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Identity statement

Reference code(s)
GB0100 KCLCA KDPY/F; 1984/KDPY; 1990/KDPY; 1998/KDPY; KDPY/ILL
KING'S COLLEGE LONDON: Department of Physics Records
[1850-1870], [1890]-1984
Level of description
Sub-fonds of King's College London
Extent and medium of the unit of description (quantity, bulk, or size)
31 boxes, and 1 outsize box of teaching diagrams


Name of creator(s)

King's College London, Department of Physics

Administrative / Biographical history

Instruction in physics began in 1831 in the form of lectures in natural and experimental philosophy delivered to students in the Senior Department, from 1839 the Department of General Literature and Science and later the Department of Applied Sciences. Natural and experimental divisions were separated in 1834 when Charles Wheatstone was appointed Professor of Experimental Philosophy, a post he occupied until his death in 1875. Classes in natural philosophy were available to Evening Class students and students of the Medical Faculty and Faculty of Engineering, but the Physics Department properly became part of the Faculty of Science in 1893. In 1923 Physics became part of the Faculty of Natural Science, which later formed part of the Faculty of Mathematical and Physical Sciences. This became the School of Physical Sciences and Engineering in 1991. Charles Wheatstone, responsible for pioneering experiments in the fields of electric telegraphy, batteries, harmonics and optics, upon his death bequeathed an extensive collection of scientific instruments and equipment to the College to form the Wheatstone Laboratory, one of the earliest physical laboratories in the country. Other notables include James Clerk Maxwell, pioneer in the study of electromagnetism, who was Professor of Natural Philosophy, 1860-1865; Charles Glover Barkla, Wheatstone Professor of Physics, 1909-1914, who whilst at the University of Edinburgh was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1917 for work on X-rays; Sir Owen Richardson, Wheatstone Professor of Physics, 1914-1922, awarded a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1928 for prior work on thermionics undertaken at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge; Sir Edward Appleton, Wheatstone Professor of Physics, 1924-1936, who conducted experiments on the interaction of radio waves with the earth's atmosphere at the Strand and at the College's Halley Stewart Laboratories, Hampstead, for which he was subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1947, whilst employed by the British Government's Department of Scientific and Industrial Research; and Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins, Deputy Director of the Medical Research Council Biophysics Research Unit, later the Department of Biophysics, King's College London, 1955, whose work on the structure of the DNA molecule was rewarded with the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1962.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

King's College London Department of Physics.

Content & structure

Scope and content

The records of the King's College London Department of Physics comprise minute books, correspondence, staff records, mark books, research notes, lecture notes and texts, inventories of equipment, photographs, press cuttings and printed journal articles and catalogues, [1890]-1984. They notably include minutes and correspondence concerned with departmental equipment and maintenance, 1971-1975; records of staff meetings including arrangements for tutorials and lists of staff publications, 1975-1980; Faculty of Natural Science and Faculty of Education minutes and papers, 1975-1982; correspondence relating to the appointment, training and employment of technical staff by the Department of Physics, 1966-1981; correspondence relating to the planning of the 150th anniversary of the Department including photographs, display captions and off-prints of articles on Professor James Clerk Maxwell, Professor Owen Richardson and Professor Edward Victor Appleton, 1978; papers concerning the merger of Queen Elizabeth College with King's College, 1981-1984; University of London Committee on Academic Organisation: discussion documents, 1979-1981; papers compiled by Professor Ernest Wilson including examination question papers and a mark book on electrical engineering, correspondence concerning the publication of Wilson's research papers and nomination for membership of the Royal Society, and photographs of Wilson and colleagues, [1890]-1928; notes, articles and lecture texts concerning conferences and lectures on crystallography, spectroscopy and X-ray topography, 1978-1981; Departmental equipment order book for the Halley Stewart laboratory, Chesterford Gardens, Hampstead, 1923-1971; data book of experiments conducted in the Department, 1932; inventories of equipment at the Halley Stewart laboratory with record of transfer to King's College London, 1947-1966; printed and manuscript notebooks including databooks describing experiments on resonance, optics and nuclear physics, 1965-1971; Special Physics practical class mark book for experiments carried out by students, with printed guidance notes, 1965-1982; references and testimonials for students, 1947-1970; examination results and records of examiners' meetings, 1976-1981; glass slides of traces of elementary particles through bubble chamber, of graphs and diagrams and laboratory equipment, [1950-1970]; passport size photographs of mainly physics students, but also including some mathematics and chemistry students, 1955-1974; photographs of instruments including early electron microscope and model of DNA, [1955]; photographs of the Wheatstone laboratory physics staff, [1922, 1979]; press cuttings concerning physics staff and students, 1957-1960; offprints of Proceedings of the Physical Society and Proceedings of the Royal Society by Edward Victor Appleton and others concerning ionisation of the earth's atmosphere, the principle of conservation of energy and other topics, 1934-1936; instruction booklets for various pieces of laboratory apparatus including electrical generator and gamma ray detector, 1955-1969. Also outsize teaching diagrams [1850-1870], on subjects including: the mechanics of the telegraph; laying of telegraph cables; hydrostatics; perpetual motion; a water clock (‘clepsydra wheel’); a pendulum bucket engine; bridge construction; eighteenth century designs for a diving bell (ref: KDPY/ILL1-2).

System of arrangement

Chronologically, mainly according to date of accession.

Conditions of access & use

Conditions governing access

Administrative records are generally closed for 30 years except for published material and some committee and other minutes. Staff and student records are subject to an 80 year closure period after the date of leaving, but may be consulted by Departmental and other College staff with permission from the Head of Department.

Conditions governing reproduction

Copies, subject to the condition of the original, may be supplied for research use only. Requests to publish original material should be submitted to the Director of Archive Services.

Language/scripts of material


Finding aids

This summary guide.  Box lists are available in the Archives Reading Room.

Allied materials

Existence and location of originals

King's College London College Archives

Related units of description

King's College London Archives: Wheatstone papers (Ref: KCLCA Wheatstone); papers of James Clerk Maxwell (Ref: KCLCA K/PP 71); papers of George Randall Wilkinson (Ref: KCLCA K/PP 33); papers of Kenneth David Outteridge (Ref: KCLCA K/PP 34); papers of the James Clerk Maxwell Foundation (Ref: KCLCA K/PP 45); papers of the Maxwell Society (Ref: KCLCA KSM); papers of Claude Douglas Curling (Ref: KCLCA K/PP 48); papers of Professor (Emmeline) Jean Hanson (Ref: KCLCA K/PP 67); papers of Professor Sir John Randall (Ref: KCLCA K/PP 59); Biophysics Department records (Ref: KCLCA KDLBPH); undergraduate student records (Ref: KCLCA KDPY/FP); School of Physical Sciences and Engineering student files (Ref: KCLCA K/SPSE); examination question papers (Ref: KCLCA K/EX).

Description control

Archivist's Note

King's College Calendars, prospectuses, Gordon Huelin, King's College London (London, 1978). Entry compiled by Geoff Browell.

Rules or conventions

Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

This catalogue is made available under the Open Data Commons Attribution License. This catalogue may be updated from time to time in order to reflect additional material and/or new understandings of the material.

Date(s) of descriptions

January 2002 and July 2013

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This catalogue may contain links to external data sources as part of the W3C Semantic Web initiative.


  • Academic teaching personnel
  • Books
  • Communication process
  • Communications media
  • Conference papers
  • Conferences
  • Crystallography
  • Educational administration
  • Educational evaluation
  • Educational levels
  • Educational personnel
  • Electromagnetic waves
  • Equipment
  • Examinations
  • Experiments
  • Government
  • Group communication
  • Health services administration
  • Higher education
  • Higher education institutions
  • Information sciences
  • Inventories
  • Laboratory equipment
  • Magnetism
  • Newspaper press
  • Nuclear physics
  • Optics
  • Organization and administration
  • People
  • People by occupation
  • Periodicals
  • Personnel
  • Personnel management
  • Photographs
  • Physics
  • Physics education
  • Press
  • Press cuttings
  • Public administration
  • Publications
  • Recruitment
  • Research work
  • Science education
  • Scientific equipment
  • Scientific personnel
  • Secondary documents
  • Spectrometers
  • Student evaluation
  • Students
  • Teachers
  • Technicians
  • Universities
  • University students
  • Visual materials
  • X-rays

Personal names

  • Appleton, Sir, Edward Victor, 1892-1965, Knight, physicist
  • Maxwell, James Clerk Maxwell, 1831-1879, physicist
  • Richardson, Sir, Owen Willans, 1879-1959, Knight, physicist
  • Wilson, Ernest, 1863-1932, electrical engineer

Corporate names

  • King's College London College Archives
  • King's College London, Department of Physics
  • King's College London, Faculty of Education
  • King's College London, Faculty of Natural Science

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