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Thompson, Sir Harold Warris (1908-1983)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0117 Thompson papers
Held at: Royal Society
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Full title: Thompson, Sir Harold Warris (1908-1983)
Date(s): 1934-1984
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 40 linear feet
Name of creator(s): Thompson | Sir | Harold Warris | 1908-1983 | Knight | chemist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Thompson was born in Wombwell, South Yorkshire, and educated at King Edward VII School, Sheffield, and Trinity College, Oxford, where his tutor was C.N. Hinshelwood. He gained first class honours in Natural Sciences (Chemistry) in 1929. He then spent a year researching in Berlin with F. Haber before returning to Oxford to take up a Fellowship at St John's College. Thompson quickly established himself as one of the finest teachers in the university and many of his students went on to great scientific distinction and included F.S. Dainton, C.F. Kearton, J.W. Linnett, R.E. Richards and D.H. Whiffen, all of whom became Fellows of the Royal Society. Thompson's main research interest in Berlin had been gas reactions but on his return to Oxford he focused his research activity in the area of chemical spectroscopy and in particular work on the infrared. During the Second World War he worked for the Ministry of Aircraft Production in collaboration with G.B.B.M. Sutherland on the infrared spectroscopic analysis of enemy aviation fuels, and in 1943 he and Sutherland were members of a British scientific mission which visited the USA on behalf of the Ministry. After the war Thompson continued to play a major role in demonstrating how infrared spectra might be applied to a very wide range of chemical studies. He contributed to international science as Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, 1965-1971, when the Society's overseas activities were greatly expanded, and as President of International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), 1963-1966, and of International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), 1973-1975. Throughout his life Thompson gave devoted service to football, from amateur player in his youth to Chairman of the Football Association, 1976-1981.

Thompson was elected FRS in 1946 (Davy Medal 1965) and was knighted in 1968.


Scope and content/abstract:

The papers are extensive but by no means comprehensive. There is no personal or biographical material and very little record of Thompson's research. On the other hand his contributions to international science and football are extensively documented. There is a very full record of Thompson's Foreign Secretaryship of the Royal Society and his organisation of the European chemical conferences (EUCHEM) and substantial documentation of his work for ICSU and IUPAC, including the Commission on Molecular Spectroscopy and the Triple Commission on Spectroscopy. Thompson's contributions to international relations were not limited to science (or football) and he kept detailed records of his Chairmanship from 1972 of the Great Britain - China Committee (later Great Britain - China Centre). The football papers are substantial, particularly for the last decade of Thompson's life, and thus there is full documentation of his Chairmanship of the Football Association and of the many problems facing football at that time, including hooliganism amongst its supporters.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

By section as follows: Research and teaching, Royal Society, Societies and organisations, Visits and conferences, Football Association.

Conditions governing access:

Papers retain the period of confidentiality agreed at time of the deposit. All new deposits closed for 30 years except by permission of Officers of the Royal Society or the person controlling access.

Conditions governing reproduction:

No publication without written permission. Apply to Archivist in the first instance.

Finding aids:

Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Sir Harold Warris Thompson: NCUACS catalogue no. 2/1/88, 210 pp. Index of correspondents. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath. Detailed catalogue available at

Archival Information

Archival history:

Received by the Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre for cataloguing in 1986 from Lady Thompson, widow, via St John's College, Oxford.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Placed in the Royal Society Library in 1988.

Allied Materials

Related material:

The Department of Special Collections and Western Manuscripts, Bodleian Library, Oxford University, holds correspondence between Thompson and Charles Alfred Coulson, 1959-1964.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Description based on that created by NCUACS, University of Bath.

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.

Date(s) of descriptions:
August 2000.

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