Hugh Tottenham was first and foremost a teacher, not so much in the current sense of the word, which implies the narrow confines of a lecture room, but in a more classical manner. He was an outstanding supervisor and I was lucky enough to be one of his research students at Southampton University. He would not have been out of place teaching in Ancient Greece, prompting his students to think for themselves as well as helping them when necessary. Renowned for his intelligence and simplicity, as well as his intellectual generosity, he was much beloved by all of us. Modern universities have departed so far from classical ideas of culture and scholarship that they are unable to accommodate teachers like Hugh, to everyone’s loss.
He was a highly valued member of the Faculty of Engineering at Southampton up to 1975 when, having reached the rank of Professor, he decided to leave academia and work as a consulting engineer full time, specialising in the applications of computational techniques to engineering. He was already well known as a pioneer in the design of shell structures, some of which used novel shapes, such as the now listed Huddersfield Market.
During his time at Southampton University a number of outstanding researchers originated under his supervision. He introduced his students to the mathematical tools that were the foundations of a new era of computational engineering; techniques that are nowadays applied all the time in a myriad of software codes.
With great foresight he taught us about boundary integral equations, a technique that he had learned from his Russian library books in the days when only a few of them were beginning to be translated. This led to the development of the now well established boundary element method.
His influence on modern computational engineering has been enormous although his written output was comparatively small. He left two important seminal books as a result of two international meetings I had the privilege to help him organise.
The first dealt with the theoretical basis of the then (1970) emerging finite elements; the second (1972) was if anything more important as it led to our better understanding of the relationships between various mathematical methods of modern computational engineering by looking at their common basis. This includes pioneering contributions to the boundary integral techniques before it developed into boundary elements.
My own departure from Southampton University a few years later gave me the opportunity of working more closely with Hugh. He was one of the main supporters at the time of the creation of the Wessex Institute of Technology, where he served as an Adjunct Professor and member of the Board of Directors until the end of his life. The success of our Institute is in great part due to Hugh’s contribution in terms of time and effort. Among his many acts of generosity, he donated his outstanding Russian Library to our Institute.
As a young lecturer at Southampton University, I was privileged to work under him, contributing to the teaching and research activities associated with the Master in Structural Engineering, one of the best in the country at that time. By chance, I also became his close neighbour, and so I caught glimpses of his family life which was so important to him. He and Margaret, whom he married in 1952, were always rightly proud of their three wonderful children, Andrew, Edward and Mary, who died tragically in 2003 – a terrible blow!
Hugh had a broad intellect and many interests. Like his father and grandfather, both clerics, he was a Rustat Scholar at Jesus College, Cambridge, after serving as a conscript in the British Army, a role for which he had doubtful aptitude, but which gave rise to numerous amusing anecdotes.
Hugh will be sorely missed, not only by his family and friends, but also by many researchers around the world.
Carlos A Brebbia
H.Tottenham and C.A.Brebbia “Finite Element Techniques in Structural Mechanics” Stress Analysis Publications, Southampton, 1970
C.A.Brebbia and H.Tottenham “Variational Methods in Engineering” (2 volumes), Southampton University Press, Southampton, 1973.