Catalogue description Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of SIR HAROLD WARRIS THOMPSON FRS (1908 - 1983)

This record is held by Royal Society

Details of NCUACS 2.1.88
Reference: NCUACS 2.1.88
Title: Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of SIR HAROLD WARRIS THOMPSON FRS (1908 - 1983)



NCUACS 2.1.88/A. 1-A. 22 Research


NCUACS 2.1.88/A. 1-A. 13 Wartime work on Hydrocarbons


NCUACS 2.1.88/A. 14-A. 16 Work on Penicillin


NCUACS 2.1.88/A. 17-A. 22 Miscellaneous


NCUACS 2.1.88/A. 23-A. 26 Teaching




NCUACS 2.1.88/B. 1-B.473 International Relations


NCUACS 2.1.88/B. 1-B.177 Royal Society committees


NCUACS 2.1.88/B.178-B.186 Government departments


NCUACS 2.1.88/B.187-B.206 International scientific organisations and programmes


NCUACS 2.1.88/B.207-B.473 Regions


NCUACS 2.1.88/B.474-B.519 Other Royal Society business


NCUACS 2.1.88/B.474-B.481 Education Committee


NCUACS 2.1.88/B.482-B.512 Scientific Information Committee


NCUACS 2.1.88/B.513-B.519 Ad hoc Committee on Government Research and Development Study (Rothschild Committee)


NCUACS 2.1.88/B.520-B.533 Thompson's personal correspondence as Foreign Secretary








NCUACS 2.1.88/E. 1-E. 22 Early days


NCUACS 2.1.88/E. 23-E. 38 General correspondence and papers


NCUACS 2.1.88/E. 39-E.228 Organisation and committees


NCUACS 2.1.88/E.229-E.404 Football topics


NCUACS 2.1.88/E.405-E.527 Other football and sports bodies


The material is presented in the order shown in the List of Contents. Additional explanatory notes accompany many of the Sections, sub-sections and individual entries in the body of the catalogue, and the following paragraphs aim only to draw attention to matters of particular substance or interest.


The collection is regrettably a very unbalanced one. There is no personal or biographical material and very little record of Thompson's research. On the other hand, Thompson's work for the Royal Society, international scientific organisations and the Football Association is extensively documented.


Section A (Research and teaching) is slight. The wartime hydrocarbons research is represented by a small number of reports (less than half by Thompson) and a little correspondence. This work is documented much more extensively in the manuscripts collection of Thompson's collaborator, Sir Gordon Sutherland (CSAC 89/7/82, deposited in Cambridge University Library) which includes the report of the 1943 mission to the United States and correspondence between Thompson and Sutherland, 1937-47.


SECTION B (The Royal Society) is the largest and most important section in the catalogue. Almost all the Royal Society papers relate to international relations and document very fully the new initiatives which marked Thompson's Foreign Secretaryship. Of particular interest are Thompson's International Relations Committee papers and the papers he grouped by region, Western Europe and Israel, East Europe and USSR, China, Latin America and so on. The Western European papers document the hugely successful European Science Exchange Programme and the East European and Chinese papers illustrate some of the very serious problems faced by Thompson in his efforts to promote international science - in the case of East Europe, the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia and in the case of China, the Cultural Revolution. This section also provides comprehensive documentation of a further great success for Thompson in European scientific cooperation, the EUCHEM conferences. Thompson's contributions to the Royal Society outside the international relations area are represented by his Education Committee and Scientific Information Committee papers.


Section C (Societies and organisations) also provides important documentation of Thompson's contributions to international science. Of particular interest in this regard are manuscripts relating to his work for the Research Branch of the Control Commission for Germany, for the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) and for the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) including the Commission on Molecular Spectroscopy and the Triple Commission on Spectroscopy. Not all the societies and organisations listed here are scientific, however. Thompson kept very detailed records of his work for the Great Britain - China Committee (later Great Britain - China Centre) and shorter sequences of material relating to the Maison Francaise d'Oxford (member of the Oxford Committee) and Shrewsbury School (governor).


Section D (Visits and conferences) is a very small section which does not adequately reflect the extensive travel undertaken by Thompson during his scientific career. However, this travel is documented to a considerable degree in Sections B and C.


Section E (Football Association) is a very substantial section which records (particularly for the last decade of Thompson's life) the enormous amount of work he undertook for the Association. There is also full documentation of the many problems facing football in the 1970s, especially hooliganism amongst its supporters. By contrast Thompson's work for the Oxford University Association Football Club and Pegasus is not documented in the collection.


Compiled by Jeannine Alton 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 City of Bath


The Geological Society


The Institute of Physics


Pergamon Books


The Royal Society


The Royal Society of Chemistry


Shell U.K. Ltd.


The Society of Chemical Industry




We are very grateful to Lady Thompson for making the material available, and to Sir Rex Richards for information and advice.

Date: 1934 - 1984
Held by: Royal Society, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Thompson, Harold Warris, 1908-1983, scientist

Physical description: 40 linear feet
Access conditions:








  • Sport
Administrative / biographical background:



Sir Harold Thompson, known affectionately to all his friends as 'Tommy', was a distinguished Oxford scientist and teacher who made exceptional contributions to international science; he was also a lifelong enthusiast for association football. This account of his career draws very considerably on Sir Rex Richards's Royal Society memoir of Thompson (Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 31, 573 - 610).


Harold Warris Thompson was born in 1908 in Wombwell, Yorkshire, where his father was a colliery manager. He was educated from the age of nine at King Edward VII School in Sheffield and in 1924 obtained an open scholarship to Trinity College, Oxford, where his tutor was C.N. Hinshelwood. He graduated with a first in Natural Sciences (Chemistry) in 1929. Thompson then spent a year working in Berlin with Fritz Haber (and meeting such great scientists as Planck, Einstein, Nernst, von Laue, Schrodinger and Bodenstein) before returning to Oxford to take up a Fellowship at St. John's College.


Thompson very quickly established himself as one of the finest teachers in the university and many of his students went on to achieve great scientific distinction. They include Lord Kearton, Lord Dainton, Sir Rex Richards, Professor Jack Linnett and Professor David Whiffen - all Fellows of the Royal Society.


Thompson's main research interest in Berlin had been gas reactions but after his return to Oxford he moved the focus of his research activity to chemical spectroscopy and in particular to work on the infrared. During the 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 U.S.A. on behalf of the Ministry.


After the war Thompson played a major role 'in showing how infrared spectra might be applied to a quite amazing range of chemical studies' and until retirement he 'continued with his scientific work, constantly breaking new ground and exploring new ideas'. The importance of Thompson's research was recognised with many honours, including his election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1946 and the award of the Society's Davy Medal in 1965.


Thompson's contributions to international science were quite exceptional. His year in Berlin convinced him of the importance of international scientific cooperation and he was quick to renew contacts at the end of the Second World War, visiting Germany in 1947 under the auspices of the Control Commission's Research Branch. In April 1949 he received an invitation to go out to Germany for a three-year period as Director of the Research Branch but he felt obliged to decline this invitation as too disruptive of his scientific career at Oxford. His interests and experience in international affairs made him an inspired choice as Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, 1965-1971. He expanded and encouraged scientific exchanges, making contacts, devising new programmes and securing the funding from private foundations and government. Thompson also made important contributions to international science as President of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), 1963-1966 and President of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), 1973-1975. Furthermore, Thompson's contributions to international relations were not limited to science. As Chairman of the Great Britain - China Committee, 1972-1974 and of the Great Britain - China Centre, 1974-1980 he played a significant part in developing non-political relations between the two countries after the dislocations of the Cultural Revolution.


No outline of Thompson's career would be complete without a few words on association football. He played football for Oxford from his first term and was awarded his Blue in 1928. He became Treasurer of the Oxford University Association Football Club in 1931 and served the Club for over half a century. His love of the amateur game is also illustrated by the founding in 1948 of Pegasus, a combined Oxford and Cambridge eleven, to play in the Football Association Amateur Cup Competition. In 1941 Thompson became the Oxford representative on the Football Association Council and over the years he played an increasingly important role in the Association's affairs, culminating in his period as Chairman, 1976-1981. As befits someone with Thompson's interest in international cooperation, he was also actively involved in the affairs of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).

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