Born in Glasgow on 31 May 1882, one of four sons of John Spens and Sophia Nicol, Spens was educated at Rugby and King's College, Cambridge, graduating in natural sciences. Elected a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge in 1907, he spent the rest of his working life in Cambridge, apart from wartime service between 1915 and 1918 with the Foreign Office, for which he was awarded the CBE in 1919, was made a chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by the French and appointed an officer of the Crown of Italy.
Elected Master of Corpus in 1927 he was Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge from 1931 to 1933 and then chaired the consultative committee of the Board of Education (known in retrospect as the Spens Report) which recommended the tri-partite split of secondary schooling into grammar, technical and modern varieties.
During the Second World War he was Regional Commissioner for Civil Defence for the Eastern Region, which prompted and exacerbated rumours that the cellars of Corpus extend across (and indeed further than) the entire college campus and that the college was to be used as the centre of operations for East Anglia in the event of a German occupation.
Spens retired in 1952.
Spens died on 1 November 1962.
- 1962 Burke’s Peerage p. 1368
- “Who was Who” 1897–2007 London, A & C Black, 2007 ISBN 978-0-19-954087-7
- The Times, Wednesday, 3 October 1928; p. 21; Issue 44701; col A University News, New Term Begun At Cambridge
- Education Resources Information Center. Eric.ed.gov. Retrieved on 2012-06-04.
- “A History of English Education, from 1760” Barnard, H.C: London, University of London Press, 1961
- Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Britainexpress.com (2007-01-17). Retrieved on 2012-06-04.
- Wine Cellars. Corpus.cam.ac.uk. Retrieved on 2012-06-04.
- Peter Gosden, ‘Spens, Sir William [Will] (1882–1962)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004;
- Sir Will Spens Servant Of College And State The Times Friday, 2 November 1962; p. 15; Issue 55538; col A
Edmund Courtenay Pearce
|Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
George Paget Thomson
Allen Beville Ramsay
|Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
John Forbes Cameron