Papers and correspondence of William Thomas Astbury, 1898-1961

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 206 MSS 419 and MSS 693
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      29 boxes (MS 419) and 1 envelope (MS 693)

Scope and Content

The papers consist mainly of 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

Astbury was born at Longton, Stoke-on-Trent and educated at Longton High School and Jesus College, Cambridge 1917, 1919-1921. He then worked as assistant to W.H. Bragg at University College, London, 1921-1923, and the Royal Institution, London, 1923-1928. 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, 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).


By section 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

By appointment on application to the Head of Special Collections.

Other Finding Aids

Printed catalogue of the papers and correspondence of William Thomas Astbury (1891-1961), by J. Alton and H. Weiskittel, CSAC catalogue no. 33/10/75, 53 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Custodial History

Received for cataloguing in 1974-1975 by the Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre from Mr W.F. Astbury, son, Fru M.M. Persson, daughter, and the Astbury Department of Biophysics, Leeds University. Deposited in Brotherton Library 1975.