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Cavendish Laboratory archives, 1876 - 1999

Reference Code: GBR/0265/UA/CAV

Scope and Contents

The records relate chiefly to the erection and administration of the laboratory buildings and their contents. Indeed, the earliest records are vouchers for equipment purchased by James Clerk Maxwell, first Professor, in 1876-9. There are also smaller quantities of records relating to laboratory clubs, 1902-72, the celebration of the Clerk Maxwell centenary, 1931, research programmes, 1960-92, including the Cambridge Energy Research Group, and applications to work and study at the laboratory, 1944-78. Much of the administrative correspondence, 1930s, is written by J.D. Cockcroft (1897-1967), then departmental lecturer.


  • Creation: 1876 - 1999


Conditions Governing Access

The archives are unrestricted, except for 80 years closure period imposed on personal files, catalogued as CAV 10, 14-15 under data protection legislation.

Conditions Governing Use

Requests to publish text should be addressed to the Keeper of University Archives, photographs to the Head of Digital Content Unit; both at Cambridge University Library, West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DR.

Biographical / Historical

The Laboratory was established in 1870, at the same time as the professorship of the same name, by the munificence of the then Chancellor, William Cavendish, Seventh Duke of Devonshire, as a laboratory of experimental physics. It was built in Free School Lane in 1872 and extended in 1895-6, 1907-8 and 1936. The new Cavendish was built in west Cambridge in 1968-74. The Laboratory is the home of the Department of Physics. For further background information, see J.G. Crowther The Cavendish Laboratory, 1874-1974 (London: Macmillan, 1974); and the department's own web pages


12 linear metre(s) : paper, photograph

Language of Materials


Other Finding Aids

The hard copy catalogue of CAV 1-16 was completed in 1982 with additions thereafter to incorporate later transfers to 1995. It was converted to digital form and emended to take account of the Data Protection Act, 1998 in 1998. A hard copy catalogue is available for consultation in the reading room of the Department of Manuscripts and University Archives (reference: UA In.23).

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The archives were transferred from the Cavendish Laboratory, Department of Physics, in the following tranches: CAV 1-16, 1981-2, CAV 17-18, 1992-3; CAV 19-20, 1995; CAV 22, July 1999. The archives are a permanent transfer to the University Archives. CAV 21 was presented to the University Archives by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, University of Bath on 2 March 2000.

Related Materials

Readers should note that the archive does not include photographs of the laboratory or its personnel for the first century of its existence. These have been retained at the Cavendish Laboratory. More than 1000 have been digitised and are online in the Cambridge Digital Library at For other related material among the University Archives see: CUR 39.33, 47, 55; Min.VI.29, 33; P.XI.1-23, XII.1-34, XIV.1-105.

Related Materials

See also, among the holdings of the Manuscripts section: the personal papers of J. Clerk Maxwell (MS Add.7655), J.J. Thomson (MS Add.7654) and Lord Rutherford (MS Add.7653).


The online catalogue was completed in 2002 and emended in February, March and November 2005, June and November 2006, November 2007, May 2008 and September 2010.


Cavendish Laboratory

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom