William Gidley Emmett (1887-1985)

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William Gidley Emmett (1887-1985) worked for the Godfrey Thomson Unit for Educational Research from 1935 to 1953.

Early Life

Emmett was born in Beeston, Nottinghamshire, on 21 August 1887. He was educated at Nottingham High School and won a scholarship to study Natural Sciences at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge in 1905. After graduating, he was employed as a chemist at a gunpowder factory in Surrey, then worked at an explosives factory in Japan from 1912 to 1915. During the First World War, he served as assistant manager of a guncotton plant in Wales and subsequently manager of a cordite factory in Scotland. After the war, he joined Royal Dutch/Shell Oil Company and managed plants in Egypt, British Borneo, and Curaçao. Health concerns forceed him to return to Britain in 1925, where he became a researcher in chemistry at Birmingham University.

Academic Career

At Birmingham, Emmett embarked on an entirely different career. He met C. W. Valentine, a former Cambridge colleague, who was conducting research on the reliability and predictive power of examinations. Emmett offered to help him and in 1931 began to study the statistical methods applicable to assessing the efficacy of examinations. This brought him to the attention of Sir Godfrey Hilton Thomson (1881-1955), holder of the Bell Chair of Education at Edinburgh University and Director of the Edinburgh Provincial Training Centre (later Moray House College of Education). In 1935 Emmett joined the Godfrey Thomson Unit for Educational Research, where he took part in the construction and standardization of the Moray House Tests, which were used throughout the UK for school selection. He also carried out pioneering work in the factorial analyses which were being conducted at the same time.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Emmett temporarily left Moray House to manage explosives factories in Scotland and England. He also conducted government research which brought him into contact with the young Albert E. G. Pilliner (1909-2003) whom Emmett helped bring to the Godfrey Thomson Unit in 1949. Emmett returned to Edinburgh at the war's end to become a Lecturer and Reader in Experimental Education, resuming his researches and publishing widely. He described his time working with Thomson as 'one of the happiest and most productive times of my life'. He retired in 1953 and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1954.



  • 'Biographies', Scottish School of Educational Research [[1], accessed 7 June 2014]
  • D. A. Walker, 'William Gidley Emmett M.A.(Cantab.)', Year Book of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1986, 179-80.