Chronology 1920-1949


1922 Staff and Students
Physics Staff with Second- and Third-year Students. back row: J.J.Reynolds, L.Dods, H.S.Robinson, Mr Holloway [laboratory steward]
third row: F.W.Packer, E.J.Irons, J.K.Allen, A.E.Lovett, G.W.C.Yates
second row: P.H.Wood, R.Jezzard, A.E.Knowler, Miss W.L.Rolton, Miss H.M.Smith, R.S.Troop, F.J.Griggs, J.H.Giles
front row: Miss M.Gotts, Mr J.P.Andrews, Mr J.E.Calthrop, Prof. C.H.Lees, Mr C.H.J.Gauss, Miss I.Holland



  • Publication of Phyllis-So-Fickle Magazineby students; six issues covering January to June.  
cover of Phyllis-ophical [sometimes Phyliss-so-Phickle] Magazine
    The journal opened by stating that there has been no physics magazine suitable for students. "Existing publications are either dry, uninteresting periodicals (such as The Children's Newspaper) or childish and elementary books of the 'penny dreadful' type (for example the Proceedings of the Royal Society)" The magazine contained many "in" jokes making play of the names of lecturing staff and notable physicists of the day and spoof scientific reports. [pdf files of issues 1, 2, 3, 4, 6. I have not managed to track down issue number 5. Note: these are between 3 and 6 MB each]  
    Students Wood and Packer working in the basement
    Third year students, Philip W Wood and FW Packer, working on third year project, the "Straight Line Law and Limit of Elasticity" in what was then known to students as the "Glory Hole" in the basement of the Queen's Building.


  • Publication of Exercises in Practical Physics by Professor Charles Lees.
  • E.G. Richardson became the first College student to gain a PhD in Physics.


  • Professor HR Robinson, FRS, appointed Head of Department.  
    Prof H.R.
Robinson 26 November 1889 to 28 November 1955
    26 November 1889 - 28 November 1955
    Professor Robinson came from University College, Cardiff, as Head of the Physics Department. He is now acknowledged as one of the greatest of Rutherford's collaborators. He devised and developed the techniques of X-ray photoelectric spectroscopy and X-ray emission spectroscopy which became valuable tools in chemical analysis. Arising from this work he also deduced the then most accurate values of ratios of atomic constants. He was appointed Vice-Principle of the College in 1946. The citation on his election to Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1929 reads: "Before 1914 he carried out a series of researches into the nature of Beta-rays and other problems of radio activity. Distinguished also by his recent work on the energies of X-ray levels, as deduced from the velocities of secondary corpuscular rays, on which important branch of atomic physics he has obtained world-wide recognition as one of the pioneers." After the war he had suffered from various forms of ill health which he endured courageously and without complaint whilst pursuing a busy life in which the humanities as well as science played a prominent part. He decided to retire in 1953. He had readily offered to see the new Principal settled in office before laying down at one time the Headship of the Physics Department and the appointment of Vice-Principal where especially his deep wisdom and understanding had served the College well and won for him great affection. The College was most fortunate when the University appointed him as one of its own representatives on the Governing Body. Yet again it was no great surprise to his former colleagues to learn that it was to him as a Senator of long standing and wide experience that the University turned to find a Vice-chancellor on the sudden death of Sir Roderic Hill. Professor Robinson not only served as Vice-chancellor for the outstanding months of his predecessor's original term but was then elected Vice-chancellor in his own right. This great personal honour was reflected upon Queen Mary College and it was therefore appropriate that whilst he was in office as Vice-chancellor the Governors should have elected him a Fellow of the College. The burden of his new office revived the symptoms of a dormant complaint and he was obliged to resign from the Vice-chancellorship a matter of weeks before Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was installed as Chancellor of the University.

    From QMC Annual Report,
    Research in Physics in Queen Mary College, 1985
    and Royal Society Sackler Archive Resource


  • February - fire destroyed the Queens' Hall.  
    Aftermath of fire in Queens' Hall
    Queens' Hall was a part of the Peoples' Palace and at the centre of the main building occupying the area between the Octagon and the main entrance. After a public enquiry the Charity Commissioners decided to give the existing buildings to the College and build new premises for the Peoples' Palace next door - the building presently called the Peoples' Palace and containing the Great Hall.


  • December - The College was awarded a Charter of Incorporation and changed its name to Queen Mary College.
    This made the College self-governing. Previously all College property was owned by the Board of Education and use was subject to the rules of the Charity Commissioners; indeed the College did not even have a formal boundary as it shared facilities with the Peoples' Palace.
    Queen Mary College shield
    Azure, upon three several Clouds (the sun-beams issuing) three ancient Imperial Crowns tripled all proper: on a Chief Gules, an Open Book, also proper embellished and clasped Or, and inscribed "SOLI DEO HONOR ET GLORIA" in letters Sable, between two Mullets also Or.
  • Professor Charles Lees was admitted as a Fellow of the College on the evening that the Royal Charter was presented to the College. This was the first Fellowship ceremony, three Fellowships and two Honorary Fellowships , including one for Queen Mary, were awarded.


  • The Wignal Prize first awarded to the Best First Year Physics Student.
  • December - The College opposed the Bill allowing the construction of what is now the Central Line of the London Underground. Professor Robinson stated that the underground would seriously prejudice the efficiency of the physics laboratory and very substantially detract from its work as a scientific institution. A clause was obtained to ensure that the tunnel would not be built within twenty-five feet of the face of the main building.


  • May - Her Majesty Queen Mary became Patron of the College.


  • The Physics Department expanded into space left by Arts and Mathematics Departments on their move to the new West Block. Physics then occupied space in the Basement [900 sq. ft.], Ground [3,500 sq. ft.] and First [3,000 sq. ft.] floors of the main building.


  • Research in the Department consisted of:
    • Professor HR Robinson working on atomic constants
    • Professor Fergusson working on capillarity and specific heats
    • Mr Calthrop who published work on advanced laboratory experiments
    • Dr EJ Irons, Mr JD Huffington and Mr GA Bennett who formed a team researching into the condenser-discharge method for determining small time-intervals to the measurement of velocities in membranes, and the study of inductance circuits
    • Dr Clews working on X-ray methods in the analysis of rubber
    • Dr Woodall on thermoelectric effects
    • Mr BC Fleming-Williams on thermoelectric properties of ferro-magnetic materials
    • Mr Mayo on conductivities of solutions of strong electrolytes
    • Mr G Parry on viscosities of solutions of strong electrolytes
  • Publication of Advanced Experiments in Practical Physics by Mr JE Calthrop.


  • September - The College was evacuated to Cambridge on the outbreak of World War II.
    Ninety men, staff and students, went to King's College and eighty ladies to Girton although some [non-physics] courses continued to be taught on the Mile End site. Only through the use of the physics staff from Queen Mary was Cambridge able to keep the Cavendish Laboratory open during the war years.
  • Publication of Queen Mary College - An Adventure in Education by George Godwin.


  • Professor Harold Robinson awarded the first Rutherford Lecture (now called Rutherford Medal) by the Institute of Physics.


  • October - The College reopened on the Mile End site,
    Repair work due to bombing was still in progress - the Octagon library was not cleared of the results of the bomb blast of 6th July 1944 [one of the last V2 rockets to land] until Christmas and water supplies had to be delivered by handcart.


  • Professor Allan H Ferguson was elected a Fellow of the College
    Professor A Ferguson
    Member of staff from 1921 to 1945. MA (Wales), DSc (London), Assistant Professor of Physics and at various times: President and Honorary Papers Secretary of the Physical Society, President (Section A) and General Secretary of the British Association, Vice-president of the Institute of Physics, Advisory Editor to "Nature", Executive Editor of "Philosophical Magazine".


  • November - The College acquired the site of St Benet's church and vicarage
    The church had suffered considerable bomb damage and the parish had subsequently been abolished. The original plan was to build a College Hall and Union accommodation but this was put on hold due to financial constraints. In 1954 the College was able to purchase the new Peoples' Palace Hall for that purpose leaving the St Benet's site available for a new Physics Building.
    St Benet's church looking East
    St Benet's Church - pre war (looking East)
    St Benet's church looking West
    St Benet's Church - pre war (looking West)
    St Benet's church being demolished
    St Benet's Church in 1949 (looking South)


  • Professor Ernest Marsden awarded the Rutherford Lecture (now called Rutherford Medal) by the Institute of Physics


  • Extracts from College Annual Report 1949/1950. (Word, PDF, ODT)
  • Start of cryogenic research at Queen Mary by Dr G.O. Jones.