Norman Routledge

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Norman Arthur Routledge
Norman Routledge.jpg
Still image from a video of Routledge talking on the Eton College Headmaster Robert Birley[1]
Born(1928-03-07)7 March 1928
220 Victoria Road, Alexandra Park, London, England
Died27 April 2013(2013-04-27) (aged 85)
London, England
CitizenshipUnited Kingdom
EducationGlendale County School
Alma materKing's College, Cambridge
Known forRecursive sets
Scientific career
InstitutionsRoyal Aircraft Establishment,
National Physical Laboratory,
King's College, Cambridge,
Eton College
ThesisRecursurive Sets[2] (1954)
InfluencesAlbert Ingham, Alan Turing
InfluencedTimothy Gowers, Stephen Wolfram

Norman Arthur Routledge (7 March 1928 – 27 April 2013) was a British mathematician and schoolteacher.[3][4] He was a personal friend of fellow mathematician Alan Turing (1912–1954).

Life and career[edit]

Norman Routledge was born near Alexandra Park, north London, England.[4] He was about to begin secondary education at Glendale County School, Wood Green, in 1939, when the outbreak of World War II intervened. He was evacuated with his mother, going to live in Letchworth with an aunt, and attending Letchworth Grammar School, where he was taught mathematics by George Braithwaite.[3]

In 1946 Routledge matriculated at King's College, Cambridge with a scholarship, where he read mathematics. He was supervised by Albert Ingham and Philip Hall. He gained a first class degree in 1949 and went on to research in recursion theory. It resulted in the papers Ordinal recursion (1953) and Concerning definable sets (1954).[3]

Routledge taught as a scientific officer at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, RAE Farnborough. He went on to the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), Teddington. These were placements to fulfil the requirements for his compulsory national service. At the NPL in 1952 he was able to become an operator of an early version of the Automatic Computing Engine: the Pilot ACE project supported by Harry Huskey's prototype assembler.[4][5]

Returning to academia, Routledge became a research Fellow in mathematics at King's College, Cambridge. He did college undergraduate teaching, and after a time was a director of studies.[4][3] In 1957, he was photographed by Antony Barrington Brown. The photograph is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London.[6]

In 1959, Robert Birley, Headmaster at Eton College, asked Routledge for a recommendation of some promising student for a mathematics teaching post; and he suggested himself. He taught mathematics at the school for some years and was later a housemaster. He was considered an inspirational teacher,[4] teaching among other Etonians Timothy Gowers and Stephen Wolfram.[7][8][9] Later in his life, he taught music for the Salvation Army community in Bermondsey, southeast London.[4]

Routledge was a raconteur, including on his personal life.[10] In retirement towards the end of his own life, he was able to be more openly gay.[4]

Association with Alan Turing[edit]

Routledge was a friend of the mathematician and codebreaker Alan Turing, whom he met after World War II, when Turing was in Cambridge to study physiology.[3] Turing wrote personal letters to Routledge towards the end of his life. After his arrest and before his trial, he sent the following cryptic syllogism to Routledge in 1952:[11][12][13][14]

Turing believes that machines think
Turing lies with men
Therefore machines cannot think

The 1992 documentary programme The Strange Life and Death of Dr Turing had Routledge as one of the interviewees.[15]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Routledge, N. A. (1952). "A result in Hilbert space". The Quarterly Journal of Mathematics. 3 (1): 12–18. doi:10.1093/qmath/3.1.12.
  • Routledge, N. A. (April 1953). "Ordinal recursion". Mathematical Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society. 49 (2): 175–182. doi:10.1017/S0305004100028255.


  1. ^ Routledge, Norman. "The Eton Headmaster – 'Red' Robert Birley". Web of Stories – Life Stories of Remarkable People. YouTube. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  2. ^ "N. A. Arthur Routledge". Mathematics Genealogy Project. North Dakota State University. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Norman Arthur Routledge". MacTutor History of Mathematics archive. University of St Andrews. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Dalyell, Tam (29 May 2013). "Norman Arthur Routledge: Inspirational teacher and mathematician". The Independent. Archived from the original on 21 June 2022. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  5. ^ Turing, Dermot (2015). Prof: Alan Turing Decoded. History Press. p. 238. ISBN 978-0-7509-6524-8.
  6. ^ "Norman Routledge (1928-2013), Mathematician and teacher at Eton College". UK: National Portrait Gallery, London. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  7. ^ Wolfram, Stephen (27 August 2019). "A Book from Alan Turing… and a Mysterious Piece of Paper". Stephen Wolfram Writings. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  8. ^ Crowell, Rachel J. (23 September 2019). "Wolfram Blogging". AMS Blogs. American Mathematical Society. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  9. ^ Copeland et al., p. 44.
  10. ^ "Norman Routledge (Teacher)". Web of Stories – Life Stories of Remarkable People. YouTube. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  11. ^ "LGBT History Month in King's Library". King's Treasures – Special Collections of King's College, Cambridge. Library and Archives of King's College, Cambridge. 14 February 2019. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  12. ^ Turing, Alan (1952). "Letter to Norman Routledge". Genius. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  13. ^ Leavitt, pp. 5, 269.
  14. ^ Turing, D., pp. 246–7.
  15. ^ "The Strange Life and Death of Dr Turing (1992)". BFI.


External links[edit]