Papers and correspondence of Janet Vida Watson

Scope and Content

The papers are principally biographical and research material. There are records of her career and honours, obituaries and letters of condolence (sent to John Sutton on her death), her own autobiographical notes, poems and short stories from the 1940s, and photographs including some from visits to East Germany in connection with the International Geological Correlation Programme. There is a sequence of thirty-six notebooks covering Watson's research, chiefly in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, from undergraduate research in 1946 to late work in Orkney during the early 1980s. Additionally a few notebooks record some of Watson's overseas visits. There are drafts and miscellaneous material relating to work in Scotland in the 1970s and a memoir on the geology of the Outer Hebrides compiled in collaboration with the Institute of Geological Sciences. Research is also represented by annotated maps.

Administrative / Biographical History

Janet Watson was born in London on 1 September 1923, the younger daughter of the palaeontologist D.M.S. Watson . She was educated at South Hampstead High School, Reading University 1940-1943 and Imperial College London 1945-1947. In 1946, on the advice of H.H. Read she undertook a mapping project in the Highlands of Scotland, initiating her lifelong interest in Highland geology. She subsequently undertook Ph.D research with Read on the Lewisian complex in the Scourie area of north west Scotland. John Sutton, another postgraduate student of Read, was working in a similar area and their research was published in a joint paper. Watson received her PhD in 1949 and she and Sutton were married in the same year. Watson's research was supported by the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 until 1952 when she became a Research Assistant under H.H. Read at Imperial College. In 1973 she was appointed Senior Lecturer and in 1974 appointed to a personal Chair in Geology at Imperial College.

Watson's first geological research was undertaken as an undergraduate on the Moine metamorphic rocks of the Strath Kildonan area in Scotland. Her postgraduate work with John Sutton on the Lewisian granite of north west Scotland identified two successive Pre-Cambrian tectonic provinces and Watson continued to work on Lewisian rocks during her tenure of the 1851 Senior Research Fellowship. Watson then moved on to study the evolution of the Scottish Caledonides, research concentrated on the north east Scottish coast. In the later 1960s Watson returned to work on the Lewisian rocks of Scotland (with particular reference to the Outer Hebrides), and she and her research students collaborated with the Highlands Unit of the Institute of Geological Sciences (IGS) on geological mapping of the Outer Hebrides. The 1970s saw Watson move into new fields of research. She studied ore-forming processes as an aspect of Pre-Cambrian crustal evolution and from 1977 collaborated with the IGS on the regional distribution of uranium in relation to the structural evolution of northern Scotland. This work developed the technique of stream sediment sampling for investigating fundamental geochemical problems. From the mid-1970s Watson also collaborated with the IGS on the effects of diagenesis and hydrothermal activity in the post-Caledonian evolution of Scotland.

In recognition of her contributions to geology Watson received a number of awards from the Geological Society of London including its Lyell Medal in 1973 and from 1982 to 1984 she served as President of the Society, the first woman to hold this office. She was elected FRS in 1979. She died in 1985.

See D.J. Fettes & J.A. Plant, 'Janet Watson', Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 41 (1995), 499-514.


By section as follows: Biographical, Notebooks, Research and publications, Maps. Index of correspondents.

Access Information

The Archives Collection is open to bona fide researchers by appointment with the Archivist.

Other Finding Aids

Printed catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Janet Vida Watson (1923-1985), NCUACS catalogue no. 48/4/94, 30 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Separated Material

Papers and correspondence of Janet Watson's father, the palaeontologist D.M.S. Watson, are deposited in the Library of University College London.

Papers and correspondence of Janet Watson's husband and scientific collaborator, the geologist John Sutton, are deposited in Imperial College Archives (ref: GB 098 B/SUTTON).

Custodial History

Received for cataloguing in March 1993 by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists from Mrs Betty Sutton, the widow and second wife of Professor John Sutton. Janet Watson was Sutton's first wife. Deposited in the Library of the Geological Society in 1994.