PENNEY, William George, Baron Penney of East Hendred, 1909-1991. Scientist. Best known for his work in developing the atomic bomb in America and at Aldermaston (1953-1959). Born in West Norwood, he was educated at Sheerness Technical School, and gained a scholarship to Imperial College, where later he was appointed assistant professor of mathematics (and eventually Rector).
During World War Two he worked on the nature and properties of bomb blast waves, and was sent to Los Alamos in America as part of the British team working on the blast effects of an atomic bomb. Penney and Leonard Cheshire were the only two British observers to accompany the flight when the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. After the decision to develop nuclear weapons, Penney had to organise the research without the co-operation of the United States, as sharing information was banned. The first test in 1952 off the coast of Australia was a complete success. The hydrogen bomb was developed, and tested on Christmas Island in 1956-7. This led to a bilateral treaty for mutual assistance in nuclear defence with America. Penney had a leading role in these negotiations and afterwards in the discussions which led to the nuclear test ban treaty. Later he became chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority and presided over the development of the fast reactor at Dounreay, and the nuclear power programme.
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, awarded the Order of Merit, and made a Life Peer. Besides being a brilliant scientist and administrator, he was an approachable man much appreciated by staff and students, with the ability to explain complex matters in a simple and direct manner. As a young married man, he lived at Crystal Palace. For ten years from 1942 the family lived in Idmiston Road and from 1965 to 1968 they lived in Raleigh Court, Lymer Avenue. Whilst in the district, he was a keen member of the Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Golf Club, winning the Paddon Cup in 1948.