Lonsdale Papers

Scope and Content

Papers, c1914-1989, of Dame Kathleen Lonsdale.

Biographical material includes correspondence and papers relating to imprisonment in Holloway Prison, with Lonsdale's own accounts of her time there; diaries and personal notebooks, 1946-1969; letters of congratulation on election as Fellow of the Royal Society (1945); various photographs dating from school to her later years.

Papers relating to Lonsdale's teaching and administrative work at University College London include papers on teaching undergraduate and postgraduate courses; significant documentation relating to laboratory personnel, research funding and general university administration; papers relating to the 'Round Table on Peace Studies', which proposed the establishment of a centre for research into international conflict at the University.

Research material, 1924-1970, consists of Royal Institution papers comprising notebooks, one dating from Lonsdale's first period there (1923-1927), correspondence with colleagues such as W H Bragg and J M Robertson, and Lonsdale's notes and drafts for various research topics; correspondence and papers from her University College years covering many different areas of research, including diffuse scattering of X-rays, thermal vibrations in crystals, methonium compounds and urinary calculi (the latter topic particularly well documented and including several case studies), and including a large group of photographs, mostly of X-ray diffraction patterns.

Papers on the preparation of volumes of the 'International Tables' for crystal structure determination from Lonsdale's chairmanship of the Commission on Tables (1948) comprise drafts, notes and correspondence with colleagues and publishers.

Extensive papers relating to publications, lectures and broadcasts include drafts of articles, on subjects including peace and religious issues, also including obituaries and biographical articles on various individuals, books, book reviews, obituaries, and letters to newspapers and magazines, the latter principally on the issue of atomic weapons; general correspondence concerning publications; drafts of lectures, 1945-1970, including ethics and the role of science in society; a large series of lecture notes, 1933-1970; scripts for broadcasts, on topics ranging from crystallography to religion, 1945-1967.

Papers on foreign and domestic travel, 1943-1971, relating to conferences and lectures, on crystallography, science ethics, and work for the Society of Friends, including her visit to China (1955) and her world tour (1965).

Papers relating to organisations, notably the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) and the International Union of Crystallography (IUCr), including material relating to a number of International Congresses of Crystallography, also papers relating to participation in Pugwash Conferences on World Affairs, 1958-1970, and papers concerning prison reform and the running of Bullwood Hall Borstal, Essex.

Correspondence, 1927-1974, comprises two main sequences, one arranged alphabetically, the other chronologically; "day files", principally carbons of outgoing correspondence, 1966-1969; a sequence of references and recommendations; also including correspondence relating to Lonsdale's period of imprisonment (1943). Correspondents include scientists such as Max Born, W H Bragg, W L Bragg, E G Cox, Dorothy Hodgkin, Judith Milledge, L C Pauling and A J C Wilson.

Administrative / Biographical History

Dame Kathleen Lonsdale was one of the foremost X-ray crystallographers of the 20th century and one of the first two women to be elected (in 1945, with Marjory Stephenson) Fellow of the Royal Society. Born Kathleen Yardley in Newbridge, Southern Ireland, in 1903, she was the youngest of ten children in a family at times reduced to poverty. In 1908 the family moved to Seven Kings in Essex and Lonsdale attended the County High School for Girls in Ilford where she consistently achieved academic excellence. At the age of sixteen she won a place at Bedford College for Women and graduated in physics in 1922. Her achievement in finishing first in the University of London BSc Honours exam immediately gained her a place in W.H. Bragg's research team, first at University College London and, from 1923, at the Royal Institution.

Lonsdale, working with W.T. Astbury, began to apply space group theories, developed by Harold Hilton and others at the beginning of the century, to the study of X-ray diffraction patterns from crystals. Their important paper 'Tabulated data for the examination of the 230 space-groups by homogeneous X-rays' was submitted to the Royal Society and published in Philosophical Transactions (1924). In the following years international crystallographers recognised the need for more comprehensive tables for crystal structure determination. Lonsdale was a member of the editorial group concerned with the production of new tables and, working from home in the early 1930s following the birth of her first child, provided the structure factor formulae for each space group. The resulting International Tables, published in 1935, proved to be only the beginning of a project to which she devoted a great amount of time and effort during the rest of her career. In 1948 Lonsdale was made the first Chairman of the new Commission on Tables and was the principal editor in the production of the new volumes of International Tables, the first of which appeared in 1951.

Following her marriage in 1927 Lonsdale worked briefly at the University of Leeds where she carried out important analyses of hexamethylbenzene and hexachlorobenzene crystals. She returned to the Royal Institution in 1931 and remained there for fifteen years, concentrating on research on diamagnetic anisotropy. Her work on the magnetic anisotropy of benzil led to her studies of disorder in crystals caused by thermal motions, one of her principal research interests during the rest of her career.

In 1946 Lonsdale accepted the post of Reader in Crystallography at University College London, becoming Professor of Chemistry in 1949. She established her own research school there and introduced two new courses in crystallography, one for undergraduates and the other for graduates. Among a wide diversity of interests, she studied methonium compounds, urinary calculi and synthetic diamonds, though her work on the International Tables diverted a considerable amount of her time away from research.

Lonsdale and her husband became Quakers in 1935 and her pacifism led to her refusal to register for civil defence duties, although she was willing to work as a volunteer. On her refusal to pay a fine imposed for non-registration she was imprisoned in Holloway gaol for one month in 1943. Prison was a formative experience for her, and the insights that she gained while at Holloway prompted her to take an active interest in penal reform. She was made a member of the Board of Visitors, Aylesbury Prison for Women and Borstal Institution for Girls in 1949 and later served as Deputy Chairman of the Board of Visitors of a borstal in Essex. World peace and ethics in science were issues which also concerned her. She was Vice-President of the Atomic Scientists' Association and President of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. She attended several Pugwash Conferences on World Affairs and expressed her hopes for peace in numerous articles, including a Penguin Special 'Is Peace Possible?', and lectures.

Lonsdale's scientific career and peace interests required her to undertake a considerable amount of foreign travel. Among the scientific conferences in which she participated were Congresses of the International Union of Crystallography from 1948. On some trips she combined scientific engagements and lectures with those relating to peace and religious issues. She undertook some foreign engagements on behalf of the Society of Friends. Lonsdale was a member of Council and Vice-President of the Royal Society, 1960-1961; Vice President of the International Union of Crystallography, 1960-1966, and President in 1966; General Secretary of the British Association, 1959-1964, and President of the Physics Section in 1967; and President of the British Association in 1968, the first woman to hold the post. In the years following her election to the Royal Society, Lonsdale received many other awards in recognition of her contributions to science. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1956 and awarded the Davy Medal of the Royal Society in 1957. She received honorary degrees (DSc or LLD) from several universities including those of Wales, Leicester, Manchester, Oxford, Bath and Leeds. In 1927 she married Thomas Jackson Lonsdale. They had three children. Lonsdale died on 1 April 1971.


Arranged by section as follows: Biographical; University College London (teaching and administration); Research (Royal Institution and University College London); International Tables for Crystal Structure Determination; Publications, lectures and broadcasts; Visits and conferences; Societies and organisations; Correspondence.

Access Information

Certain restrictions apply

Some parts of the collection are closed, for reasons of confidentiality, and pending conservation.

Acquisition Information

The papers were received from Dr H J Milledge, Dame Kathleen Lonsdale's former colleague at University College London, in 1998 and 1999.

Other Finding Aids

Printed 'Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Dame Kathleen Lonsdale' (NCUACS catalogue no 106/5/02, 275pp). Index of correspondents. The hard copy handlist is currently being added to the online catalogue. Please contact Special Collections for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

Normal copyright restrictions apply.

Related Material

Correspondence of Dame Kathleen Lonsdale is also held at Imperial College Archives; King's College London, Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives; University of London (Library - Senate House); Royal Institution of Great Britain; Cambridge University, Churchill Archives Centre; Oxford University, Bodleian Library, Special Collections and Western Manuscripts; Leeds University, Brotherton Library; and in private hands. For further details see the National Register of Archives and other AIM25 entries.