Catalogue descriptionCatalogue of the papers and correspondence of Sir John Cowdery Kendrew FRS (1917-1997), molecular biologist

This record is held by Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections

Details of NCUACS78.7.98
Reference: NCUACS78.7.98
Title: Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Sir John Cowdery Kendrew FRS (1917-1997), molecular biologist







This catalogue of papers of Sir John Cowdery Kendrew is a supplement to that compiled in 1989 (NCUACS 11/4/89). The material has been arranged and numbered to follow the sequence of the previous catalogue, which should therefore be consulted in conjunction with this catalogue. Papers supplementary to the first catalogue have been found for section R (Biographical). The material covers the period 1884-1997.


Section R, Biographical, is mainly a sequence of folders inscribed by Kendrew 'archives' or 'souvenir papers' and assembled by him as a personal record of his professional and personal life over the period 1936-1996. Initially several years at a time were covered by an individual folder but from 1963 onwards Kendrew began keeping one folder for each year. There is some correspondence and speech material but the contents of Kendrew's folders were mainly photographs, press cuttings and momentos such as menus, seating plans, invitation cards and a variety of programmes for formal dinners and tributes, visits and conferences, honorary degree or awards ceremonies and for theatres, concerts, operas and art exhibitions. The material comprises Kendrew's personal record of such aspects of his life and career as school and undergraduate days, war service, postwar research at Cambridge, the award of the Nobel Prize, the conferral of various honorary degrees and awards, attendance at conference, involvement with national and international organisations, his presidency of St John's College, Oxford as well as his wide-ranging interest in the arts. In addition to the folder sequence Kendrew complied two scrapbooks covering the period 1960-1962 containing letters, photographs and press cuttings relating to research and other developments at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, the award of the Nobel Prize, and also the death of his parents. There is a folder of cards and letters of congratulation on the occasion of Kendrew's eightieth birthday in 1997.


Compiled by:


Adrian Nardone and Peter Harper


The work of the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, and the production of this catalogue, are made possible by the support of the following societies and organisations:


The Biochemical Society


The Geological Society


The Higher Education Funding Council for England


The Institute of Physics


The Royal Society


Trinity College, Cambridge


The Wellcome Trust




We are grateful to Kendrew's executor Mr J.A. Montgomery, St John's College, Oxford for his assistance in making the material available.

Date: 1884-1997
Held by: Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Kendrew, Sir, John Cowdery, 1917-1997, Knight, scientist and molecular biologist

Physical description: 367 items
Immediate source of acquisition:

The papers were received in July 1998 from Kendrew's executor Mr J.A. Montgomery, St John's College, Oxford.

Administrative / biographical background:

John Cowdery Kendrew was born in Oxford on 24 March 1917. His parents were Evelyn Sandberg, an art historian and Wilfred George Kendrew, tutor of St. Catherine's and Reader in Climatology at Oxford University.


Kendrew was educated at the Dragon School, Oxford (1923-1930) and at Clifton College, Bristol (1930-1936). He went to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1936. His main subject was Chemistry. As an undergraduate Kendrew displayed an interest in many branches of science and also developed an interest in radio while in the Cambridge OTC (Officer Training Corps). In June 1939 he graduated with first class honours in chemistry and began research in reaction kinetics in the Department of Physical Chemistry. In December 1939 he was appointed Junior Scientific Officer at the Air Ministry and from 1940 worked on operational research with special reference to anti-submarine warfare, bombing accuracy and radio aids. Most of his war service was spent abroad in the Middle East Command and South East Asia Command where he held the honorary rank of Wing Commander.


In 1946 Kendrew returned to Cambridge. He began a collaboration on the X-ray crystallographic analysis of protein structures with M.F. Perutz at the Cavendish Laboratory under the direction of Sir Lawrence Bragg. In October 1947 the Medical Research Council formed the two researchers into the Unit for the Study of the Molecular Structure of Biological Systems. This unit was the origin of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology. Long and arduous work with sperm-whale myoglobin eventually succeeded in producing a three-dimensional model at various Angström levels and was rewarded when he shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry with Perutz (who had continued work on haemoglobin) in 1962. He had already been elected FRS in 1960.


Alongside the laboratory work, Kendrew maintained links with university life as a Fellow of Peterhouse, where he was Director of Studies for many years. He also became increasingly involved with scientific matters in the wider world. From the early 1960s he was involved at all stages in the development of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) and was first Director General of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) at Heidelberg, West Germany, 1975-1982. In Britain he served on the Council for Scientific Policy, 1965-1972 and on the Defence Scientific Advisory Council, 1969-1974. In the international sphere he was appointed Governor of the Weizman Institute Israel in 1964, Vice-President and President of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, 1964-1972 and Secretary General, Vice-President and President of the International Council of Scientific Unions, 1974-1988. During the period 1982-1987 he was President of St John's College, Oxford.


Amongst Kendrew's many non-scientific interests were photography, music, art and archaeology. He married Elizabeth Jarvie in 1948 (marriage dissolved 1956). He received many public honours in the United Kingdom including a knighthood in 1974. He died on 23 August 1997.

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