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Papers of Margaret Burbidge, 1961 - 1975

Reference Code: GBR/0180/RGO 11

Scope and Contents

A significant part of the collection concerns two of the key developments at the Observatory during Mrs Burbidge's time as Director: the plans for the Anglo-Australian Telescope and improvements to the Isaac Newton Telescope. Other material includes papers relating to committees and other bodies, general correspondence on the Observatory's internal affairs and Mrs Burbidge's personal papers regarding a range of different subjects.


  • Creation: 1961 - 1975


Conditions Governing Access

From the Management Group:

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 (

Biographical / Historical

(Eleanor) Margaret Burbidge, née Peachey, was born at Davenport, Cheshire, on 12 August 1919. After attending University College London, she became Assistant Director, then Director, of the University of London's Mill Hill Observatory. She married Geoffrey Burbidge, a theoretical astrophysicist, in 1948. After joining the Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago in 1951, she used its 40-inch refractor to study stars with anomalous lines of heavy elements. In 1955 the Burbidges joined the Mount Wilson Observatory in California, where Mrs Burbidge carried out the measurement of the masses and rotation of galaxies and pioneered the study of quasars. In 1957 she co-authored the important 'B2FH paper' with her husband, William Alfred Fowler and Fred Hoyle, regarding the origin of elements in supernovae. In 1964 she was appointed Professor of Astronomy at the University of California, San Diego.

Mrs Burbidge became Director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory in 1972, following the retirement of Sir Richard Woolley. The Observatory was in a state of flux at the time owing to a reorganisation caused by the plans for the Northern Hemisphere Observatory and the Anglo-Australian Telescope. Margaret was closely involved as Director in the arrangements for bringing the A.A.T. into operation. Other developments during her time in office included updating and improving the Isaac Newton Telescope and the introduction of an infra-red group. She was also responsible for directing the work of the Observatory to objects outside the Milky Way.

Mrs Burbidge resigned as Director in 1973 following policy disagreements. She was subsequently President of the American Astronomical Society (1976-1978) and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1983).


8 archive box(es) (8 boxes) : paper/photograph

Language of Materials




Other Finding Aids

A word-processed handlist is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers became part of the Observatory's archives subsequent to Mrs Burbidge's retirement from the Directorship.


This description was created by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives.


Burbidge, Eleanor Margaret

Finding aid date

2006-07-13 10:58:55+00:00

Includes index.

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge University Library Repository

Cambridge University Library
West Road
Cambridge CB3 9DR United Kingdom