Catalogue description Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of; JOHN LAKER HARLEY FRS; (1911 - 1990)

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

Details of NCUACS 41.3.93
Reference: NCUACS 41.3.93
Title: Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of; JOHN LAKER HARLEY FRS; (1911 - 1990)



SECTION A A.1-A.3 Autobiographical


SECTION A A.4-A.22 Career, honours and awards


A.23-A.27 Miscellaneous




B.1-B.8 University appointments


B.9-B.15 Lectures


B.16-B.18 The Queen's College


B.19 St. John's College


B.20 Wadham College




C.1-C.12 Notebooks


C.13-C.53 Notes and manuscripts




D.1-D.14 Books and papers


D.15 Book reviews


D.16-D.25 Obituaries and tributes










The material is presented in the order given in the List of Contents. Where applicable reference has been made to the Bibliography prepared for the Royal Society Memoir of Harley (A.3) in the form Bibliog. ...


Section A, Biographical and autobiographical, includes the draft of Harley's unpublished autobiography 'As luck would have it' which has been quoted, with permission, in some of the entries, with a conclusion added by Lindsay Harley, and useful documentation on the principal events of Harley's career.


Section B, Oxford, offers a little complementary biographical material on Harley's college affiliations, his appointment to the Chair of Forest Science and his contribution to the 'Florey Report' of 1966 on the future of the biological sciences. Little survives of his work on the University's Hebdomadal Council, General Board and other committees, or of the routine participation in departmental affairs, examinations and the like.


Section C, Research, contains material from all stages of Harley's career. Of interest are the undergraduate work (1932-33) on the ashwoods of Ribblesdale used by A.G. Tansley in his own published work, and the graduate work (1937-39) with E.W. Yemm on ecological surveys of Thornton Mire and Huker Mire, Wensleydale. Harley's research was almost always collaborative, as can be seen from the notes and records of the 1950s on beech mycorrhiza; his collaborators are identified where possible, but it should be noted that many others, such as J.S. Waid, D.C. Smith, D.H. Lewis, B.C. Loughman are not represented.


Section D, Publications, while not covering the whole of Harley's output, documents his principal books (The History of Mycorrhiza and Mycorrhiza), many of his scientific papers, and his note of 1987 about his paper with J.S. Waid of 1955 which became a 'Citation Classic'. The material relating to the various tributes and obituaries of colleagues which he compiled, often over a considerable period, includes recollections or information from others and is of interest.


Several of the items in this section, which includes an extensive series of book reviews, are additional to those listed in the Bibliography drawn up for the Royal Society Memoir of Harley, a copy of which is at A.3.


There is virtually no surviving documentation in the collection for Harley's work as editor, referee or advisor, notably for New Phytologist.


Section E, Lectures, papers, addresses, covers a wide datespan 1940-90. They are mainly addressed to a scientific audience, but include some intended for a younger or less technical public. Towards the end of his life, he often came out strongly in such lectures against fashionable views on 'ecology' or 'conservation' in favour of a balanced approach to land use.


Section F, Visits, conferences, symposia, offers useful documentation for Harley's sabbatical visits to USA, his visits to Australia and New Zealand (as frequent as he could arrange in view of the presence there of his daughter and family), and rather more scanty material about his visits to India, and to China as leader of a Royal Society Delegation in 1975. In the 1980s Harley was a regular attender and speaker at meetings of the Northern Ireland Branch of the Institute of Biology, and also at the Congresses of the newly-formed European Mycorrhizal Society.


Section G, Societies and organisations, does not fully represent Harley's activities for professional and learned societies such as the British Ecological Society (President 1970-71), British Mycological Society (President 1967), Institute of Biology (President 1984-86), Linnean Society (Gold Medal 1988). His work on Royal Society committees is likewise somewhat scantily documented though there is material on the submission on forestry to the House of Lords Science & Technology Committee which he drafted.


Section H, Correspondence, consists mainly of incoming letters, to which Harley usually replied in longhand. Though many of his correspondents were in touch over a long period, there are few extended sequences and many gaps in the timespan. Harley's great gift for friendship is clear from the number of undergraduate, wartime and early research colleagues who became lifelong friends, those in France or French-speaking Canada being addressed in their own language which Harley had learned at his prep school and was proud to continue to use.


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:


British Petroleum plc


The Institute of Physics


The Royal Society


The Wellcome Trust

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

Harley, John Laker, 1911-1990, scientist and forest scientist

Immediate source of acquisition:

The papers were received from Mrs E.L. Harley, widow, on several occasions 1992-1993.

Administrative / biographical background:

John Laker Harley, christened John but always known as Jack, was born in 1911 at Charlton, Kent. After early preparatory schooling at Shirley House Charlton, he attended Leeds Grammar School from 1923 when his family moved there. In 1930 he won an Open Exhibition to Wadham College Oxford, where he read Botany under Professor A.G. Tansley and tutors such as A.R. Clapham and W.O. James; some of his undergraduate field study work was of sufficiently high quality to merit inclusion in Tansley's classic work on The British Islands and their Vegetation. The award of a Christopher Welch Scholarship in 1933 enabled Harley to embark on postgraduate study, on beech mycorrhiza which became, with a few interludes, the principal topic of his research career.


In 1939 he was appointed a Departmental Demonstrator, but from October 1940 served in the Royal Signals, being part of the Army Operational Research Group from 1943 and working in India and Burma; he was demobilised with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in September 1945 and returned to Oxford. His long connection with The Queen's College began in 1946, first as Browne Research Fellow, then as Tutorial Fellow from 1951 until his move to Sheffield in 1965.


From 1948 began the most productive period of Harley's research career, working with a succession of able research students on careful studies of factors governing nutrient absorption and uptake in mycorrhizal roots of beech. The work, and the resulting steady stream of publications, was recognised by his election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1964. In 1965, feeling under some pressure from university and college administrative committees and hoping to be freer to pursue active research, he accepted an invitation from his old friend and former tutor A.R. Clapham to take up the second Chair of Botany at Sheffield. In practice, Harley found a considerable administrative and departmental burden fell on him there also, including the complete redesigning and reorganising of the laboratories, and he was conscious of a further slowing-down of his research activity.


Meanwhile, his very major part in the drafting of the 'Florey Report' advocating greater cooperation at Oxford between the Departments of Botany, Agriculture and Forestry had had some effect, and in 1969 he was asked to return to Oxford and the Chair of Forest Science - a new designation indicating an intended change of emphasis. The full reorganisation and amalgamation which had been envisaged did not prove possible at that time, but Harley's ten-year tenure of the Chair was highly productive in his own research, in the development of the Department and its 'Units', and in his many commitments to the University, to learned societies and to UK and overseas science. Many of these continued after his official retirement in 1979, together with visits and lecture tours abroad.


Harley's personal qualities, which emerge from every aspect of the collection, include directness, pragmatism, thoughtfulness and commonsense. He was a calming influence in several more easily disturbed communities, and his balanced opinion carried weight. He ran his Department on an easy rein and made lasting friendships at every stage of his career, as can be seen from the tone of the correspondence. In 1938 he married Lindsay Fitt, a fellow-student in the Botany Department and a graduate of St. Hilda's College; they had a daughter Sarah (Sally) (b.May 1941) and a son Richard (b.October 1943). Lindsay shared his interests and his travels, and there are innumerable references throughout the collection to her supportive presence. It is a measure of the family's affectionate cohesion that both his wife and his daughter were his collaborators, in, respectively, Check list of mycorrhiza in the British flora (1987, 1990) and Mycorrhizal Symbiosis (1983).

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