Fred Hoyle (1915 – 2001) was a hugely influential, distinguished and imaginative scientist who devoted his career to understanding the entire universe and its contents. A national figure, he received a knighthood in 1972 for his many distinguished contributions to the advancement of astronomy.

He grew up in west Yorkshire in Gilstead a village near Bingley, where he attended the grammar school. In 1933 he arrived in Cambridge after winning admission to read mathematics at Emmanuel College, at which he excelled. During the Second World War he worked on radar research for the Admiralty, returning to Cambridge in 1945 as a research fellow at St John’s College.

Hoyle’s Cambridge years 1945 – 1972 encapsulate his enduring contributions to astronomy and cosmology.

In 1946 he showed that inside massive stars very high temperatures led to nuclear fusion reactions that created carbon and the heavy elements from helium. He continued to work on this concept for the next ten years, becoming a world expert on the origin and distribution of the chemical elements in the universe by exploding stars.

From early 1950, Hoyle and his students pioneered of the application of early computers to model the evolution of stars. They used EDSAC at the University of Cambridge Mathematical Laboratory in Downing Street.

In the 1950s and 1960s Hoyle excelled at engaging with the curious public, captivated by his startling ideas on the nature of the expanding universe and its origin. His ‘steady-state theory’ was his response to those who concluded that the universe had a beginning. The steady-state universe was perceived as eternal and unchanging, with new matter being created to fill the voids as the galaxies became further apart. The term ‘Big Bang’ was a striking image conjured up for the public listening to his BBC radio broadcast on 28 March 1949, which he used to refer to the alternative theory to the ‘steady-state’.

In 1967 Hoyle founded the Institute of Theoretical Astronomy, located in the grounds of the University Observatories on Madingley Road. The Institute’s summer visitor programme was an immediate success in attracting world class researchers in astrophysics and cosmology to Cambridge.

Fred Hoyle’s unique approach to science included a large number of science fiction novels, most famously The Black Cloud published in 1950, in which he imagined adventurous scenarios that did not meet the plausibility requirements of the professional literature but delighted his fans.

The Hoyle family lived at Ivy Lodge in Great Abington in 1946, remaining there for a decade until moving to Clarkson Close, Cambridge. In his autobiography Fred says that although the move to Cambridge was an improvement in convenience, “we felt the loss of the sense of security one feels as a result of living for a decade in a village.”

The blue plaque was kindly unveiled by the Astronomer Royal, Lord Rees, at a special event at the Cambridge Institute of Astronomy in March 2022, and the plaque has been installed at Ivy Lodge, 7 Linton Road in Great Abington where he once lived.

We could not have created Fred’s blue plaque without the financial support from Geoff and Jo Harvey, Ceri and Alison Lewis, Steve Holmes and Elizabeth Crowe, Great Abington Parish Council and South Cambs District Council to whom we are incredibly grateful. The plaque is also supported financially by Cambridge Past, Present & Future.