Death of University’s first Secretary & Registrar: Gordon Horner

We regret to announce the death of Gordon Horner, the first Secretary and Registrar of the University of Bath (1966-1981) who died on 6 January aged 90 after a short illness.

Gordon was appointed Registrar to the Bristol College of Science and Technology in 1960 which subsequently gained recognition to become a university as one of the Colleges of Advanced Technology in the 1963 Robbins Report on Higher Education.

As the designated Secretary of Senate and Council of the fledgling University (initially called the Bath University of Technology), he was instrumental in the preparation of the Statutes and Ordinances which have significantly stood the test of time.

Gordon Horner was born in Sheffield on 20 April 1921. He attended King Edward’s School, from where he won a scholarship to Pembroke College, Oxford to initially study Latin and Greek before moving over to Politics, Philosophy and Economics.

During his time as a Latin scholar he was obliged to write his own Latin poetry, which came to stand him in good stead on many occasions; he gave a number of speeches in Latin while at the University and at his 90th birthday party last April he amused some of the grandchildren with his Latin doggerel. 

The war, however, interrupted his studies. Unable to see active service, he was one of the bright young things co-opted to work at Bletchley Park as a code breaker.

He trained on codes for six months and then learnt Japanese for another six months in order to combine the two as a Japanese code breaker. He was delighted to receive the commemorative Bletchley Medal for his work there, albeit only a couple of years ago.

Typical of his sense of duty, when asked for specifics about his time at Bletchley he would refer to the Official Secrets Act.  His daughters remember being disappointed as children that he would not discuss his time there, saying that the Official Secrets Act was meant to be for life, and he intended to keep it that way!

Gordon’s connection with Bath and its students remains through the Gordon Horner Prize.

This was originally created from his endowment as an award to acknowledge the best overall performance by a final year student on the Modern Languages & European Studies (MLES) Degree.

Gordon suggested that the prize could be spent on "a really good book". (This wasn't a formal stipulation of the award, but someone must have passed on this thought, as it was always included in the letter from the Head of Department which accompanied the prize cheque).

His intentions in establishing this prize were clear enough - at the time the department (then called the 'School of Modern Languages') offered a two-language undergraduate degree and it was very much in celebration of language studies that he created the prize.

Professor Richard Mawditt OBE worked alongside Gordon in the early days and eventually went on to succeed him as the University’s Secretary and Registrar. He will represent the University at Gordon’s funeral.

Richard said: “A quiet gentleman with a strong will Gordon experienced, with relish, the move from the bleak orphanage college buildings of Ashley Down in Bristol to the new splendour of the campus at Claverton Downs in Bath.

“Like so many of his contemporaries from the College days, Gordon was able to take retirement content in knowing the transformation was a job well done, and a firm foundation has indeed ensured the success the University enjoys today.”

Gordon leaves his wife Marjorie, three daughters and seven grandchildren.

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Gordon’s funeral will take place on Friday 27 January at 1.30pm at West Herts Crematorium in Watford. The family have requested no flowers but invite friends or ex-colleagues to make donations to The Hospice of St Francis, Berkhamsted, HP4 3GW.

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