Tributes to Norfolk-born toymaker and one of school's first pupils

A man with a grey hair and beard smiles at the camera

Former Wymondham College student, Louis Gidney, has died aged 81 - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

A toymaker, inventor and one of the first pupils to attend Wymondham College back in the 1950s has died aged 81. 

Louis John Gidney arrived at the school when it first opened in September 1951, and he remained there for the next seven years when he graduated in the summer of 1958. 

The school was built on the site of a Second World War American station hospital and the facility’s 40 Nissen huts were used as the classrooms and dormitories. 

It was a time “much-loved” by Mr Gidney when he attended. 

The eldest of four, Mr Gidney was born to Stella and Robert on September 23, 1939, in Hindringham, based between Holt and Fakenham, north Norfolk. His siblings were Ralph, Grace, and Beryl. 

He was a bright and inquisitive child and his inventive streak began to show early. As a boy, he made a Morse code recording machine using a radio receiver and a pen, which drew dots and dashes on ticker tape cut from rolls of wallpaper. With a friend, he would intercept the Morse code signals from passing military planes and translate the messages. 

During his years at Wymondham College, he earned himself a reputation, and his younger sister, Grace, who also attended, would often hear rumours that he had “blown up the science lab again”.  

Black and white headshot photo of a young man staring at the camera while wearing a school uniform

Louis Gidney at Wymondham College during the 1950s - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

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He left with A-Level qualifications in mathematics, physics and technical drawing, and distinctions in art and engineering. 

Mr Gidney continued his education at the Royal College of Art’s School of Industrial Design in London and returned to Norfolk as a wooden toy maker and inventor. Here he married Elizabeth, a soon to become well-known local watercolour artist.  

They had three children, Sarah, Simon and Tessa, and together they ran a creative business from their farmhouse in Walsingham, near Wells. Toys and Pictures incorporated workshops and a gallery for selling toys and paintings to passing tourists. 

Black and white photo of a man holding painting while wearing a suit and tie

Louis Gidney during the 1960s - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

During the 1960s, Mr Gidney made psychedelic giant yo-yos, which were sold at London’s Carnaby Street. He also designed and made many types of wooden toys, believing the natural and tactile qualities of wood were important for a child’s development.

He invented many ingenious machines to manufacture and paint his creations. His crowning glory though was a giant copying lathe for making rocking horses. He later sold his invention as a business in the 1980s when he realised the future would be dominated by computers. At that point, he turned his talents to writing software. 

Mr Gidney went on to marry Cordelia Jones, and they spent many happy years together in Cromer during the 1990s. They eventually parted ways when Mr Gidney moved to the Scottish Highlands and settled down in Strontian.  

Hi son Simon Gidney said: “He was at his happiest during this period in the Highlands and had a long and loving friendship with his soulmate, Maria. 

“As a true polymath and renaissance man, he finally turned his attention to a new pursuit of philosophical writings and the history of science and mathematics, publishing several academic phenomenology papers in philosophy journals. 

“[He] was a complex and immensely talented man, brimming with theories and plans. Even in his final years, he would admit he still hadn’t worked out what he wanted to do when he grew up. He met the world openly, without prejudice. He was a unique man of ideas. 

“His authenticity, eccentricity, originality, exuberance, gentle wit and the twinkle in his eye will be missed by all. Strontian, up in the Highlands, will be cherished by his family and visited for years to come, in his memory.” 

A black and white photo of a man with a young boy on a horse rocket, a young girl, and a baby

Louis Gidney with his three children in 1974 - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

Mr Gidney died in Fort William, Scotland, on February 5. His funeral was held in Strontian on February 12. He leaves behind his three children, 10 grandchildren, Maria, two of his three siblings and many loving friends and acquaintances around the world.  

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