H. Martyn Cundy

Inspirational teacher behind the School Mathematics Project

The School Mathematics Project, which radically changed the course of mathematics teaching in Britain, had its origins in an Oxford conference of 1959 and another held two years later in Southampton, but its impetus came from a meeting between four men in a Winchester garden in September 1961. They were H. Martyn Cundy, Tom Jones, Douglas Quadling and Professor (later Sir) Bryan Thwaites.

Henry Martyn Cundy, educator and mathematician: born Derby 23 December 1913; Assistant Master, Sherborne School 1938-66; Deputy Director, School Mathematics Project 1967-68; Professor of Mathematics, University of Malawi 1968-75; married 1938 Kathleen Hemmings (died 1992; three sons); died Kendal 25 February 2005.

The School Mathematics Project, which radically changed the course of mathematics teaching in Britain, had its origins in an Oxford conference of 1959 and another held two years later in Southampton, but its impetus came from a meeting between four men in a Winchester garden in September 1961. They were H. Martyn Cundy, Tom Jones, Douglas Quadling and Professor (later Sir) Bryan Thwaites.

Eight schools led the way over the next 12 months in which SMP was established - Sherborne School (where Cundy was Senior Mathematics Master), Winchester College (where Jones served in the same capacity, and Thwaites had taught until 1959), Marlborough College (where Quadling was Senior Mathematics Master), Battersea Grammar School, Charterhouse, Exeter School, Holloway School and Winchester County School for Girls. Thwaites, Professor of Theoretical Mechanics at Southampton University, was the SMP's founding Director.

Martyn Cundy was both a remarkable teacher and person. This became apparent to me in 1962, when, as editor of SMP, I began to visit the eight founding schools. On one day of my visit to Sherborne, Cundy had no school commitments and we spent the day walking in south Dorset. It was one of the most invigorating and intellectually enjoyable days I have ever had. I realised that I was in the company of someone quite outstanding, with knowledge and interests extending far beyond mathematics, and who, within mathematics, possessed an enviable ability to structure and make connections between various topics and to communicate his thoughts with great fluency and clarity.

Henry Martyn Cundy was born in Derby in 1913, and named after Henry Martyn, the 19th-century divine and missionary, from whose half-brother he was descended. Henry Martyn was not only distinguished as a theologian, but also had been Senior Wrangler in Mathematics at Cambridge in 1801 and, when Chaplain to the East India Company, had translated the New Testament into Urdu and Persian. Martyn Cundy was, it transpired, to have more in common with him than merely his Christian names.

Cundy's father was an evangelical clergyman in the Church of England who believed in not staying too long in any one parish. This meant that Martyn was continually on the move as a boy, before going to Monkton Combe School in 1927 as a boarder. He obtained Higher School Certificate distinctions in Mathematics, Divinity, Latin and Greek, but it was to read Mathematics rather than Classics that he went up as a scholar to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1932. There he obtained a first class degree, began research work in quantum theory, won a Rayleigh prize in 1937, and was awarded a PhD in 1938.

Having demonstrated such academic ability Cundy might have been expected to find a post within a university, but he opted to teach and moved to Sherborne, where he remained until 1966. While at Cambridge, he had met Kittie Hemmings, another mathematics student and later teacher, and they married in 1939.

It was the publication, with A.P. Rollett, of the book Mathematical Models, that first brought Cundy's name to the attention of mathematics teachers. First published in 1951, it is, remarkably, still in print. A teacher in Northern Ireland, reviewing it for Amazon in 2000, describes it as "a masterpiece, a jewel . . . A mathematician's playground and a mathematics teacher's dream!"

Cundy's writing for schools was to become even more influential through his work for the School Mathematics Project. SMP's treatment of geometry in its first trial texts, an attempt to move away from diluted Euclid to "transformation geometry", was neither successful in the classroom nor liked. It contained many valuable ideas, but lacked coherence and clear mathematical goals (criticisms equally valid of geometry in today's National Curriculum). Cundy took the matter in hand and within a few weeks produced an outstanding treatment in which geometry and algebra teaching were united in a purposeful manner.

His writings are distinguished by their clarity and humour and the way in which what other authors treated as abstract mathematics is linked with the world and mechanisms with which students are familiar. (Articles which he published in the Mathematical Gazette drew their inspiration from such sources as the Anglepoise lamp, the bascule bridge and reel-to-reel tape recorders.) Yet he presented "genuine" mathematics and not a watered-down version that would have to be rethought by students going on to study the subject at university.

Both SMP and the Mathematical Gazette used Cundy's editorial talents. After leaving Sherborne he was appointed Deputy Director of SMP and edited both volumes of its Advanced Mathematics (1968). Over many years he was to contribute more than 50 articles and notes to the Gazette - one of which has still to appear. (A 2003 paper was voted "article of the year".) He also contributed longer research papers to the Journal of Geometry - again one will appear posthumously.

Cundy was not a great committee man - he found time spent doing mathematics far more rewarding. (How would he have coped with teaching nowadays?) He was fortunate to work at a time when schoolteachers could innovate, could experiment in their classrooms and, when happy with the outcomes, could incorporate their ideas in texts that other teachers might use and build upon. Determining a curriculum in committee, without trials and with immediate application throughout the educational system would not have appealed to him.

In 1968 Cundy was to accept a further challenge, as Professor of Mathematics at the University of Malawi. There, despite occasional brushes with Hastings Banda, he and Kittie spent seven happy years. On his retirement from Malawi he carried out two overseas evaluations of mathematics projects for the British Council, in Swaziland and Lesotho and in the Caribbean.

Yet to think of Martyn Cundy simply as an inspirational mathematics teacher is to present a far from complete picture of the man. Like Henry Martyn, he was a devoted and highly active Christian. For over 60 years he was secretary of the 1934 Cambridge Prayer Fellowship, composed of graduate contemporaries in the Christian Union. He was the author of a small book, The Faith of a Christian, written for the Inter-Varsity Fellowship in 1945. Before and after the Second World War he was active in Christian youth work and, as if to demonstrate what ecumenical might really mean, he was a Methodist local preacher while at Sherborne (yet still an active member of the local Anglican church), an elder of the Presbyterian Church in Malawi and, on his move to Kendal, an Anglican lay reader.

A keen mountain walker, he produced, with Kittie, a Guide for Walkers on Zomba Mountain, Malawi; he was an enthusiastic singer (at 90 he was still an active member of the Burneside Choral Society), musician (organist at St Thomas' Church, Kendal) and poet (winner of the Diocese of Carlisle 850th Anniversary Hymn Writing Competition). Yet he was always unassuming - one constantly learned from him, but he never set out to dominate or impress.

His interests and influence live on in his three sons, Ian, the Bishop of Peterborough, and David and Tim, both distinguished teachers of mathematics.

Geoffrey Howson



Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?