Leader obituary of Dr Griffiths.

Ezer suffered a mild heart attack whilst at a conference in Moscow in 1958 from which he recovered. Four years later however, on February 14th 1962, he died at the Memorial Hospital in Teddington. He was cremated at the South West Crematorium after a funeral service at Teddington Methodist Church.

1 There was a popular cough remedy sold in Aberdare in the first half of the twentieth century called Mrs Griffiths’ Cough Medicine. According to the mother of Tom Evans (Geography), the formulation of this magic mixture was attributed to Ezer’s mother.
2 In order of age, the children were Gwenllian, Gwladys, Ezer, Elizabeth, Edgar, Jenkin, William, Lincoln and Roosevelt.
3 The programme for this production can be seen in the Musical and Dramatic Activities section of this website.

This appreciation of the life and career of Ezer Griffiths was compiled using the following resources:
The Times, Obituary, 19 February 1962
The Aberdare Leader, 23 February, 1962
Ezer Griffiths, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows The Royal Society, 1962 8, 41-48, by C.G. Darwin
Ezer Griffiths, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography