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Bailey, Kenneth, 1909-1963 (biochemist)



Kenneth Bailey (1909-1963) was born on 18 August 1909 at Alsager's Bank near Stoke-on-Trent. Scholarships took him to the Orme's Boys' School, Newcastle-under-Lyme 1922 and Birmingham University 1928 where he took the course on 'Biochemistry of fermentation' and embarked on research in carbohydrate biochemistry with R H Hopkins. In 1933 his promise as a research worker was recognised by the award of a Beit Scientific Research Fellowship at Imperial College where he began a long association with A C Chibnall and developed research interests in protein biochemistry, the area in which he was to have such outstanding success. It was also at this time that he became acquainted with W T Astbury which led to intermittent scientific collaboration and a lifelong friendship. In the months before the outbreak of the Second World War Bailey's scientific outlook was broadened by a Rockefeller Travelling Grant to work in Edwin Cohn's laboratory at Harvard. Returning to England in December 1939 he worked for a time on anti-gas research at Porton before joining one of the groups on war projects at the Low Temperature Research Station, Cambridge. He still managed to find time for his studies in protein and especially muscle biochemistry and these continued apace in the postwar years. His outstanding contributions were recognised in 1948 by his election to a Fellowship at Trinity College and his appointment as an Assistant Director of Research in the University of Cambridge and in 1953 by his election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society. Although he received frequent offers of chairs, he preferred to retain his post in Cambridge, spending most of his absences abroad at the Stazione Zoologica, Naples. In 1961 he was appointed University Reader in Biochemistry. The last seven years of Bailey's life were marred by recurrent illness including a complete breakdown in 1955. In the summer of 1962 during the acute phase of the depressive illness from which he suffered, he was arrested (in the company of a 19-year-old youth) for being in charge of a car while under the influence of drink. With more serious charges of indecent assault in the offing Bailey absconded from bail, taking refuge first at the Stazione Zoologica where his behaviour and state of mind gave great cause for concern, and later at Liège in Belgium. He was persuaded to return to England by S V Perry who broke a journey to Prague to discuss matters with Bailey and the journey back to collect him. Although the outcome of the trial in the magistrates' court was as satisfactory as could possibly be hoped for - Bailey pleaded guilty to the indecency charges and was bound over - his health remained precarious and his future uncertain. He returned to Cambridge in May 1963 for a short visit, but three days after his arrival committed suicide. Bailey's Times obituarist (S V Perry) summed up his scientific achievement and personal qualities: Kenneth Bailey was one of the great protein chemists in the classical style, of many attainments, but whose main contributions lay in the muscle field with the discovery of the tropomyosins and in the chemistry of blood coagulation. To those who knew him as a teacher, a colleague or as a friend he was much more - a sensitive person of great humanity, a scientist who had more of the artist in him than most. Many students had good cause to be grateful for his generosity and his efforts on their behalf.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:


Kenneth Bailey: Correspondence and Papers

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Add.8723
Scope and Contents The material presented here as a single chronological sequence is almost exclusively correspondence concerning the last few years of Bailey's life and regrettably does not reflect his scientific achievement. There is personal correspondence 1955 (letters to Bailey only) and scientific correspondence between Bailey and Perry 1960-61. The greater part of the correspondence, however, relates to the difficulties of Bailey's final year, 1962-63, arrangements after his death, appreciations,...
Dates: 1955-1965
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 (