Papers of: McIlwain, Henry (1912-1992)

Scope and Content

The collection provides good documentation of many aspects of McIlwain's career and his contribution to the development of neurochemistry in the UK and internationally.

Section A, Biographical, brings together obituaries, curricula vitae and bibliographies, and material relating to the various stages of McIlwain's scientific career, especially in the 1930s and 1940s, his appointment to the Biochemistry Chair at the Institute of Psychiatry in 1954 and the symposium held in his honour on his retirement in 1980. The section also presents a significant body of material relating to McIlwain's undergraduate studies at King's College, University of Durham, including essays and notebooks.

Section B, Institute of Psychiatry, is principally papers relating to the activities of McIlwain's own Department of Biochemistry and especially its teaching programme in neurochemistry. There is also material relating to various government and University of London enquiries into medical education.

Section C, Research, includes copies of McIlwain's M.Sc. and Ph.D. theses, notes, drafts and reports for early work in the 1930s and correspondence 'from the Lab' for the 1930s and 1940s.

Section D, Publications, lectures and broadcast, is the largest in the collection. It presents significant documentation, especially correspondence, relating to his textbook Biochemistry and the central nervous system which went through five editions, 1955-1985, and important editorial correspondence for the Biochemical Journal (member of the Editorial Board, 1946-1950), Biochemical Pharmacology and Journal of Neurochemistry . There are also drafts for lectures and seminars for scientific audiences in the UK and abroad, principally from the 1960s onwards.

Section E, Societies and organisations, documents McIlwain's involvement with a number of UK and international bodies including the Biochemical Society, the International Brain Research Organisation and the International Society for Neurochemistry (ISN) of which he was a founder member and from 1984 'Historian' of the Society with responsibility for its archives.

Section F, Visits and conferences, covers the period 1947-1993 and is of particular interest for its documentation of the historical sessions which McIlwain organised at ISN meetings.

Section G, Correspondence, presents an alphabetical sequence of McIlwain's correspondence including significant exchanges with a number of distinguished mentors and contemporaries such as G.R. Clemo, F. Dickens, K.A.C. Elliott, P.G. Fildes, S.S. Kety, H.A. Krebs, Derek Richter and F.L. Rose, and a chronological sequence of shorter scientific correspondence covering the period 1938-1992.

There is also an index of correspondents.

Administrative / Biographical History

McIlwain was born on 20 December 1912 in Newcastle upon Tyne. He was educated at King's College, Durham University 1930-1936 (B.Sc. in Chemistry 1934, M.Sc., Ph.D. 1936) and spent the year 1936-1937 at Queen's College, Oxford researching the organic chemistry of natural products. During the period 1937-1945 he was Leverhulme Research Fellow in the Medical Research Council (MRC) Department of Bacterial Chemistry, and subsequently member of the scientific staff of the MRC, at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School and subsequently at Sheffield University. During the period 1945-1947 he was Lecturer in Biochemistry, Sheffield University and member of the scientific staff of the MRC and of the Council's Unit for Cell Metabolism, Department of Biochemistry, Sheffield University. In 1948 he moved to the Maudsley Hospital as Senior Biochemist in the Teaching and Research Laboratories and subsequently Senior Lecturer and then Reader in Biochemistry in the University of London at the Institute of Psychiatry. In 1954 he was appointed Professor of Biochemistry in the University of London at the Institute of Psychiatry (Professor Emeritus 1980). He was then Visiting Professor, Department of Biochemistry, St Thomas's Hospital Medical School, London, continuing research supported by the MRC, 1980-1986. After moving to Shropshire in 1986 McIlwain was based for his residual academic activities at the University of Birmingham Medical School.

McIlwain's early research career in association with P.G. Fildes at the Middlesex Hospital and H.A. Krebs in Sheffield focused on nutritional factors controlling the growth of bacteria and synthetic bacterial antimetabolites as chemotherapeutic agents for treating bacterial infection. His post-war move to the Maudsley Hospital and the Institute of Psychiatry was a marked change of direction. Here he organised a department dealing with biochemical research on the nervous system and the teaching of neurochemistry to postgraduate medical students. His research and teaching programmes, his textbooks and his active role in the establishment of the Journal of Neurochemistry (1956) and the International Society for Neurochemistry (1967) distinguish him as one of the founding fathers of the modern discipline. In retirement he devoted much time to his interests in the history of science and neurochemistry in particular. He died on 14 September 1992.


By section as follows: A. Biographical, B. Institute of Psychiatry, C. Research, D. Publications, lectures and broadcast, E. Societies and organisations, F. Visits and conferences, G. Correspondence. Index of correspondents.

Access Information

By appointment with the Archivist, and after completing a Reader's Undertaking.

Acquisition Information

These papers were placed in the Contemporary Medical Archives Centre (now Archives and Manuscripts following merger with Western Manuscripts) in 1997 by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists; the NCUACS had received them for cataloguing from Mrs Marjorie McIlwain, widow, in 1993 (CMAC accession no 702).

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued by National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, University of Bath, 1997 (Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Henry McIlwain: NCUACS catalogue no. 64/2/97, 98pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath).

Collection level description available on-line on the Wellcome Library website

Archivist's Note

Description based on that created by NCUACS, University of Bath, with amendments by Helen Wakely, Wellcome Library.

Separated Material

The journal written by McIlwain's father, John McIlwain, describing his experiences on the Western Front between August and November 1914, was deposited in June 1996 in the Department of Documents, Imperial War Museum, London.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies are supplied at the discretion of the Archivist; in the case of certain deposited collections, the permission of the owner may also be required. Please note that material may be unsuitable for photocopying on conservation grounds, and that photographs cannot be photocopied in any circumstances. Readers are restricted to 100 photocopies in twelve months.