Balliol College Archives & Manuscripts

Back to: HOME > Archives & MSS > Modern Manuscripts Collections

Papers of William Alexander Waters FRS, Fellow and Benefactor of the College (1903-1985)


This collection comprises the surviving papers of William Alexander Waters FRS, Fellow and Benefactor of the College (1903-1985). He was a pioneer in the study of organic free radicals in solution, working at the Universities of Cambridge (1924-7, PhD 1927), Durham (1928-1945, on war work from 1939) and Oxford (1945-1970, but continuing at the at the bench on an occasional basis until ca 1977). He was a Fellow of the College 1945-1970, and an Emeritus Fellow thereafter until his death. When he vacated his Balliol room in 1970 he destroyed most of his scientific correspondence and papers; he threw out almost all the rest when he moved out of his office in the Dyson Perrins Laboratory some years later. A few items were salvaged with his knowledge in 1970, and two years before he died he asked Dr John Jones to sort out and arrange his remaining scientific papers and books, all of which he left to the College in his will. The primary interest of the collection is in connection with the history of physical organic chemistry.


1. Material concerning WAW’s degrees, appointments, honours, presentations, medals etc. Of particular interest:

  • a) Papers regarding the 1972 Chemical Society Award in Kinetics and Mechanism, including WAW’s summary and assessment of his own work up to retirement.
  • b) Testimonials for WAW by the following:
    • TM Lowry FRS, 1935
    • H McCombie, 1937
    • I Masson, 1937
    • JF Duff, 1940

2. Photographs, including many (both formal and informal) of WAW, from childhood to old age.

3. WAW’s Cambridge and Durham personal laboratory notebooks, 1925-1939, 11 vols; also his first Oxford notebook, 1945

4. WAW’s later Oxford personal laboratory notebooks 1959 and 1970-1977, 9 vols.

5. Drafts, correspondence, spare copies etc, concerning WAW’s ‘Some Comments on the Development of Free Radical Chemistry’, Notes and Records 1984, 105. The correspondence includes letters commenting on the article from:

  • Linus Pauling (Nobel Laureate), 5 December 1984
  • RP Bell FRS, 13 October 1984, with a comment on the attitude of CN Hinshelwood OM, FRS (Nobel Laureate) to the idea of free radical intermediates.
  • FS Dainton FRS, 5 November 1984.


  • a) Notebooks and diaries concerning scientific visits, mostly abroad around 1960, including one to Russia in 1961.
  • b) Passports, WAW and his wife Elizabeth 1936-1978.
  • c) Material and correspondence concerning JM McBridge ‘The Hexaphenylethane Riddle,’ Tetrahedron 1974, 2009; a long letter by WAW to the author of 1974 is included, commenting on early thinking about free radicals.
  • d) Drafts, typescripts and correspondence about a review ‘Redox reactions of organic nitrogen compounds’ by WAW for Accounts of Chemical Research which was submitted for publication but eventually withdrawn, 1974.
  • e) Correspondence etc concerning singlet oxygen, including a letter by WAW of 1978 commenting on discussions he had had on this subject with EJ Bowen FRS in 1964.


a) Miscellaneous correspondence and papers

  • 1) agreements with publishers etc concerning books
  • 2) correspondence with MD Saltzman concerning the history of physical organic chemistry, including a letter by WAW of 1983 (2pp, incomplete) largely about TM Lowry FRS.
  • 3) Various correspondence etc, including:
  • with Robert Robinson OM, PRS, Nobel Laureate, 1937 – he was very reluctant to accept a free radical mechanism for the decomposition of benzenediazonium chloride.
    • a letter from A Lapworth FRS, 10 February 1938
    • a letter from M Gomberg, 19 August 1938
    • with Robert Robinson, 1942 – about a war work problem
    • an agreement ‘Processes for Cap production’, recognising WAW as the Inventor for patent purposes, 1945

b) Notes for research lectures at various places, 1967-1977

c) Notes for a lecture on the history of free radical chemistry, St Andrews 1984

d) Miscellaneous personal material:

  • typescript obituary notice of HC Urey (Nobel Laureate) by WAW 1981
  • WAW’s will and associated correspondence
  • an incomplete autobiographical typescript by WAW and a letter from the Librarian of the Royal Society, 1984

e) a summary of WAW’s publications to about 1953 which mentions some not included in the collected scientific papers e.g. chapters contributed to EH Rodd ‘Chemistry of Carbon Compounds’ 1951; to H Gilman ‘Organic Chemistry’ 1953; and to ‘Thorpe’s Dictionary of Pure and Applied Chemistry’ 1950.

8. A box of slides taken by WAW on a trip to Russia, including some slides of N Semenov (Nobel Laureate)

9. A collection of offprints of DH Hey FRS

10. 2 mineralogy notebooks, not dated but apparently about 1925, with careful detailed notes and crystallographic diagrams all in WAW’s hand.

12. Alan Robertson, PhD thesis ‘The Liquid Phase Oxidation of Hydrocarbons’, University of Durham 1947, concerning work done partly at Durham and partly at Oxford, under WAW’s supervision.

13. WAW’s PhD thesis ‘Substitution in the Diphenyl Series,’ University of Cambridge 1927, supervisors H McCombie and HA Scarborough.

14. WAW’s collected scientific papers 1926-1979, bound in four volumes.

15. DH Hey and WAW, ‘Some organic reactions involving the occurrence of free radicals in solutions,’ Chemical Reviews, 1937, 169, a spare offprint.

16. Copies of books by or edited by WAW, some with annotations:

a) ‘Physical Aspects of Organic Chemistry,’ several editions (2 nd, 1937; 4 th, 1950; 5 th, 1953) and the material submitted to the publishers for the 1 st edition, 1935.

b) ‘Chemistry of free radicals’ 1 st (1946) and 2 nd (1948) editions.

c) (with RF Milton) ‘Methods of quantitative micro-analysis’ 1 st (1949) and 2 nd (1955) editions.

d) ‘Vistas in free radical chemistry’ (1959)

e) ‘Mechanisms and oxidation of organic compounds’ (1964), a proof copy, a copy of the 1965 reprint, and copies of the Spanish, Japanese and Russian editions.

17. ‘A discussion on the applications of electron spin resonance in the study of reactive intermediates in chemical reactions’, an offprint of the proceedings of a Discussion organised by WAW: Proceedings of the Royal Society A, 1968, 287.


For additional personal and biographical material see WAW’s dossier in the College Archives. No copy of WAW’s first book ‘An introduction to practical organic chemistry’ (1934) was found.

18. Added Sept 1986: correspondence, etc, concerning the Royal Society Memoir of WAW, including letters from associates with information and recollections.

- John Jones Feb 1985, Sept 1986

You do not need to request permission to download or print one copy of any of the images on these pages for your personal private study or research purposes.
You do need to request permission in writing to use any of these images for any publication in any format, including any use on a website.

The archives and manuscripts of Balliol College are open by appointment to enquirers in person at the Historic Collections Centre in St Cross Church, Holywell.
Enquiries should be sent in writing (email or post).
There is no charge for Archive enquiries, but donations for Archive purposes are always appreciated.
Updated 11.viii.14
Balliol College
All rights reserved © 2023