Henry Roscoe Papers: Additional

Scope and Content

The collection comprises two letter-books containing drafts of Roscoe's publications and copies of letters and reports concerning Roscoe's work as a consultant for local authorities in the analysis of industrial pollution, and his copy of lectures delivered at Owens College in 1857/8. Also present are a series of offprints by Roscoe and other writers (ROS Add/4).

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir Henry Enfield Roscoe was born in London on 7 January 1833, the son of a barrister and judge. He entered University College, London in 1848, graduating in chemistry in 1852. He then went to study at Heidelberg, receiving a Ph.D. in 1854, and undertaking research work with Robert Wilhelm Bunsen on the measurement of the chemical action of light. In 1857 Roscoe was appointed to the chair of chemistry at Owens College, Manchester.

He came to Manchester when the College was at its lowest ebb, but he grasped the great need for scientific education in an industrial city. Roscoe took an active role in building up a school of chemical research at Manchester. He made the chemistry department at Owens College one of the most successful in the country and he was instrumental in reviving the College's fortunes more generally. In 1875 he constructed the first practical chemistry laboratories in any British university, based on Bunsen's laboratories in Heidelberg.

As a chemist Roscoe's most important work was on the isolation and classification of the element vanadium. His textbook, Lessons in Elementary Chemistry went through many editions, and the inorganic section of his Treatise on Chemistry was for many years the standard work. He also published on Dalton's atomic theory, in A New View of the Origin of Dalton's Atomic Theory, (jointly with Dr Arthur Hamer 1896), where he argued that the law of multiple proportions was not the genesis but the confirmation of the idea of chemical atoms.

Roscoe was keen to promote the industrial training of chemists at university. He was a member of the Royal Commission on Technical Education from 1882 to 1884, whose findings led to the Technical Instruction Act of 1889. He frequently acted as a consultant to local authorities over actions against pollution. Roscoe also worked to persuade industrialists of the importance of scientific training of personnel.

In 1885 he resigned his professorship on being elected Liberal MP for South Manchester. As an MP, Roscoe promoted legislation on the ventilation of weaving sheds, sewage disposal and the metric system. In 1896 he became Vice-Chancellor of London University at the time of its reconstitution. Roscoe was founder and first president of the Society of Chemical Industry, and also president of the Chemical Society and of the British Association in Manchester.

In 1863 Roscoe married Lucy (d 1910), daughter of Edmund Potter MP; they had one son and two daughters. He was knighted in 1884. He died at Woodcote, his summer home near Leatherhead, Surrey, on 18 December 1915.

Source: Robert H. Kargon, 'Roscoe, Sir Henry Enfield (1833-1915)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/35827.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

ROS/1-3, 5 were transferred to the University Library from the Department of Chemistry in March 1963 (acc G7436-7438).

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Related Material

The Library also has custody of two letterbooks of Roscoe's, Eng MSS 963-964, whose provenance is separate from this collection. The Library also has custody of the University's department of chemistry archive (DCH).

The following Roscoe papers are held in other institutions:

  • Cambridge University Library: 52 letters to Sir George Stokes, 1856-97 (ref.: GB 012 Add 7342, 7656).
  • Imperial College, London: 15 letters to T.H. Huxley, 1871-1892; 13 letters to H.E. Armstrong, 1871-1890 (ref.: GB 098 B/ARMSTRONG, B/HUXLEY).
  • Leeds University, Brotherton Library: 10 letters to Arthur Smithells, 1884-1906.
  • Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections and Western Manuscripts: correspondence with Lord Kimberley, 1886-1899 (ref.: GB 161 MSS Eng a 2013-14, b 2047-49, c 3933-4514, d 2439-92, e 2790-97).
  • Oxford University: Museum of Natural History: letters to Sir E.B. Poulton, 1884-1906.
  • Royal Astronomical Society: report on the solar eclipse of 1870, with 8 letters to the Royal Astronomical Society's Solar Eclipse Committee (ref.: GB 112 RAS papers).
  • Royal Society: 39 letters to Sir Arthur Schuster, 1879-1915.
  • Royal Society of Chemistry: 4 student notebooks kept in London and Germany, 1849-1855; 48 drafts of his lectures, 1855-1889; 686 items of correspondence; and letters to Roscoe (and the Chemical Society) from Sir F.A. Abel, 1882-1891.
  • Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine: correspondence with the Lister Institute (ref.: GB 120 SA/LIS).


For further biographical information, see H.R. Roscoe, The Life and Experiences of Sir Henry Enfield Roscoe, Written by Himself (1906); and T.E. Thorpe, The Right Honourable Sir Henry Roscoe: a Biographical Sketch (London, 1916). There is no modern biography of Roscoe, but the following monographs cover his work in passing: Robert Bud and Gerrylyn K. Robert, Science versus Practice: Chemistry in Victorian England (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984); and Michael Sanderson, The Universities and British Industry 1850-1970 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972).

Geographical Names