Christ Church Oxford

The Lee's Readers

Matthew Lee
Matthew Lee:  Roubiliac


Most of the material presented here is due to Dr Paul W. Kent, Dr Lee's Reader in Chemistry from 1956–1972.  It appears in expanded form in his booklet Some Scientists in the life of Christ Church , Oxford, published in 2001, and available for purchase from the
Cathedral shop and the college library

Further valuable information was assembled by Mrs Stephanie Jenkins.

The Lee’s Readers and Lee’s Professors

Christ Church has long held an exceptional position in the sciences, having taught or been host to some of the greatest of all names, from Robert Hooke to Albert Einstein.  Hooke (1635 – 1702/3) was the outstanding inventor of perhaps any age, and some have described him as the ‘English Leonardo da Vinci’.  One of the most important influences on science in Christ Church, and thus in Oxford and yet more widely, was the benefaction of Dr Matthew Lee (1695 – 1755), out of which was created a Readership first in Anatomy, and subsequently in Chemistry and Physics.

The Lee Trust underwent extensive modification in the period around the 1920s. Three new Dr Lee's Professorships in Chemistry, Anatomy and Experimental Philosophy (Physics) were created by the University of Oxford, to which the Trust made financial contributions. The Lee's Readerships continued to be attached to Studentships at Christ Church "in memory of Matthew Lee" and to retain certain of their historic privileges. A Royal Commission in 1881 had put the Lee's Readership on the same basis as University Readerships or Professorships: ' A statute in part for the University and in part for the Cathedral or House of Christ Church, concerning Dr Lee's Readers'

The Lee Benefaction and the origins of the Christ Church Science Laboratory

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Anatomy Museum

The Anatomy Museum in 1821

Interior of Anatomy
Museum before

Interior of the Anatomy Museum before 1860

PCL in 1942

The Physical Chemistry Laboratory in 1942

The Lee Building

A laboratory was built at Christ Church that for many years served as a place of instruction and research for the use of the  Lee's Readers.  It is thought that the creation of the laboratory had originally been suggested by John Freind, physician to Queen Caroline, who gave a course in Chemistry in 1704.  His will directed that, if his son should die without children, £1000 would be given for the building of an Anatomy School at Christ Church and for the salary of a Reader in the subject. It is not clear what happened to this benefaction but the son died unmarried in 1750 and it is probable that the bequest was indeed made to Christ Church, since 1750 is the commonly quoted date of the foundation of the Matthew Lee Readership (the Freind bequest would in any case have been inadequate for the purpose intended).

In 1859, the Lee's Reader in Anatomy moved his laboratory to the University Museum when the anatomical series (specimens) from the Anatomy School were placed under the charge of the Professor of Medicine. Vernon Harcourt, the Dr. Lee's Reader in Chemistry, took over the building and it became a Chemistry Laboratory until ca. 1942.  A series of  important studies of isotopes and radioactivity, for example, were conducted in the laboratory in the early part of the twentieth century, as described later.

The Christ Church laboratory finally closed on the opening of the new Physical Chemistry Laboratory in South Parks Road. Other college laboratories also closed as the University's laboratory facilities became centralised. The Christ Church laboratory had seen nearly 200 years of useful service to generations of undergraduates, and had been the location of much important research carried out with remarkable economy.

T he chemical atmosphere literally remained in the Christ Church laboratory building for many years, as regrettably did traces of its radioactive past, long after it came to serve as a store for the College's handsome collection of pictures bequeathed by General Guise. On the completion of the Picture Gallery in Canterbury Quad in 1968, the laboratory, the Lee Building, was transformed into the attractive and comfortable annex to the Senior Common Room which it now is, thanks to the tasteful designs of Oscar Wood, one of the Tutors in Philosophy.

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John Freind

John Freind, who suggested the creation of the laboratory

Lee Building

The Anatomy Museum (now called the Lee Building or Lee Gallery) before it was made radioactive by Russell and Collie.  It is now part of the Senior Common Room, having lost most of its radioactivity 


Matthew Lee and the Lee’s Reader in Anatomy

M atthew Lee matriculated in 1713 and studied medicine, graduating BA (1717), MA (1720), BM (1722) and DM (1726). He showed marked affection for the House, and the Chapter leased to him the lucrative tithes of the Rectory of Chippenham, which  no doubt secured his material comfort, since the tithes were additional to the income from his rewarding and extensive medical practices. Having married a young lady from London in 1730, he moved to the capital, where he practised even more successfully. Lee does not at this stage appear to have had great interest in the scientific aspects of the profession; his contribution was to come later, in his will. In 1731 he became physician to Frederick, Prince of Wales, who died in 1751 from an infected cyst possibly initiated two years previously by a blow from a cricket ball.

M atthew Lee died in 1755 and left the bulk of his estate (over £20,000) to Christ Church for the advancement of Westminster students and for the endowment of a Readership in Anatomy.  Nevertheless, there were strict conditions: the holder of the post was to have been educated at Westminster, to hold the degree of MA having studied physick, to be a layman, to reside in Oxford for at least six months annually, to instruct only in Anatomy, Physick and Botany, and to dissect two bodies each year (for which the Trust provided an additional £40 per annum as running costs). The dissections were public spectacles: the Dean could nominate four Students and two Commoners to attend without charge, all others being required to pay a fee.

Gardner's History, Gazetteer, & Directory of Oxfordshire for 1852 says (page 191) about the Anatomy Theatre:

"The Anatomical Theatre formerly called the Anatomy school, was begun in 1776 and partly finished by the benefaction of Dr Freind who died in 1728, leaving £1000 towards promoting the study of anatomy; and partly with the legacy of Dr M. Lee, physician to George II, who endowed the lectureship and was, in other respects a great benefactor to the college. This is a handsome convenient building, comprising a museum well furnished with subjects in neat glass cases, and fine wax models, executed at Florence, to illustrate the study to which it is appropriated. Here, among other curiosities, they show the skeleton of a woman who had ten husbands, and was hanged at the age of thirty-six for the murder of four of them."
"The lectures of Dr Lee's reader in anatomy, are delivered here, and underneath are apartments for the purposes of dissection."


Dean Gregory

Dean Gregory (BA1718, MA 1721, BD1731, DD1732), who had been at school with Lee, was the first Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford and then Canon of Christ Church (1736). He was also Master of Sherburn Hospital, Durham, an appointment which he held with great conscientiousness. He had great interest in mathematics and science, bringing energy and new initiatives into the teaching curricula, which were extensively overhauled. By means of the Lee Trust, he established a lectureship in mathematics, which did much to promote the subject. His social standing was assured by his wife, a daughter of the Duke of Kent. In his time he oversaw much of the restoration of the Hall and the terraces in Tom Quad, and the completion of the Upper Library (after its unconscionably long time in the building); he gave the busts of George I and II (now in the Library), and saw to the establishment of the Lee Trust and the consequent building of the Anatomy Museum ( i.e. the College Laboratory).


Notes taken during Parsons's lectures

Notes taken during Parsons's lectures

John Parsons

Gregory died before the Lee benefaction came into full effect, and the first Lee's Reader in Anatomy, John Parsons, was appointed by his successor, Dean Markham, in 1767.  Parsons came to Christ Church as an undergraduate from Westminster in 1760 (with Joseph Banks, a contemporary from Eton); he became a BA in 1763 and went to study medicine in Edinburgh and London. In Edinburgh, he developed interests in botany, and was awarded a prize for his collection of plants, an incidental activity that was to have useful implications later. Returning to Oxford to become Lee's Reader, he proceeded to the DM degree in 1769, and was elected FRCP in 1775. The Radcliffe Infirmary was opened in 1770 for the reception of patients, and Parsons, and those who followed him with a medical degree, found this brought additional professional opportunities. Parsons had an extensive medical practice of his own in Oxford and in the county.

P arsons gave systematic and diligent lectures on chemistry as well as on anatomy. The published syllabus follows lines similar to those of the chemistry courses given earlier in the century. The allusions to the discoveries of named individual scientists of the time show that Parsons was well abreast of current advances in the subject. The laboratory was to have its own library of scientific and medical books, much of which has survived. The library included Joseph Priestley's Experiments on Air, the Annales de Chimie (from its first publication) in which Pasteur's classic researches on optical isomerism were published, as well as other journals, and an impressive array of monographs maintained and updated almost to the time of the laboratory's final closure. The main Christ Church Library maintained the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (from vol 1) and likewise Nature, of wider interest to scientists and mathematicians in the college, from its beginning in 1869.

J ohn Parsons died at the early age of 43, and his successors as Lee's Readers were more inclined to clinical medicine. The immediate successor, William Thomson (BA1780, BM 1785, DM 1786, FRS), was elected to the Readership in 1786 but left under a cloud in 1790, on the allegations of performing improper experiments. He went to Italy where he became physician to the Pope, and died in 1803.

Christ Church received a further important benefaction in the 18th century from another of its graduates, General Guise (BA 1701).  The General had a distinguished military career in this country and overseas, and amongst his appointments was that of Governor of Berwick. Just as Matthew Lee advised Frederick, Prince of Wales, on matters of health, so General Guise advised him on matters of artistic taste. The General himself was a considerable collector of paintings, which he bequeathed to Christ Church and which formed (1760 – 1763) the core of the House's present fine collection. Certain of the paintings, considered too indelicate for polite viewing, were hung in the lecture room of the Anatomy Museum. These were Leda and the Swan (after Michelangelo), A Sleeping Venus (after Titian), and Ariadne (unattributed). Unfortunately these fell into disrepair and are no longer in Oxford, but can be found in Cambridge used as a teaching resource for fine-art conservation.


Even as late as 1956, Carracci's The Butcher's Shop, considered to be somewhat distasteful, hung over the door in the great kitchen where it had been for many years. At the prompting of the then Curator of Pictures, a chemical analysis of the kitchen's atmosphere (by Dr Paul Kent, the source of most of this text) revealed the unsurprising result that it was highly corrosive, the kitchen operations being gas-fired. The picture was then removed and eventually accorded its present more fitting position in the picture gallery.

Cyril Jackson was Dean from 1783 to 1809, a period during which Kidd was appointed. Jackson was a notable scholar, an FRS, and a knowledgeable botanist and mathematician.  In addition to all else, he lent his influence to strengthening the academic structure of Oxford and Christ Church. Honour Schools (Lit. Hum.), instituted in 1800 under his guidance, were to change the university way of life.

John Kidd

John Kidd

John Kidd

John Kidd matriculated from Westminster in 1793 as a Scholar of the House, taking his BA in 1797. Thereafter, he studied medicine at Guy's Hospital with Sir Astley Cooper, qualifying (BM) in 1801. In the same year he was appointed Reader, and then in 1803 Aldrichian Professor of Chemistry, lecturing assiduously on mineralogy and geology.  He made an important improvement in medical education by drawing up fresh and demanding requirements for the degree of BM.

Kidd also lectured on chemistry, but in 1818 was subjected to public criticism by Brande, the Secretary of the Royal Society, in an article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica , on the grounds that chemistry was inadequately taught in English Universities.  Kidd made a robust response, and published in detail the syllabus of his chemistry lectures delivered in 1815, 1816 and 1817. The subject matter of these lectures was very different from that of John Parsons's forty years earlier. The phlogiston era had passed and Kidd was fully aware of the discoveries of Lavoisier, Priestley, Cavendish and Davy, whom he mentions by name.  He published a number of papers as well as a treatise in two volumes on Outlines of Mineralogy . In 1821 Kidd reported an experimental study of the pyrolysis products of coal tar, in which for the first time naphthalene (i.e. moth balls) was isolated and its properties described. The paper concludes: "It remains for me to propose a name for the white concrete substance which has been described in this paper: and unless a more appropriate name should be suggested by others, I would propose to call it naphthaline."

K idd became Lee's Reader in Anatomy in 1816 and Regius Professor of Medicine in 1822. His lectures were greatly appreciated by a wide circle: Shelley attended those on mineralogy, but seems to have been less receptive than most, since he called out as he hastened on his way "stones, stones, nothing but stones". Amongst Kidd's pupils, several were to make significant scientific names for themselves, including Charles Daubeny and William Buckland. Charles Daubeny, Professor of Chemistry and then Botany, became a leading figure in the construction and endowment of the laboratories for teaching and research at Magdalen College, which, like Christ Church, produced generations of gifted medical and scientific men.
Buckland was a most significant contributor to the study of geology.  However, as a dinner guest he was something of a risk, since he believed that all of the animal kingdom was edible:  he delighted undergraduates, and possibly some of his seniors, by his intrepid attempts to munch his way through the known species.


Kidd lecturing in the Anatomy Museum

Buckland was an enthusiast for technological advance, and chaired the Oxford Gas Company on its formation in 1818.  The gasworks is mentioned later in connection with Vernon Harcourt.
37 St Giles

37 St Giles

K idd lived in the later part of his life in a house in St Giles, Oxford .  Records of the British Medical Association show that in 1835 Kidd gave a large dinner party at 37, St Giles, after a Council meeting of the BMA.   Kidd must therefore have already moved here from his earlier home in Cornmarket with his wife and four daughters. At first he must have rented the house, as it was only in 1843 that it was conveyed it to him. The 1851 census shows him in retirement here at the age of 76 with his wife Isabella, his two youngest daughters, his wife's sister Miss Agrilla Savery, and two servants.
K idd died on 17 September 1851 and was buried at St Giles Church on 22 September: his gravestone is still to been seen in the graveyard on the north side, near the Banbury Road. At the time of the 1861 census the head of the household was his wife Isabella, aged 86, then living here with all four of their daughters -- Isabella, Beatrice (a widow), Frances, and Susan -- plus a cook and two housemaids. Mrs Kidd was buried at St Giles Church in 1863, followed by Frances in 1871 and Isabella junior in 1875.

I n 1881 his youngest daughter, Miss Susan Kidd, then aged 66, was the head of the household, and she lived alone at No. 37 with her housekeeper's family (who probably occupied the premises at the back of the house). She was buried at St Giles Church in 1894, and the ownership of the house passed to the Dr Lee's Trust, as stipulated by John Kidd's will.  The house has been occupied for most of the period since then by a succession of Lee's Readers.

St Giles Church
St Giles Church in 1834

Henry Acland

Amongst others who benefited from Buckland's lectures was Henry Wentworth Acland, who matriculated at Christ Church in 1835. From the start, he was destined for medicine, but in studying for the BA he was advised to go to no lectures related to the subject, but instead to broaden his mind. In this he was fortunate in having Henry Liddell (later Dean of Christ Church) as his Tutor. After graduation (BA 1840), Acland took up medical studies at St George's Hospital, London, receiving his BM in 1844. But poor health had prompted him to take a remedial voyage on a naval vessel, and he was advised subsequently to avoid any sort of strenuous occupation. Acting on this advice, he was elected to a Fellowship at All Souls (1840), at the time described "as a club for young men of good family who had shown or who were thought to possess some aptitude for work". There, as the College's Reader in Natural Philosophy, he sought permission to teach their handful of Bible Clerks, and was permitted to do so provided that he lectured at 6 a.m. Further medical studies followed at Edinburgh (1844), where he familiarised himself with current developments in microscopy, and the following year he returned to Oxford as Lee's Reader in Anatomy in succession to Kidd, whom he held in high regard. Acland was appointed Regius Professor of Medicine in 1857, and for many years was the leading figure in Oxford medicine, not least at the Radcliffe Infirmary. Though primarily interested in medicine and its clinical aspects, Acland made a major contribution which revolutionised Oxford science, by initiating and bringing to fruition the building of the University Museum in Parks Road with its attendant science laboratories. Until then, the Old Ashmolean had been the only dedicated university building for experimental science.

A rising out of a meeting of the British Association in 1847, Acland gathered support from Charles Daubeny and Robert Walker, as well as Ruskin, Sir Benjamin Brodie (Professor of Chemistry), Pusey and others, to press the University into action, despite considerable opposition. In 1850, the Honour School of Natural Science was instituted and gave a framework to academic teaching in science. Part of the problem was that a tutor had traditionally taught everything. New pressures, resulting from the growth of science and the need for experimental facilities, made this situation untenable, and specialisation, however much resented, was inevitable. Much has been written about the alleged antagonism between Acland and Pusey, who were both members of Christ Church, but there is considerable evidence that they were on friendly terms, and indeed Pusey (who proved himself as a good man of business on Hebdomadal Council) made particular efforts to assist Acland.

T he Christ Church anatomical specimens included the skeleton of a giraffe.  The giraffe's tail is now made of plaster of Paris, a modification that came about as a result of Acland's experimentation. Pusey (Regius Professor of Hebrew) lent Acland (Lee's Reader in Anatomy) one of his stables for the preparation of the skeleton of a dead giraffe, an unpleasant, lengthy and evil-smelling process. So unpleasant was it that the men working in the next-door stable, weary of the nuisance, seized the bones and threw them out into the street (St Aldates), whereupon a dog ran off with the tail. So it was that the giraffe had to be provided with a new tail of plaster of Paris. When the University Museum was completed (1860), the anatomical collections in the Christ Church laboratories  were transferred on loan, and a room was designated in the Museum for the Lee's Reader in Anatomy. The Christ Church laboratory now awaited a new occupant and role.


Lee’s Readership in Chemistry

The Royal Commission reporting in 1852 proposed plans for a Science Museum, a Professorship of Physiology, and the creation of a Lee's Readership in Chemistry. (The Lee's Readership in Physics was not to appear until 1869). Nevil Story-Maskelyne (BA 1845, MA 1849, FRS, FIC), a member of Wadham College and another of Buckland's outstanding pupils, became Professor of Mineralogy in 1856, and Keeper of the Mineralogical Department of the British Museum. The evolution debate was at its height and Story-Maskelyne's views were held in high regard. In his deposition to the Royal Commission he reported that "Christ Church was the only college which required all its undergraduates to attend courses in Experimental Philosophy," indicating that, despite the dominance of classical studies and the humanities, in Christ Church exceptionally undergraduates were expected to attend lectures in Natural Philosophy.

T he first Lee's Reader in Chemistry was A. G. V. Harcourt, a Balliol man (1854, First Class in Natural Science 1858), who had been fortunate in having Henry Smith, a capable mathematician, as his tutor. He was also taught by Sir Benjamin Brodie, the Professor of Chemistry, and worked in his laboratory. Harcourt, most unusually, was elected to the Readership (1859) on the basis of a competitive examination, theoretical and practical. There were only two candidates and Harcourt won. He continued his experimental work at the Museum until about 1863, when the Christ Church laboratory had been converted for his use. His gifts as a researcher and teacher were outstanding, and Harcourt was to have a transforming influence on British chemistry through his fundamental discoveries and through the brilliant pupils who went out from his tutelage.

Vernon Harcourt

Vernon Harcourt

Oxford from the gasworks

Oxford from the gasworks whose products Harcourt analysed

H arcourt was an impressive character, modest, meticulous and talented in many ways. In his research, he observed that, though most chemical processes were extremely rapid, some proceeded slowly. He first selected for the study the reaction between potassium permanganate and oxalic acid, and proceeded to analyse its time course in mathematical terms, reflecting something of the influence of his Balliol tutor. Being reticent about his own mathematical ability, he sought the collaboration of William Esson (1839 – 1916), a mathematician at Merton College. Why he did not choose his Christ Church colleague, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), with whom he had cordial relations, remains unclear. Esson took up the challenge and thereafter made it his main research interest, publishing a series of important papers with Harcourt. In 1866 – 7 their results indicated that "the total amount of change occurring at any moment is proportionate to the quantity of substance then remaining". This statement embodied a fundamental chemical principle which was to be the beginning of chemical kinetics. The initial research was followed by investigations extending over many years of the effects of temperature on the reaction. The Harcourt and Esson work was a notable advance, in the course of which Esson noticed that the reaction would cease totally if the temperature diminished to −272.6°C, i.e. approached absolute zero. Harcourt did not seem to be impressed with this significant fact. But his reputation grew, and he became FRS in 1863, and was President of the Chemical Society, President of the Chemical Section of the British Association, and for many years its Secretary. In his later years, Harcourt was strongly opposed to the Theory of Ionic Dissociation, considering the phenomena to be nothing more than decomposition.

Harcourt constructed at Christ Church apparatus for gas analysis which entailed accurate measurements often at low pressures. This was accomplished by the use of a brilliantly simple but highly effective gauge, invented by Herbert McLeod at the Royal Indian Civil Engineering College at Coopers Hill and in association with the Royal Institution. McLeod, invited by Harcourt to visit Oxford to install analytical apparatus, stayed in Christ Church from 31 August until 14 September 1870. The work in hand was the perfecting of methods for the analysis of town gas.

Reaction kinetics, the study of rate processes, has been a recurring theme of physical chemistry in Oxford since these auspicious beginnings. Sir Cyril Hinshelwood (Dr Lee's Professor of Chemistry, 1937 –  1964)  and F.A. Lindemann (see later) made a major contribution to the study of unimolecular reactions.  Keith Laidler has described Oxford's kinetics in several of his books, and in greatest detail in his article Chemical Kinetics and the Oxford College Laboratories (Arch. History Exact Sciences38, 217 and 240 (1988))  The present Dr Lee's reader in Chemistry has followed in this tradition, applying the study of gas-phase chemical kinetics to the investigation of atmospheric chemistry

N V. Sidgwick (1883-1952), one of Harcourt's most distinguished pupils, was destined to become, in many ways, his intellectual successor. Having come up to the House as a Scholar, he was awarded 1st class Honours in Chemistry in 1896. Oral tradition has it that he was then taunted by some of his contemporaries that this was no real test of academic ability: Greats (Ancient History, Philosophy, Greek, and Latin) was the real challenge. Subsequently he entered his name for that final examination and in 1897 was awarded 1st class Honours in Greats, so silencing his tormentors. After a period at Tubingen University, he became Fellow and Tutor at Lincoln College and then Professor of Chemistry from 1933 until 1945. He was then successively advisor to the Governmental Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and then Chairman of the Chemical Review Board. In due course he was President of the Faraday Society and of the Chemical Society. Many honours came to him including FRS, the Royal Medal of the Royal Society, and the award of the CBE.  Sidgwick's scientific publications were standard works of reference for many years, and are still regarded as classics of their time.

As Lee's Reader in Chemistry, Harcourt was succeeded (1902) by one of his early pupils, H. B. Baker, who had been an undergraduate at Balliol and had worked there with Dixon. Having secured First Class Honours in Chemistry, he left in 1884 and became a schoolmaster at Dulwich, where he continued his research on the catalytic effect of trace amounts of water on the rate of chemical reactions and, very exceptionally, was elected FRS when still a schoolmaster. Baker was convinced that many reactions simply would not proceed if water was totally absent. By rigorously drying reactive gases he was able to demonstrate that such mixtures did not explode when otherwise they would have done so: he was widely referred to as "Dry Baker" or even "Dry Bones Baker". He taught a group of able pupils, including Humphrey Paget, a son of the Dean, who described Baker as an eloquent lecturer and a skilful experimentalist with particular gifts as a worker of glass.   Baker moved to London in 1912 on his appointment to the chair at Imperial College.

A mongst Baker's other distinguished pupils was W.A. Akers (later Sir Wallace Akers FRS), an exhibitioner who graduated in 1909. Akers went on to make important contributions to the chemical industry. During the Second World War he was a co-director of "Tube Alloys", the pseudonym for the British Atomic Energy programme, co-ordinating researchers in the country with those in the USA. In 1943 he was joined by Niels Bohr (the originator of the Bohr model of the hydrogen atom) in what was probably the most diverse and massive scientific research enterprise ever undertaken, and made the more complex by its international and secret nature. After the War, Akers was the research director of ICI.

E lsewhere in Oxford around this time, there were young rising figures who were to make important contributions to scientific advancement. In 1907, H. G. J. Moseley entered Trinity College as an exhibitioner, where he read physics and graduated in 1910. Thereafter he went to Manchester to Rutherford's laboratory and was awarded the John Harley Fellowship. Here he worked alongside A.S. Russell (who a few years later was to come to Christ Church as Lee's Reader in Chemistry) at the time when Russell was advancing evidence for the existence of isotopes. In 1913, Moseley published his celebrated paper ( Phil. Mag. 1913, pp.1024 – 34) which established the principle of atomic numbers, so allowing the elements to be set in proper order in the Periodic Table and opening the way for isotopes. Early in 1914 he returned to Oxford to continue his researches with Townsend in the Electrical Laboratory, where he published a further important paper ( Phil. Trans . 1914, pp. 703 – 13). Tragically he was killed at Gallipoli in 1915.

A s the conflict wore on, Christ Church, like all men's Colleges, became denuded of its undergraduates, though some service cadets were housed. By 1917, of the eleven freshmen who matriculated only eight appear to have come into residence, the rest being shown as absent on military service, most never to return.


Another area of research was taken up in the Christ Church laboratory by H. B. Dixon (1852-1930), one of Harcourt's pupils, who was awarded 1st Class Honours in Chemistry in 1875 (having narrowly escaped being sent down two years previously for inattention to his Classical studies, but saved for science on Harcourt's pleading). Dixon's interests were in explosions in gases, heightened possibly by the fact that his father's house in London had been damaged severely in 1874 when a barge on the Regent's Canal blew up. Town gas being the common illuminant, explosions were neither infrequent nor insignificant, and one in Tottenham Court Road demolished several houses and caused several fatalities. Harcourt was appointed a Metropolitan Referee under the Gas Act to oversee the purity and safety of town gas. With Harcourt's encouragement Dixon set up long tubes in the Christ Church laboratory in 1876 to investigate the explosion waves in mixtures of air and carbon monoxide, experiments he transferred later to the Trinity-Balliol laboratories after his election as a Fellow of Trinity. Dixon was able to set up even longer tubes for his experiments under the Hall in Balliol - no doubt with enlivening effects on the residents. He later became Professor of Chemistry at Manchester.

A.S. Russell

A.S. Russell

R. K. Callow, after graduating in chemistry in 1923, was awarded a research scholarship at Christ Church. His research interests moved to biochemistry, first at the Rothamstead Experimental Station and then as member of the scientific staff of the Medical Research Council. One of his slightly unusual interests was in the Bee Research Association, where he was a notable member for many years. J. R. (later Sir John) Maddox joined Christ Church as an Exhibitioner in 1943, was awarded first class honours in chemistry in 1947 and was subsequently a lecturer at Manchester University. In due course he became the distinguished editor of Nature between 1966 and 1973, and from 1980 – years which saw monumental progress in science, especially in molecular biology. In 2000, he was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society.

I n Michaelmas 1919, the War over, a vast intake of undergraduates took place, a feature which was to be repeated in the following year and after. The principal task facing the College was the total re-creation of its life and academic structure. In 1920, A. S. Russell, MC, a Glasgow graduate who had worked with Nernst, Rutherford and Soddy, was appointed to the Lee's Readership in Chemistry. Russell had already made fundamental discoveries in the field of radioactivity, and it is arguable that the term and concept of an "isotope" was originated by him. At the same time, T. B. Heaton, an old Houseman, was elected Lee's Reader in Anatomy. Both gave themselves unstintingly to the restructuring process and to the enormous teaching load it entailed. For most of the 1920s, Oxford colleges had undergraduate populations covering a wide age range and often with vast experience of the War and its aftermath.

I n the 1920s, Russell continued his research in radioactivity in the College laboratory, still retaining a curiosity for possible numerical relationships between isotopes. He expanded his interests into amalgams, and inter-metallic species, on which he published a number of papers. The College laboratory provided experimental teaching courses in inorganic chemistry for undergraduates from all Oxford colleges. The arrangement for sharing specialist areas of experimental chemistry amongst the various college laboratories had been devised by Baker at the beginning of the century. Elsewhere, organic chemistry was located at Queen's College, analytical chemistry at Magdalen, and physical chemistry at the Trinity-Balliol laboratory and at Jesus College.

Russell did not take large numbers of pupils on his tutorial list, but those he did were well chosen and many went on to make notable contributions to science and the world at large. One of his freshmen pupils was W. H. Auden, who came up in 1925. Russell used to say that he knew Auden would not last in chemistry as his essays were capable of beginning "Of all the elements, beryllium is the most beautiful". Auden changed to PPE after his first year and then to English in his final year, in which he was awarded an honourable Third. But Auden used to say later that he wished he had stayed with science because he would have liked to have been a doctor, like his father. Russell's other pupils included Dr C. H. Collie (later Lee’s Reader in Physics), Professor A. R. J. P. Ubbelohde FRS, Dr R. K. Callow FRS and Sir John Maddox FRS, to name but a few.

I n the years leading up to the Second World War, Russell played an increasing part in the College's administration, and in 1938 became Censor, a position which he held with dedication and devotion throughout the War. This time matters were different. Previously, universities being denuded of their students in the 1914 – 18 War, the country found itself by about 1916 with a diminishing number of scientists, doctors and mathematicians. In the 1939 – 45 War, male undergraduates studying chemistry, physics, mathematics, engineering and medicine were allowed to continue, albeit under concentrated and more intensive conditions. All had to undergo, simultaneously, preliminary military training with the Senior Training Corps, and in many cases they were required also to undertake fire-watching duties or some other form of Civil Defence on a regular rota. Women students continued much as in peacetime. Many senior members of the University with specialised scientific expertise were called away to Government Research Establishments, and those in the humanities were not wholly exempt from the national requirements, as in the encypherment establishments and intelligence service. The teaching structure of Christ Church and of Oxford, however, remained substantially intact, awaiting the inevitable flood of undergraduates which followed the War's end.

Ubbelohde came to the UK as a refugee from Belgium at the time of the First World War and matriculated as a scholar of Christ Church in 1926. In the course of an outstanding undergraduate career, he won the Dukes Prize for French, the University's Gibbs Prize for Chemistry and gained a first class honours degree. He studied at Gottingen in Eucken's laboratory, there developing his interests in thermodynamics. Subsequently he was Professor of Chemistry at Queens University, Belfast, and then of Thermodynamics at Imperial College, London, and was elected FRS in 1951. Ubbelohde was unquestionably an outstanding intellect with multiple talents, breadth of mind and a cultivated personality. He was elected an Honorary Student of Christ Church in 1979.


The establishment in 1869 of the Dr. Lee's Readership in Physics was not without controversy, and prompted vigorous opposition from Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), the Tutor in Mathematics.  Dodgson considered that it would be an unwarranted intrusion into his sphere of  academic interest.  In his view, physics was largely a matter of applied mathematics.  The issue was resolved finally when it was agreed that the new Reader would concern himself only with experimental findings. Nevertheless, after this time Dodgson never really lectured again.  A. W. Reinhold, a Fellow of Merton, was the first Lee's Reader in Physics to be appointed. Previously he had been a Scholar of Brasenose (First class Mathematics, 1866, First class Natural Science 1867, Junior and Senior Mathematical Scholar). He left Christ Church in 1873, subsequently being elected FRS and becoming Professor of Physics at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. His published researches included the investigations of the properties of thin films.

In 1872 Harcourt was joined by R. E. Baynes as Lee's Reader in Physics, though they do not appear to have had a close scientific relationship. Baynes was a Wadham man (1868 – 72, BA 1871 First in Maths, First in Natural Science, 1872), and at Christ Church served as Censor (1884 – 87); he was Proctor in 1886. He was Steward of Christ Church from 1895 until 1902. In 1878, he published textbooks, Book of Heat and Lessons on Thermodynamics . In 1870, Oxford physics gained substantial additional support when the Clarendon Laboratories were built. Baynes gave long service to the House and retired in 1919, having been involved with the committee which appointed F.A. Lindemann, one of Christ Church’s most distinguished physicists.

I n the 1920s, C.H. Bosanquet was elected Lee's Reader at Christ Church, though not a Student of Christ Church, and he was succeeded in 1929 by C.H. Collie. Collie had come to the UK during the First World War, his father having owned an antimony factory in Belgium. He went to Warwick School, where he encountered Sydney Watson, whom he was to meet again as a colleague in 1955 as Organist and Music Tutor at Christ Church. Collie entered New College as a Scholar to read Chemistry, and undertook research with Russell in the Christ Church laboratory in 1924. The radioactivity researches of the day were basic and horrifyingly simple in their techniques. "We just used to take 1 kg of uranium..." he would begin. After graduating, Collie devoted himself to physics, with encouragement and good will from Lindemann, leading to an appointment in the Clarendon laboratory.  In 1928, he came to Christ Church and became Lee's Reader in Physics until his retirement in 1971. Collie was to lay the foundations of what became nuclear physics at Oxford, a subject enlarged subsequently by the appointment of D. H. Wilkinson FRS to a chair in the subject linked to Christ Church. Douglas Roaf, after graduating in physics at Brasenose College, undertook research on radioactivity in association with some of the leading figures of the day (J. J. Thomson, Einstein, Lindemann) and was elected Duke of Westminster Student at Christ Church in 1936. Important contributions coming from his work, especially on proton and pi-meson interactions, gave him international standing. Roaf and Collie shared the teaching of physics for many years, and between them they produced a distinguished succession of pupils, including (Sir) Martin Ryle FRS, M. A. Grace FRS, A H Cooke, and Richard Wilson.

Michael Grace, who graduated in physics (1944) at Christ Church, undertook the first war-time research into the development of acoustic underwater mines, then devoted himself to nuclear physics, in which he became a distinguished authority. In 1959, he became a Student of Christ Church and a Tutor for the remainder of his working life, serving as Censor (1964 – 69); he was elected Lee's Reader in Physics in 1972. A. H. Cooke went on to research after graduation (1935), and between 1940 and 1945 worked on radar at the Admiralty. He returned to Oxford in 1946 as Fellow and Tutor of New College, and led a distinguished group investigating nuclear magnetism and low temperature physics until his appointment as Warden of New College in 1976. Richard Wilson (BA1946, MA, DPhil 1948), an international authority on nuclear physics and Professor at Harvard University, played a prominent role as an adviser to the Soviet Government on remedial measures following the Chernobyl fall-out disaster. As an undergraduate during the war years, he took a lively part in College and University life, especially the Boat Club, the Scout Club, the OU Labour Club, and the Society for Psychical Research. A period (1948 – 53) as a Research Lecturer at the House was followed by various appointments in the USA finally leading to Harvard. His prolific publications made contributions of international standing in the fields of environmental and ecological security and of radiation medicine. In 1989 he received the Forum Award of the American Physical Society.

Martin Ryle (half-brother to Gilbert Ryle, the noted Oxford philosopher) graduated in 1934 and developed interests in radar, which he applied to astronomy, conducting celebrated research into the mapping of radio sources in the universe. After his appointment as first Professor of Radio Astronomy at Cambridge, he became Astronomer Royal and received the Nobel Prize in 1974.

F.A. Lindemann

F.A. Lindemann
(Lord Chewell)

The Dr Lee’s Professors

T he new provision for Lee's Professors was approved by the Royal Commission reporting in 1922, and to the Professorships came Arthur Thompson (Anatomy), F. Soddy (Chemistry) who received the Nobel Prize in 1921, and, slightly later, F. A. Lindemann (Experimental Philosophy  — later ennobled as Lord Cherwell). All three initially were Students of Christ Church. To this impressive galaxy then was added A. E. Garrod (1857 – 1936) as Regius Professor of Medicine. Garrod had been an undergraduate at the House, where he read Chemistry under Harcourt, gaining First Class Honours in 1880 — a year when 19 Oxford men wrote Schools in Chemistry, seven of them from Christ Church. Before graduating, he was awarded the Johnson Memorial Prize for his memoir on astronomy. Garrod was a man of monumental intellectual capability who applied his exact knowledge of chemistry to medical diagnosis with great effect.  He was thus a founder of clinical chemistry, but he is also regarded as the originator of molecular genetics. His pioneer work from 1899 onwards on inborn errors of metabolism had shown for the first time the familial dependence of certain metabolic abnormalities. George Beadle (Nobel Prizeman in this area of study) in 1958 paid tribute to Garrod as the source of the 'one gene – one enzyme' principle. At Oxford, Garrod was a powerful influence in the founding of the University's Department of Biochemistry, now the largest in this country, and in obtaining funding from the Rockefeller Foundation for its construction.

T he scientific side of Oxford and Christ Church was strengthened greatly by the presence of Professor Lindemann ("The Prof" as he was always called). His Chair was officially attached to Wadham, but as that College was reluctant to provide him with convenient accommodation, he was elected a Student of Christ Church, where he lived, lifelong, in Meadow Building 1:3 (now 1:4), overlooking the Broad Walk. This unusual arrangement allowed him to live in Christ Church but not to participate in the affairs of the Governing Body, whilst at Wadham he governed but did not reside. Lindemann was one of the foremost mathematical physicists of his day, educated first at Darmstadt, and then under Nernst in Berlin. There he was joined for a while by A. S. Russell, where they both made numerous friends, though they moved in somewhat different spheres. Lindemann lived in considerable comfort in the Unter den Linden while Russell had a room in the Charlottenburg.

I n early life, Lindemann was a skilled and active experimentalist, a role which receded after his spell in the First War with the Royal Flying Corps establishment at Farnborough. His intellectual powers were formidable: his quickness of mind and ability to solve involved equations in his head at speed marked him as a man apart, and he was an inspiration to many young researchers. After coming to Oxford, he took dramatic steps to raise the reputation of Oxford physics.

By 1930, the deteriorating political situation in Germany caused him distress, and he went to great lengths to secure positions and financial support for leading German physicists and mathematicians to settle in the UK. Through his intervention Kuhn, Mendelssohn, Kurti and Simon all came to Oxford's Clarendon laboratory, Max Born went to Edinburgh and Peierls to Birmingham. The most distinguished friend from Lindemann's time in Germany was Einstein, with whom he was regularly in touch. In 1931 Einstein was elected to a Research Studentship at Christ Church  which he held nominally until 1935. He was awarded an honorary DSc, and in 1933 gave the Herbert Spencer Lecture on "The Method of Theoretical Physics ".  Though he travelled a good deal, the mere fact of having him in the College was to outstanding effect. Russell, regretting that he tended to make much of his social life, including his violin-playing, with German-speaking friends outside the college, remarked that 'Einstein thinks that I am the only German speaker in the College'. There were, of course, others, including Lindemann himself.

L indemann always figured prominently in College life, though as a vegetarian he rarely dined at the High Table. During the War, he was scientific advisor to Churchill, much involved in crucial decisions at the highest level.  After the War, and ennobled, he would come into the Senior Common Room after dinner, having returned from the House of Lords, and regale the company with the deeds and alleged misdeeds of the Government. Lindemann actually knew a good deal about classical literature, though he had strong views about its over-dominance as an educational medium: 'It is more important to know about the properties of chlorine than the improprieties of Claudius', he was heard to say. In his measured view of civilised leisure, he proved himself as a talented pianist and an excellent tennis player. He and (Sir Alfred) Egerton (Professor of Thermodynamics) were in their day both skilled squash players, and Einstein was introduced to the mysteries of their game by the young Ubbelohde as the two watched from the gallery of Egerton's private court.


The Lee’s Readers


1767 – 1785  John Parsons
1785 – 1790   William Thomson
1790 – 1816  Christopher Pegge
1816 – 1844  John Kidd
1845 – 1857   Henry Acland
1857 – 1860  George Rollaston
1860 – 1869   Sir William Church
1869 – 1919  J.B. Thompson
1920 – 1953  Trevor Heaton 
1955 – 1957   Anthony Allison
1958 – 1986  Peter Matthews
2003 –            Ian Thompson


1859 – 1902   A.G. Vernon Harcourt
1902 – 1912   H.B. ('Dry') Baker
1920 – 1955   Alex Russell
1956 – 1972   Paul Kent
1972 –             Richard Wayne

1869 – 1872  A.W.  Reinhold
1879 – 1919  R.E. Baynes
1920 – 1929  C.H. Bosanquet
1929 – 1971  Carl Collie
1972 – 1987  Michael Grace
1988 – 2002  Jack Paton

R.P. Wayne and P.W. Kent
31 May 2004

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