The Papers of Stuart Olof Agrell

Scope and Content

The collection contains correspondence with contemporaries, collectors, and depositors of specimens, students and others mostly from the 1950s and 1960s.There are field notebooks from the 1930s-1950s and those relating to work undertaken on analysis of the lunar [moon-rock] specimens in the 1960s. There are also a number of personal and professional photographs in the collection from the 1930s onwards.

Administrative / Biographical History

Stuart Olof Agrell was born at Ruislip, Middlesex on March 5 1913. He was the son of a Swedish father, Harald Olof and (English mother) Margery Georgina Agrell. His father had lived in the UK since 1910 and taken up British nationality in 1936. Stuarts early years were spent at Whyteleafe, Surrey before attending Bedales school in Petersfield, Hants, where he became head-boy until obtaining an exhibition at Trinity Hall, he went to Cambridge in 1932 to read for the Natural Science Tripos.

On graduating in Part II of the tripos with a first class degree in 1935 he began his research career on the adnoles of Dinas Head, Cornwall. The work was embodied in his Ph.D thesis, under F.C Philips, and published in the Mineralogical Magazine in 1939. He took up a temporary assistant lecturer post in the Department of Geology at Aberdeen University in 1937 where he undertook lectures and practical classes in elementary stratigraphy and palaeontology and in advanced petrology.

During this time he met and married Jean Imlay [a former fellow graduate student in Tilley's Department] and they would go onto have three sons, Peter, Michael, and Ben.

In 1939, after joining the staff at Manchester University and when World War II began, Agrell was set to study industrial slag mineralogy in the effort to improve furnace process efficiency. With his microscope as the only tool, each minuscule phase had to be categorized by careful optic orientation, refractive index determination, and the patient hand-picking of tiny grains for wet chemical analysis.

During his time at Manchester, Agrell was also responsible for the teaching of mineralogy and petrology to intermediate students, students of geography, and those taking geology as a principal subject. He assisted with field classes, and built up a collection of rocks and minerals. When war ended however, Agrells attention returned to natural products and he studied pyrometamorphosed lateritized basalts from Northern Ireland.

Agrells return to the Department of Mineralogy & Petrology in 1949 combined with the curatorship of the museum saw another change in his research. He continued his work in the laterites but extended his interest to calcareous rocks. He discovered the new minerals rustumite, dellaite, and kilchoanite.

Agrell collaborated with J.V.P. Long, then working on X-ray microanalysis in the Cavendish Laboratory, in the early mineralogical application of the scanning x-ray microanalyser. A grant was secured for the construction of an electron probe designed specifically for petrological use and Agrell played a prominent part in the design of the optical system for Jim Long's "Geoscan"-the first commercial electron probe to be built with transmitted light facility.

In 1962 Agrell was given an appointment as Visiting Professor on the American Geological Institute scheme. The experience of touring the U.S., both university and field widened his horizons. Two and a half years were occupied with Professorships at the University of Minnesota and at Berkeley. During this time he identified three new minerals at Laytonville, California, which he named deerite, howieite, and zussmanite.

He continued to undertake much fieldwork in America, particularly Utah, and accumulated an extensive collection of mineralogical and petrological data. Little however, was ever published, mainly as a result of his multiplicity of interests. In Cambridge Stuart had taken in hand an extensive but ill-organized collection of meteorites originating from the acquisition by William Whewell of Wold Cottage and L Aigle in 1820s.

By the end of the 1960s Agrell was an acknowledged expert and was subsequently appointed not only a Principal Investigator for the Apollo 11 lunar program, but also the only non-American petrologist member of the preliminary examination team at Houston. He was subsequently the first recipient of lunar (moon) rock in the UK; he was in much demand for interviews and lectures as a result. A wide range of papers emerged as a result, including a comprehensive study of fine-grained igneous rocks, microbreccias, metal-silicate fragments from lunar soils, and shock-induced lithification and vitrification. His work on the moon rocks was responsible for the visit by the Apollo astronauts to Cambridge in July, 1971.

Agrell played an important part in guiding the policies of both his Department and his Cambridge College, Trinitv Hall of which he had been elected a Fellow in 1955. As his involvement in the Apollo program diminished, he was able to devote more time to the promotion of meteorite studies, attracting talented workers who formed a flourishing planetary sciences group in Cambridge during the 1970s. The first recognition in nature of B MgrSiOo (wadsleyite) was his, while many unusual inclusions in chondritic meteorites spotted by Agrell provided fertile subjects for detailed research by other workers.

Stuart at this time inhabited an ancient rambling house north of Cambridge. He enjoyed tending its large garden, and sailing his small boat on the nearby river. He retired [from formal duties] in 1980. This coincided with the merger of Mineralogy and Petrology into the new Department of Earth Sciences that he had helped achieve. The Award of Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship enabled him to return to the Marysvale district of Utah where in the 1960s he had located a unique and mineralogically extraordinary occurrence of contact metamorphosed argillized and zeolitized volcanics-a tipical Agrell find! Stuart's energy and total disregard of discomfort in the field had always belied a not overstrong physique; it seems likely that the hard work in rough terrain (with the enormous rock loads he was unable to resist collecting and carrying) proved, at the age of 50, too much for him.

Despite failing health, however, he accepted election as President of the Mineralogical Society of Great Britain. In 1986, near the end of his three-year term, a cerebral stroke at the wheel of his car involved him in a serious road accident. He emerged from the hospital with diminished memory and loss of practical skills. His slow recovery set the scene for description of a new CaAl silicate phase in the Allende chondrite which had reminded him of a phase he had isolated from a slag during the war-a half century previously. His confirmed the identity and his coarser grained samples then allowed the (as yet unnamed) mineral's more complete characterization.

This remission was but brief and as he entered his eighties, Stuart began to decline. He continued to attend conferences, even making the long centenary trip of the Trans Siberian Railway from Vladivostock to St. Petersburg. Jean, too, began to suffer increasing impairment and she died just three months before Stuart's own death on January 29,1996. The mineral Agrellite was named after him.


The files were largely in good order from the filing cabinet (boxes 875-897) and arranged by country. Only one of the cabinet drawers had a label on it "Apollo 12" although this did not correspond to the records within the drawer.

Original order of the files amalgamated into boxes (boxes 486-489) in the 1990s has been lost. No clear original order of these records, or the others exists.

The collection is still to be arranged and catalogued.

Access Information

The papers are largely open for consultation by researchers using Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. However, as the papers have not been appraised, there may be some closures, especially in correspondence files.

The Geological Conservation Unit [Brighton Building] is open from Monday to Friday, 10:00-13:00 and 14:00-17:00. A prior appointment made at least two weeks in advance, and two forms of identification are required.

Please contact the Museum to ask about the collection or to make an appointment.

Other Finding Aids

The DDF Archive Inventory spreadsheet is available which contains basic box listing entries for the legacy records of the Sedgwick Museum and Department of Earth Sciences.

For those records originally from the filing cabinets (boxes 875-897) there are additional paper notes available.

Please ask staff for further information.

Archivist's Note

This collection level description was created by Sandra Marsh and Dr Lyall Anderson of Sedgwick Museum in October 2010 using information from published obituaries and from the papers themselves.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies, photographs, and print-outs from scanned images may be provided. Charges may apply. Readers may also use their own digital cameras subject to copyright legislation and in-house rules.

Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Sedgwick Museum Staff.

Please cite as Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, The Papers of Stuart Olof Agrell, AGRL.

Appraisal Information

The collection is still to be appraised.

Custodial History

21 boxes and a full filing cabinet were identified as being records created or retained by Stuart Olof Agrell. These were repackaged into conservation grade boxes during the DDF project (2010-2011)

Those records that were already in some conservation boxes had been amalgamated during the 1980s/1990s [boxes 486-489]. The filing cabinet may have been transferred to the museum when the Department of Earth Sciences was created in 1970.

The records had been transferred from the Sedgwick Museum [Downing Street, Cambridge] to the Geological Conservation Unit [Madingley Road] between 1991-2009.

The records had been transferred from the Sedgwick Museum [Downing Street, Cambridge] to the Geological Conservation Unit [Madingley Road] between 2002-2009.


No more records are currently expected.