Record

Reference numberROR
Alternative reference numberCSAC 94/5/83
LevelFonds
TitleCollected papers of Robert Robinson
Date1902 - 1983
DescriptionContains the correspondence and papers of the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Sir Robert Robinson (1886-1975). The collection spans his entire career, and includes some posthumous material from colleagues, research collaborators and family members.

The bulk of the material relates to Robinson's scientific research. These largely comprise of Robinson's own notes and notebooks, of varying lengths and completeness, on the wide range of research topics he was interested in. Many of these are undated, but date ranges have been provided in numerous cases by scientists who worked with Robinson during his career. Examples include a sequence of ideas on the possible structure of strychnine, tentatively dated 1945-1947 by John Warcup Cornforth, and two relatively extensive and complete sequences of later research and correspondence on the origins of petroleum and drug research.

Robinson rarely kept copies of his outgoing correspondence, or papers relating to much of his public work and service on committees, advisory boards, learned societies, and in the launching of new journals. Gaps in the collection are to some extent compensated for by the extensive autobiographical material, which consists of background material and corrected proofs for his memoirs. The first volume was published in 1976, and substantial typescript drafts survive for the second volume which was unfinished at the time of his death. As well as Robinson's own writing, he retained narratives, correspondence and photographs sent to him by colleagues, and there are also tape recordings of conversations with colleagues covering similar types of recollections.

Robinson continued to play an active role in scientific research until his death, despite the onset of blindless later in life. His lectures and publications in this collection include copies of papers that remained unpulished or unfinished at the time of his death. Some posthumous material has also been added to the collection. This was largely assembled by Alexander Robertus Todd and John Warcup Cornforth while they were in the process of writing Robinson's memoir, for publication in 'Biographical Memoirs of the Fellows of the Royal Society'.
LanguageEnglish
Extent9.5 linear feet of manuscripts, including files of correspondence, lectures, reports, printed books and non-print material.
ArrangementCatalogued by the Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre (later the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists) in Bath. The papers have been classified into five groups of documents by subject and media:

ROR/1 contains biographical and autobiographical material.
ROR/2 contains papers relating to Robinson's scientific research.
ROR/3 contains papers relating to lectures and publications by Robinson.
ROR/4 contains general correspondence.
ROR/5 contains non-print items such as sound recordings and photographs.

Content from the paper finding-aid has been transferred into the online catalogue with further detail added. Reference numbers from the paper finding-aid have been included in the AltRefNo field throughout the collection.
Finding aidsPaper finding-aid by Jeannine Alton and Julia Latham-Jackson (CSAC 94/5/83) gives a general introduction and a detailed breakdown of the collection, with a special introduction to the section on scientific research and an index of correspondents.
Access statusOpen
Administrative historyRobinson was born into a well-to-do family of surgical dressing manufacturers (Robinsons of Chesterfield). He entered Manchester University to read Chemistry in 1902 aged sixteen, and on graduation began research there under W.H. Perkin. Other lasting relationships from this period were with C. Weizmann (from 1906) and A. Lapworth (from 1909). In 1912 Robinson was appointed to his first chair at the University of Sydney and subsequently occupied chairs of organic chemistry at Liverpool in 1928 and the Waynflete Chair of Chemistry, Oxford from 1930-1955; the University extended his tenure for four years after the normal retirement age. In all these posts, Robinson developed productive research schools working in a wide range of chemical problems, and in retirement his activity continued in a small laboratory made available by the Shell Company, where he was consultant.

He was elected FRS in 1920 (Bakerian Lecture 1930, Davy Medal 1930, Royal Medal 1932, Copley Medal 1942, President of the Royal Society 1945-1950) and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1947. The actual citation read 'for his investigations on plant products of biological importance, especially the alkaloids' although his Royal Society memorialists Todd and Cornforth suggest that 'it would have been equally, or possibly more, appropriate to have said "for his outstanding contributions to the entire science of organic chemistry".' (Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, vol 22, 426). Robinson was knighted in 1939 and appointed to the Order of Merit in 1949.
Related materialChurchill Archives Centre, University of Cambridge holds correspondence between Robinson and A.V. Hill, 1942-1947; Nuffield College Library, University of Oxford, holds correspondence between Robinson and Lord Cherwell, 1940-1956; Department of Special Collections and Western Manuscripts, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, holds correspondence between Robinson and Dorothey Hodgkin, 1935-1937, and between Robinson and Sir Rudoph Peters, 1935-1969; the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine holds correspondence between Robinson and Sir Ernest Chain.

A display of some of Robinson's medals and scrolls of honour is housed in the Muniment Room of Robinson & Sons Ltd., Chesterfield.
Fellows associated with this archive
CodeNameDates
NA8276Robinson; Sir; Robert (1886 - 1975); Chemist1886 - 1975
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