Papers and correspondence of Sir Rudolph Albert Peters, 1889-1982

Scope and Content

The papers document some aspects of Peters's life quite fully while in other respects there are large gaps. There is, for example, nothing about his early life and indeed very little biographical material at all, and almost no documentation of conferences or lecture tours, although it is clear from references in the correspondence that he did travel, particularly after the Second World War. On the other hand, there is material relating to the building and funding of the new Department of Biochemistry at Oxford in the 1920s, and extensive laboratory notes and correspondence documenting his scientific research before and after the Second World War. There are also quite substantial sequences of correspondence and papers on the formation of the International Union of Biochemistry, and on Peters's service on various Subcommittees of the Medical Research Council Accessory Food Factors Committee.

Administrative / Biographical History

Peters was born in Hampshire and educated at Wellington College and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, becoming a research fellow of Caius in 1911. In 1913 he went to St Bartholomew's Hospital, London to complete his medical training and after graduating in 1915 joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. In 1917 he was recalled to start work on chemical defence under J. Barcroft at Porton Down, Wiltshire. After the First World War Peters returned to Cambridge as Fellow of Caius and Senior Demonstrator in the Department of Biochemistry. In 1923 he was appointed to the newly established Whitley Chair of Biochemistry at Oxford University, where he built up a flourishing department and began investigations into the structure and mode of action of vitamin B1, one of the results of which was the firm establishment of the concept of 'biochemical lesion' in relation to deficiency disease.

During the Second World War, Peters returned to problems of defence against chemical weapons. He directed a small research team in his Oxford Department working mainly on mustard gas and the arsenicals and his main success was the discovery of British Anti-Lewisite (BAL). After the war he continued to work on toxicological problems with particular reference to the biochemical mechanism involved in poisoning by fluoracetate. In 1954 he resigned from his Oxford Chair and moved to the Agricultural Research Council Animal Physiology Unit at Babraham near Cambridge where he remained for five years, before joining the Cambridge University Biochemistry Department as Senior Visiting Fellow in 1959. Here he continued his research on F compounds and related problems until his final retirement in July 1980.

Peters was elected FRS in 1935 (Royal Medal 1949, Croonian Lecture 1951) and was knighted in 1952.


By section as follows: Biographical and personal, Oxford University Department of Biochemistry, Vitamins and nutrition, British Anti-Lewisite, F. compounds and other later research, Lectures, drafts and publications, General correspondence. Index of correspondents.

Access Information

Entry permitted only on presentation of a valid reader's card or an Oxford University Card displaying the Bodleian logo. All applicants for new or replacement cards must apply in person, with a recommendation and payment if required, and with proof of their identity. Some medical records not available for 100 years from date of writing.

Other Finding Aids

Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Sir Rudolph Albert Peters (1889-1982) by J. Alton and J. Latham-Jackson, CSAC catalogue no. 85/3/82, 79 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Separated Material

Correspondence and papers re jaundice c 1943-1945 held in the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, Contemporary Medical Archives Centre.

Custodial History

Received for cataloguing in 1980 by the Contemporary Scientific Archive Centre from Peters and in 1982 from Lady Peters, widow. Placed in Bodleian Library (gift) in 1982.