Catalogue description Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of CECIL REGINALD BURCH, CBE FRS (1901-1983) including material relating to GEORGE JAMES BURCH FRS (1852-1914) and FRANCIS PARRY BURCH (1899-1933)

This record is held by Bristol University Information Services: Special Collections

Details of CSAC 110.1.86
Reference: CSAC 110.1.86
Title: Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of CECIL REGINALD BURCH, CBE FRS (1901-1983) including material relating to GEORGE JAMES BURCH FRS (1852-1914) and FRANCIS PARRY BURCH (1899-1933)



SECTION B RESEARCH List of contents B.1-B.200








The material is presented in the order shown in the list of contents. Although it includes documentation of all aspects of Burch's career and scientific activity, the coverage is uneven and sometimes regrettably scanty.


This is in part attributable to Burch's temperament and preferred way of working. His early life (academic upbringing, public school and Cambridge) might suggest a conventional establishment figure, yet he was in fact a 'loner', working idiosyncratic hours and holding research posts or personal appointments largely independent of departmental structures and bureaucracies. In addition, his career was subject to abrupt changes of direction, often for personal reasons of which the best documented was his decision to leave the Metropolitan-Vickers Company after the distressing death of his brother Francis in 1933. The changes were rarely permanent however, and Burch often returned to a research topic (e.g. optics) after a break. He was himself aware of psychological complications in his life, sometimes attempting to describe them more or less obscurely (see, e.g. A.25, B.122 - B. 125) but generally preferring to look forward with new ideas for continuing research, as he did to the very end of his life (see, e.g. A.3A). The drawbacks of such a personality and career pattern are the lack of administrative discipline in dating or paginating notes and drafts, and Burch's failure to maintain correspondence files in favour of using the backs of letters - even those in current use - for notes. There are thus serious gaps in all sections of the documentation, and problems in assigning more than tentative dates or descriptions to much of the technical material.


Section A (Biographical) reflects Burch's modest and unassuming personality in that the record of his own career is outweighed by records of his family. In particular, there is biographical and scientific material relating to his father George James Burch and his work on optics, as well as various documents relating to his brother Francis. His older brother Raymond, who was responsible for the name 'Bill' which quickly replaced Burch's forenames and who was killed in the Royal Flying Corps in France in 1918, is represented by brief correspondence (A.63). His mother Constance Emily was also a remarkable character, not least for her friendship with C.L. Dodgson (A.54). As well as this family pietas, Burch's awareness of his own contributions to science, and his prolific '"Capital" of Research Ideas' can be found at A.3, A.3A.


Section B (Research) is the most substantial and covers many of Burch's areas of research in varying degrees of detail, the fullest being those on mineral dressing and on medical matters. The material on optics as originally received was disappointing for this important area of Burch's work, but was much strengthened by the arrival of additional papers when the catalogue was already in draft: the 'new' material now appears as an Addendum (B. 186-B.200). The surviving material for the period at the Metropolitan-Vickers Company is almost wholly concerned with the work of his brother Francis which Burch was especially anxious to have adequately remembered. Explanatory notes are provided to accompany the separate topics in this Section.


Section C (Lectures), though extending widely in time (1932-81), is nevertheless somewhat scanty. Burch's university appointments did not entail regular teaching and lecturing. Thus the surviving lectures were conference talks or invitation lectures such as the Parsons Memorial Lecture in 1959, the Royal Society Review Lecture 'University physics - the challenge of technology' in 1965, and the 'Optics 78' Conference at Bath. Although some of the lectures (such as those mentioned above) were subsequently published, it would seem that Burch adopted an informal, even colloquial, lecturing style; this, combined with his haphazard filing methods, may mean that by no means all his talks are documented.


Section D (Publications) is similarly uneven. Very little survives from the MetroVick period and only one article, '"Squeeze" Significance tests', with I.T. Parsons, is fully documented with correspondence, drafts, calculations and diagrams. There are however several undated writings (D.32 - D.44) possibly intended for publication.


Section E (Correspondence) has probably suffered most from Burch's working methods. There is one relatively substantial sequence of letters on aspects of mineral dressing and mining (E.19 - E.24), but much of the remaining material consists of Burch's manuscript drafts, carbons or photocopies of his outgoing letters. Replies, if they were received, may have been used for research notes and calculations and thus lost to view.


Complied by Jeannine Alton, Peter Harper and Margaret Erskine


The work of the Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre, and the production of this catalogue, are made possible by the support of the following societies and institutions:


The Biochemical Society


The Charles Babbage Foundation for the History of Information Processing


The Institute of Physics


The Institution of Electrical Engineers


The Institution of Mechanical Engineers


The Nuffield Foundation


The Rhodes Trustees


The Royal Society of London


The Wolfson Foundation




Our main debt is to T.E. Allibone FRS for retrieving the material, for help and information, particularly on the history of the screen-grid valve, and for permission to include a copy of the Bibliography of Burch's writings.


We are also grateful to Dr. G.L'E. Turner and Mr. A.V. Simcock of the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, for information.

Date: ca1852-1983
Related material:

The prototype Ultra-Violet Reflecting Microscope, made by Burch c.1946 for use with short wavelength ultra-violet radiation and used by R. Barer in the Department of Human Anatomy, Oxford, is in the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford.


The grinding and polishing machinery used in the manufacture of the aspherical mirror for the microscope is in the Science Museum, London.


The tape-recording of Burch's lecture 'MetroVick Memories' is held at the Royal Society, London.


Additional biographical material relating to George James Burch, including letters of condolence to Mrs. Burch, is in the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford.

Held by: Bristol University Information Services: Special Collections, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Burch, Cecil Reginald, 1901-1983, scientist, physicist and engineer

Physical description: 385 files
Access conditions:










Immediate source of acquisition:

The material was received at various dates via the Physics Department, University of Bristol, from T.E. Allibone FRS who had assembled it while preparing his Memoir for the Royal Society.

Publication note:

A full account of Burch's career and research can be found in the memoir by T.E. Allibone written for the Royal Society and published in 1984 (Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 30, 3-42), a copy of which is enclosed at A.1. References to this work are given in the catalogue in the form (Memoir, p. ...). Published works listed in the accompanying Bibliography are given in the form (Bibliog. ...). For ease of reference, a photocopy of the Bibliography is included, with permission, on pp.62-65.

Administrative / biographical background:

b.1901 Oxford


educ. 1907-14 Dragon School, Oxford


1914-19 Oundle School


1919-22 Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge


1922-33 Research Department, Metropolitan-Vickers Company


1933 Death of Francis Parry Burch


1933-35 Leverhulme Fellow in Optics, Imperial College, London


1936 Research Associate (Fellow from 1944), H.H. Wills Physics Laboratory, Bristol University


1937 Marriage to Enid Grace Morice (d.1981)


1943 Award of Duddell Medal of the Physical Society


1944 Election to Fellowship of the Royal Society


1948-66 Royal Society Warren Research Fellow in Physics, Bristol University


1954 Award of Rumford Medal, Royal Society


1958 Conferral of C.B.E.

Link to NRA Record:

Have you found an error with this catalogue description?

Help with your research