Papers and correspondence of William Thomas Astbury, 1898-1961

Scope and Content

Comprises: Mainly correspondence with societies, journals, firms and individuals relating (with some gaps) to all aspects of Astbury's activities from about 1928. They include extensive correspondence, 1939-1956, with Kenneth Bailey, few of whose papers survive elsewhere. There are also some notebooks, slides and press-cuttings

Administrative / Biographical History

William Thomas Astbury was born at Longton, Stoke-on-Trent and educated at Longton High School and Jesus College, Cambridge, 1917, 1919-1921. He became a Demonstrator in Physics at University College, London, and worked there as assistant to Sir William Bragg, 1921-1923, and at the Royal Institution, London, 1923-1928. In 1922 he married Frances Gould. He was appointed Lecturer, 1928-1937, and then Reader, 1937-1945, in Textile Physics at Leeds University, where he became the first Professor of Biomolecular Structure at Leeds, 1945-1961. His work, mainly supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, was primarily on the structure of biological tissues and proteins, using X-ray diffraction analysis and electron microscopy. At one time Astbury's laboratory at Leeds was at the forefront of electron microscopy studies in Britain, and he was credited with the invention of the term 'molecular biology'. Astbury served on the editorial boards of many journals (including, from its inception, 'Biochimica et Biophysica Acta') and was a founder member of the Electron Microscopy Group of the Institute of Physics. He was a consultant to several industrial firms, such as British Celanese, Courtaulds and Imperial Chemical Industries. He was elected FRS in 1940 (Croonian Lecture 1945)


The material is arranged as follows: Biographical and personal, University of Leeds, Notebooks and slides, Lectures and publications, Scientific correspondence, Conferences, Committees and societies. Index of correspondents

Access Information

Access is unrestricted

Other Finding Aids

The contents are described in 'Printed catalogue of the papers and correspondence of William Thomas Astbury (1891-1961)' by Jeannine Alton and Harriot Weiskittel. (CSAC catalogue no. 33/10/75; Special Collections Handlist 104)

Custodial History

Deposited by the Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre, Oxford, 1975. The gift of Mr W.F. Astbury, and others. Received for cataloguing by CSAC, 1974-1975

Related Material

See the memoir of Astbury by J.D. Bernal in 'Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society', Vol.9, 1963, p.26