Brian Hartley


Born: 15 May 1939 in Accrington, Lancashire, England
Died: 8 October 1994 in Lake District, England


Brian Hartley's early years were described by Ian Stewart, one of his doctoral students.

Brian was born in Accrington. Holiday jobs included working in a pie factory and a cotton mill, where he had to jump into tubs of raw cotton to pack them down. At 15, he became one of the youngest people to be awarded a scholarship to King's College, Cambridge. Arriving as a 17-year-old he planned to study chemistry but after attending research lectures given by the mathematician Philip Hall he switched.

Hartley's Ph.D. thesis was completed in 1964 under Hall's supervision. He spent a year in Chicago, then a year in MIT before being appointed to the University of Warwick in 1966. Except for spending 1969 at ANU, he remained at Warwick until he was appointed to a chair in Manchester in 1977.

His over 100 publications are almost all on group theory. His main topic was locally finite groups where he used his wide knowledge of finite groups in proving properties of infinite groups which were in a sense close to finite. He collaborated with many mathematicians and loved working out ideas with them on a blackboard.

His only book Rings, modules and linear algebra (written with T O Hawkes) is a widely used undergraduate text.

Roger Bryant, a colleague at Manchester, described Hartley as

a straightforward personality. Talked directly with everyone. No airs and graces: taxi-driver, research student, whatever. However, he stuck to what he believed in.

Hartley's interests outside mathematics, and there were many, are described by Ian Stewart as follows

Brian was also a musician. As a teenager he learned the trumpet. He played in St Catherine's Military Band, Accrington, and Cambridge University first Orchestra; he once performed at a mathematics conference but as he had become a little rusty, part way into the piece he and his accompanist declared they had merely been tuning up. They started again, with greater success.

Brian was an outdoor person. In his younger days he ran with Ron Hill, who later competed in several Olympic marathons. The Hartleys owned a series of tandems, but Mary [his wife] tended to fold her arms and sing as they went up hills, leaving Brian to do all the work. They both took up cross-country skiing, ice-skating, and horse-riding. The whole family enjoyed camping. Above all, Brian and Mary delighted in hill walking, which occupied most weekends.

In fact Brian died walking in the hills that he loved. There was a mountain in northern England that Brian always wanted to climb and he decided to try it before he got too old. He did make the top but collapsed on the way down.

The picture of Brian Hartley was taken in August 1993 at the Groups Galway / St Andrews Conference, held in Galway Ireland.

Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson

December 1996


MacTutor History of Mathematics
[http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Hartley.html]