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Sir Edward Frankland Papers

Date range: 1837–c.1940.

Sir Edward Frankland (1825–99) was one of the leading scientists of the nineteenth century.1

He was born near Garstang, Lancashire, and after an unsatisfactory schooling secured a place at the Westminster laboratory of Lyon Playfair.

He was the first professor of chemistry at Owens College (1851–7), where he established a strong tradition of applied chemistry. He advised industry on water purity, gas making, coal analysis, and the manufacture of alkalis, among other things.

In 1857 he moved to London, to take up a post at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, before transferring to the Royal Institution, and from 1865 to 1885 he held a position at the Royal College of Chemistry (later part of Imperial College). He was also one of nine scientists who founded the legendary and secretive X Club, to promote the advancement of science and to advocate scientific naturalism.

Frankland’s contributions to chemistry were profound and far-reaching: he recognized the chemical bond and developed the idea of valency; he pioneered the new field of organometallic chemistry; he played a significant role in revolutionizing the teaching of science; and he was instrumental in the formation of the Institute of Chemistry.

During three decades of work in water analysis he ensured safe drinking-water for Britain’s rapidly growing population, so helping to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases. Sir Edward was a somewhat controversial figure in his lifetime, and until recently his contributions to science have received little recognition.

The papers of Sir Edward Frankland are one of the most important archives of Victorian science to have remained in private hands until the present century.

The archive, generously donated by his descendants in 2008–10, contains thousands of letters spanning Frankland’s entire career.

The list of correspondents constitutes a Who’s Who of nineteenth-century science: Robert Bunsen, Charles Darwin, Michael Faraday, Joseph Hooker, Thomas Huxley, Hermann Kolbe, Justus von Liebig, Joseph Lister, John Lubbock, Lyon Playfair, Herbert Spencer and John Tyndall, to name but a few.

There are almost thirty letters from Darwin alone. Other material includes Frankland’s journals, lecture notes, scientific notebooks, records of water analysis, photographs, and family papers.

A particularly significant item is a rare minute book of the X Club.

There is also an extensive archive of Sir Edward’s son, Percy Faraday Frankland (1858–1946), himself a distinguished chemist, and his wife Grace Toynbee (1858–1946), who was a pioneering female scientist.

1See Colin A. Russell, Edward Frankland: Chemistry, Controversy and Conspiracy in Victorian England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

Finding aids

Uncatalogued; preliminary box-list.


The John Rylands Library

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