Papers and correspondence of David Chilton Phillips, Baron Phillips of Ellesmere, 1924-1999

Scope and Content

The papers provide comprehensive documentation of most aspects of Phillips's career. The principal topics of his research are covered in full, including early work on acridine at Ottawa in 1951, myoglobin and lysozyme at the Royal Institution, and later work at Oxford on protein folding and mobility, triose phosphate isomerase, -lactalbumin, -lactamase etc. The records are in the form of laboratory notebooks, notes, drafts, data and correspondence with scientific colleagues. An important feature of the collection is the extensive material relating to Phillips's Directorship of the Laboratory of Molecular Biophysics at Oxford: the establishment, organisation, administration, equipment, staffing, funding and research strategies of a major research laboratory. There are records of university teaching by members of the laboratory and notes of Phillips's own lectures on molecular biophysics and related topics at Oxford beginning in 1964 while he was still at the Royal Institution and negotiations for the move to Oxford were under way. There are also substantial records of the very considerable part Phillips played generally in Oxford science administration.

Phillips's wide range of professional affiliations and activities at national and international level are extensively documented. There are records of his involvement with learned societies, organisations, advisory boards and consultancies such as (in the UK) the British Association for the Advancement of Science, British Crystallographic Association (Founder President), Celltech, CIBA Foundation, Institute of Physics and the Royal Society; and (internationally) the Biozentrum Basel, the European Molecular Biology Organisation, the Harvard-Monsanto Research Agreement, the International Union of Pure and Applied Biophysics, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft Institut fr Biochimie and the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel. There is a particularly full record of visits and conferences and invitation and public lectures covering the period 1957-1993 and extending over a wide range of topics, objectives and venues. The topics include Phillips's research, the research of his laboratory, science education and, increasingly in the later years, science policy and research funding. Phillips's own publications are documented, including a very considerable assemblage of material for his Royal Society memoir of W.L. Bragg; his service on many editorial boards and his advice to publishing houses are also documented. There are records of Phillips's career as a government adviser, from his appointment as part-time Chairman of the ABRC in January 1983 through his appointment as full-time Chairman from April 1990 to the period following the General Election of May 1992. Phillips's scientific correspondence is extensive. It is primarily concerned with protein research and includes useful exchanges with colleagues on myoglobin and lysozyme; there is also further material relating to W.L. Bragg.

Administrative / Biographical History

Phillips was born on 7 March 1924 in Ellesmere, Shropshire and educated at the High School for Boys, Oswestry and University College Cardiff where he studied physics, mathematics and radio communications taking a wartime degree in 1944. He then served in the Royal Navy as a Radar Officer returning on demobilisation in 1947 to Cardiff where he was awarded first-class honours in physics in 1948 and began research in X-ray crystallography under A.J.C. Wilson. After taking his Ph.D in 1951, he joined the National Research Laboratories, Ottawa, Canada working in the Crystallography Laboratory led by W.H. Barnes.

In 1955, on the suggestion of Dorothy Hodgkin, he was invited by W.L. Bragg to join the Research Staff of the Royal Institution, London where Bragg was building up a team to work on protein crystals. At the Royal Institution Phillips collaborated with J.C. Kendrew (in Cambridge) in his studies of myoglobin while at the same time collaborating with U.W. Arndt on the development of X-ray diffractometers. In 1960 Phillips turned his attention to the enzyme lysozyme and - with Bragg's encouragement - focused the greater part of the Royal Institution's research efforts on the determination of its structure. The structure of lysozyme was solved by early 1965 and the proposal of its mechanism about a year later. During this period arrangements were also being made for Bragg's retirement and, as the result of proposals by Dorothy Hodgkin, J.W.S. Pringle and H.A. Krebs, Phillips was offered a Professorship of Molecular Biophysics at Oxford University. With the support of the Medical Research Council, he was able to take with him the greater part of his research group and set up a new Laboratory of Molecular Biophysics. Studies of lysozyme continued, but a major part of the laboratory's efforts were aimed at a detailed understanding of the enzymes in the glycolytic pathway; Phillips's own contribution focused on triose phosphate isomerase. This research programme also involved scientists in other Oxford Departments who collaborated as members of the Oxford Enzyme Group, of which Phillips was one of the founders; in 1984 Phillips succeeded R.E. Richards as Chairman of the Group.

Following his move to Oxford Phillips began to take an increasingly prominent role in UK science policy organisations. In 1974 he was appointed a member of the Medical Research Council and founder Chairman of its Cell Biology and Disorders Board. In 1976 he was elected Biological Secretary and vice-president of the Royal Society and served in those capacities until 1983. In January 1983 Phillips was appointed part-time Chairman of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils (ABRC) and in 1986 agreed to serve for a second four year term. In April 1990 the Board was reconstituted and Phillips became the first full-time chairman for a three year period which led to his resignation from his Oxford professorship and his move to London. After the General Election of May 1992 the government announced a reorganisation of support for science and technology and its intention to publish in 1993 a White Paper on Science and Technology, and Phillips was asked to extend his chairmanship to first 30 September 1993 and then 31 December 1993 so that the functions of the ABRC could continue until the introduction of any changes envisaged in the White Paper. In retirement Phillips remained active in a number of public and professional capacities including non-executive director of Celltech (from 1982), Trustee of the Wolfson Foundation (from 1988), an editor of the journal Biochemistry, and a member of the Davy-Faraday Laboratory Committee of the Royal Institution. Phillips was elected FRS in 1963 (Royal Medal 1975, UK-Canada Rutherford Lecture 1990). He was knighted in 1979 (KBE 1989) and created a life peer in 1994.


By section as follows: Biographical and autobiographical, Diaries and notebooks, Research notebooks and notes, Royal Institution, Oxford, Publications, Visits, conferences and lectures, Radio, television and films, UK societies, organisations and consultancies, International societies, organisations and consultancies, Royal Society, Science Research Council/Science and Engineering Research Council, Medical Research Council, Advisory Board for the Research Councils, Correspondence, References and recommendations. 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 items not yet available.

Other Finding Aids

Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of David Chilton Phillips, Baron Phillips of Ellesmere (1924-1999) by J. Alton, NCUACS catalogue no. 45/1/94, 437 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Archivist's Note


Separated Material

Additional papers relating to the establishment of molecular biophysics at Oxford University and the move of Phillips from the Royal Institution to Oxford are to be found in the collection of Sir Hans Krebs in Sheffield University Library. Finding aid: CSAC catalogue no. 113/4/86, 788 pp.

Custodial History

Received for cataloguing in 1991-1994 by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives for Contemporary Scientists from Phillips. Placed in Bodleian Library (gift) 1994.

Related Material

A detailed record of all stages of the myoglobin project is contained in the manuscript collection of Sir John Kendrew in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Finding aid: NCUACS catalogue no. 11/4/89, 506 pp.

Papers relating to the part played by Phillips in the Oxford Enzyme Group (Chairman 1984-1988) are to be found in the separate collection of OEG papers deposited in the Bodleian Library in 1990. Finding aid: NCUACS catalogue no. 18/3/90, 54 pp.