Papers of J. Steven Watson, Principal of the University of St Andrews, 1966-1986

Scope and Content

The files relate to all areas of responsibility of the Principal. They include the start of on-going records series such as Development Office files (from 1971), External Relations files and Public Relations files (from 1966). University committee papers can be found within this series including the records of the honorary degree committee, restructuring committee, planning committee and PARC. There is much material relating to the appointment of staff and personnel matters, academic departments, budgets and finance. Other subjects covered include liaison with the University of Dundee, academic exchanges, addresses by the Principal, new buildings and development of St Andrews, chapel, computers, scholarships, travel and conferences, student matters, rectors and residences. There are also committee papers from the Scottish Principals and the University Grants Committee and from external bodies on which he served such as the British Library Board, Sedbergh School and the Scottish Academic Press.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Steven Watson, M.A. Oxon., D.Litt. De Pauw, D.H.L. Penn and St Andrew's College, Laurinburg, D.H. Simpson College, Indianola, F.R.Hist.S., F.R.S.E. (1916-1986) was the last Principal of the University of St Andrews to be appointed by the Crown, as the Education (Scotland) Act of 1981 vested the power of appointment thereafter in the University Court.

He was born on Tyneside, educated at Merchant Taylors' School, winning a scholarship to St John's College, Oxford where he took a first in History in 1939. He served during the war in the Ministry of Fuel and Power, becoming private secretary to the Minister, Mannie Shinwell. After 1945 he returned to Oxford as Lecturer, Student and Tutor of Christ Church where he established an international reputation as an eighteenth-century constitutional historian. He was author of The Reign of George III, 1760-1815, in the Oxford History of England (1960).

He succeeded Sir T. Malcolm Knox as Principal of the University of St Andrews in 1966 at a critical time for the institution. The University of Dundee was to be established by Royal Charter in 1967 and the University of St Andrews was poised to rise or fall independently. Watson's vision was of an international community of scholars concerned with pure scholarship but never turning its back on the world, an institution large enough to be varied and viable and to withstand buffeting from external events.

His principalship saw the salvation of pre-clinical medicine through the Manchester agreement, the development of the Social Sciences (especially Psychology), the building of a new library, the revival of St Leonard's College and the opening of an arts centre. He also strove to build up the undergraduate population and thus the University would survive the cuts of the 1980s.

One of his great successes was the strengthening of the concept of St Andrews as an international university. The overseas student population grew and he travelled widely to advertise the virtues of the University and to seek support. He was a tireless and effective ambassador for the University abroad and contacts made bore fruit. Thus the Robert T. Jones Memorial Trust was established and exchanges with students of Emory University, Atlanta took place.

Watson had a welcoming, warm personality and was renowned for his sense of humour and improvisation. He cared deeply about students as individuals and as scholars. He was devoted to his family and relied greatly on his wife. He announced that he was to retire on 30 September 1986 but in fact died in June 1986.

(Alumnus Chronicle, June 1986, pp. 1-2; and Alumnus Chronicle, June 1987, obituary, p. 29).


The 700 files are listed on an Access database. The files were transferred to the archive in batches, many of the later ones being deposited by Vice-Principal Peter Grinyer after the death of Principal Watson. They were sorted into alphabetical order by file title and boxed up.

Access Information

By appointment with the Archivist. Access to unpublished records less than 30 years old and other records containing confidential information may be restricted.

Other Finding Aids

Database of file titles.



Related Material

There are a number of references in the general index to manuscripts held at GB 227. These include:

  • mss37454-37470 Papers of Oxford University Commission, 1964-66, of which JSW was a member (17 boxes)
  • ms36998/5 Speech of JSW on St Andrews Day, 1970, Philadelphia
  • ms38285 'Pork barrel and pulpit', the incomplete typescript of a volume of essays with a tribute by Maurice Shock, 141pp. typescript. [Incomplete version of the Wiles lectures given in Belfast which was considered to be the basis, along with other material, of a volume of JS Watson's lectures. He had himself intended the Wiles lectures on "The rise and significance of party politics in Britain and America' as a volume on its own.]