Skip to main content

Cambridge University Libraries are providing a blend of online and controlled in-person services. Please see our website for more details.

Bulman family



The archive catalogued below, which extends in date from the early nineteenth century to the last decade of the twentieth, is of interest not solely for its content, but because it descended for four generations in the female line, acquiring papers of additional families and individuals in each generation; and because for three generations the males who became the husbands of one generation and the fathers and fathers-in-law of the next were each distinguished geologists. The founder of this geological dynasty (and the man for whom most papers survive) was William Whitehead Watts (1860-1947), son of a draper and farmer of Broseley, Shropshire. At Cambridge he sat at the feet of Thomas McKenny Hughes and T.G. Bonney, and was elected a fellow of his college, Sidney Sussex [1]. After periods as a university extension lecturer (1882-91) and with the Geological Survey (1891-97), he was successively assistant professor to Charles Lapworth in the University of Birmingham (1897-1906) and Professor of Geology at Imperial College London (1906-30) [2]. Watts married firstly Louisa, daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel H.A. Atchison, a military engineer; and secondly Rachel (née Rogers), widow of Louisa Watts' brother Arthur. His elder daughter Beatrix married (1911) William George ('Bones') Fearnsides (1879-1968), himself a fellow of Sidney Sussex, who in 1913 was appointed first Sorby Professor of Geology in the University of Sheffield, a chair that he occupied for 32 years [3]. In due course the Fearnsides' elder daughter Margo married Oliver Bulman (1902-1974), who had been one of Professor Watts' students at Imperial College before moving to Cambridge to work for a PhD. He was appointed a lecturer in geology at Cambridge, became a fellow of Sidney Sussex, and in 1955 succeeded W.B.R. King as Woodwardian Professor of Geology. Like his father-in-law and his wife's grandfather, Oliver Bulman was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and for seven years until Watts' death the three men were fellows together. The women of the Watts, Fearnsides and Bulman families (whose papers form a substantial and significant part of the archive) were intelligent, well-educated and good letter-writers. Before her marriage Louisa Watts had been successively student and honorary secretary of the Dorking centre of the Cambridge Extension Lectures [4]. Her daughter Beatrix and granddaughter Margo Fearnsides were students in the Natural Sciences Tripos at Girton College, Cambridge. Margo would almost certainly have completed a PhD in botany had not the Second World War (to which were later added the demands of parenthood) brought her researches to a halt. Oliver Bulman's mother, Beatrix, had taken a 'First' in English at Oxford in 1894; his sister Joan read Swedish at Newnham College, Cambridge, and became an authority on and translator of Swedish literature. The younger Fearnsides' daughter, Elizabeth, studied at the University of London (King's College of Household and Social Science), was an assistant housing manager for the London borough of Lambeth, served in the ATS between 1942 and 1945, and was working for UNRRA in Italy at the time of her death in a road accident shortly after the end of the War. The archive also includes papers of several childless male relations: Professor Watts' stepsons, George and Arthur Atchison [5], and his younger brother Thomas Watts, organist and music teacher; Professor Fearnsides' younger brother Greaves, whose death by drowning at the age of 36 cut short a promising career as a neurologist; and John Green, maternal uncle of the Fearnsides brothers, a woollen manufacturer in Leeds, who was also a prominent figure in the Leeds Philharmonic Society [6]. Most of the papers catalogued below were presented to Cambridge University Library in October 2010 by Dr TP Connor, son-in-law of Professor and Mrs Oliver Bulman. Those in section 8 were presented by Mrs CA Dean, youngest daughter of Professor and Mrs Bulman. The University Library is most grateful to Dr Connor and Mrs Dean for their generosity. [1] He was a fellow from 1888 to 1894, and an honorary fellow from 1910 until his death. In 1918 his friend H.C. Robson attempted to 'run' him as a candidate for the vacant mastership of the college; but the lukewarm responses of most of the other fellows and of Watts himself killed the idea (Add.9878/2/4/342-354). [2] In his later years, Watts was widely acknowledged as the most distinguished living British geologist. His papers in the present collection form only a part of his extensive surviving archive: further papers are at Imperial College and with the British Geological Survey. [3] During the 1920s and 1930s Fearnsides paid long visits to the United States, Canada, South Africa and India, and his letters home to his wife and daughters survive among their papers. [4] She and W.W. Watts first met when he gave a course of lectures at Dorking. [5] As well as papers of their father, Arthur Atchison senior, first husband of the second Mrs W.W. Watts. [6] Green's papers (Add.9878/5/1) relate almost solely to the 'Leeds Phil', of which he was joint honorary secretary for more than two decades from 1895. They cover only the period between 1898 and 1902, but throw fascinating light on the administration of one of the most important musical societies in northern England.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:


Papers of the Bulman and antecedent families

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Add.9878
Dates: 1700-1999
Conditions Governing Access: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (