Catalogue description Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of JANET VIDA WATSON FRS (1923 - 1985)

This record is held by Geological Society of London

Details of NCUACS 48/4/94
Reference: NCUACS 48/4/94
Title: Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of JANET VIDA WATSON FRS (1923 - 1985)









The collection, though small, includes significant records of her geological researches in the Highlands of Scotland.


Section A, Biographical, is the largest in the collection. It includes obituaries of Watson and her own autobiographical notes for her Royal Society personal record, records of her career and some of the honours accorded her. There are also the letters of condolence John Sutton received on her death, many with recollections of Watson. A particularly interesting component of this section are the poems and short stories by Watson (possibly including some by her sister and mother) chiefly dating from the 1940s. There are also a number of photographs of Watson including some from visits to East Germany in connection with the International Geological Correlation Programme.


Section B, Notebooks, is a sequence of thirty-six notebooks covering Watson's research, chiefly in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, from undergraduate research in 1946, through her Ph.D. research in the Scourie area during the late 1940s and the 1950s research in Banffshire and central Rosshire, to her work on the Lewisian granite of the Outer Hebrides from the later 1960s and later work in Orkney during the early 1980s. Additionally a few notebooks record some of Watson's overseas visits.


Section C, Research and publications, brings together miscellaneous drafts, annotated off-prints and other material relating to some of Watson's research activities and publications arising. The bulk of the material relates to work in Scotland during the 1970s, including drafts prepared in the course of compiling a memoir on the geology of the Outer Hebrides in collaboration with the Institute of Geological Sciences. There is also a very short sequence of scientific correspondence relating to Watson's research.


Section D, Maps, includes maps from Watson's Ph.D. research in the Scourie area and work in southern Skye. However, the largest component is annotated maps of the Outer Hebrides used from the 1960s.


Compiled by Timothy E. Powell 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 Institute of Physics


The Royal Society


The Wellcome Trust




We are very grateful to Mrs Sutton for making the papers available.

Date: 1923-1992
Held by: Geological Society of London, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Watson, Janet Vida, 1923-1985, scientist and geologist

Physical description: 6 boxes, 1 roll
Immediate source of acquisition:

The papers were received in March 1993 from Mrs Betty Sutton, the widow and second wife of Professor John Sutton FRS. Janet Watson was Professor Sutton's first wife.

  • Geology
Unpublished finding aids:

There is also an index of correspondents.

Administrative / biographical background:



Janet Vida Watson was born in London on 1 September 1923, the daughter of D. M. S. Watson FRS, the palaeontologist, and K. M. Watson (née Parker) D.Sc. She was educated privately and at South Hampstead High School, a school chosen by her parents for the high quality of its science teaching for girls. She studied for her B.Sc. in General Science at Reading University 1940-1943, graduating with first class honours. Watson spent 1943-1944 working at the National Institute for Research in Dairying at Reading and 1944-1945 teaching biology at Wentworth School, Bournemouth. In 1945 she entered Imperial College London to study for a B.Sc. in Geology. She graduated in 1947, again with first class honours.


In 1946, on the advice of Professor H. H. Read, she undertook a mapping project in the Highlands of Scotland, initiating her lasting interest in Highland geology. On graduation she registered as a Ph.D. student supported by a Department of Scientific and Industrial Research studentship and, again on the advice of Professor Read, studied the Lewisian complex in the Scourie area of north west Scotland. At the same time John Sutton, another postgraduate student of Read, was working on the Lewisian complex in the Torridon area. Watson and Sutton reached very similar conclusions and the results of their work were written up in a joint paper. Watson and Sutton married in June 1949.


After receiving her Ph.D. in 1949 Watson was awarded a three year Senior Research Fellowship by the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851. In 1952 she took up a Research Assistantship under H. H. Read at Imperial College, a post she held until 1973 when she was appointed Senior Lecturer. She was employed on a part-time basis 1956-1974, having also to look after her elderly parents and parents-in-law. In 1974 Watson was appointed to a personal Chair in Geology at Imperial College and on her retirement in 1983 became Professor emeritus and Senior Research Fellow.


Watson's professional and public responsibilities also included service as President of Section C of the British Association 1972, membership of the National Water Council 1973-1976 and service on project 86 of the International Geological Correlation Programme surveying the south western border of the East European platform. In connection with the latter she made a number of visits to East Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.


Watson's first geological research was undertaken as an undergraduate at Imperial College on the Moine metamorphic rocks of the Strath Kildonan area in Scotland. This was followed by her postgraduate work with John Sutton on the Lewisian granite of north west Scotland. This research, which identified two successive Pre-Cambrian tectonic provinces, initiated a new stage in studies of Lewisian rocks and Watson continued to work on Lewisian rocks during her tenure of the 1851 Senior Research Fellowship. From this developed a more general study of the geology of northern Scotland, with which Sutton was involved, but Watson moved on to study of the evolution of the Scottish Caledonides. This research was concentrated on the north east Scottish coast (Banffshire). In the later 1960s Watson returned to work on the Lewisian rocks of Scotland (with particular reference to the Outer Hebrides), and she and her research students collaborated with the Highlands Unit of the Institute of Geological Sciences (IGS, later British Geological Survey) on geological mapping of the Outer Hebrides. The late 1970s saw Watson move into new fields of research. She studied ore-forming processes as an aspect of Pre-Cambrian crustal evolution and from 1977 was involved with joint work with Jane Plant of the IGS on the regional distribution of uranium in relation to the structural evolution of northern Scotland. This work took the well-known technique of stream sediment sampling and used it for investigation of fundamental geochemical problems. In addition from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s Watson also undertook collaborative research with IGS staff on the effects of diagenesis and hydrothermal activity in the post-Caledonian evolution of Scotland.


In recognition of her contributions to geology the Geological Society of London awarded her the Moiety of the Lyell Fund (jointly with Sutton) in 1954, the Bigsby Medal (again jointly with Sutton) in 1965 and the Lyell Medal in 1973. From 1982 to 1984 she was President of the Geological Society, the first woman to hold this office. In 1979 Watson was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society and was appointed a Vice President of the Society in 1983.

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