Finding Number (Click this to view full catalogue structure)UB/SOC1
TitleRecords of the University of Birmingham Chemical Society
Extent8 boxes, containing 28 volumes and 148 items
DescriptionRecords of the University of Birmingham Chemical Society, formerly Mason College Chemical Society, largely comprising: minutes, 1884-1974; account books, 1910-1981; papers read at Society meetings, 1901-1921; copies of the Society’s journal, ‘Retort’, 1950-1989 and programme cards, 1934-1988. The collection also includes a register of Life Members, 1958-1968; copies of the ‘Orbital’ magazine, [1980]-1989; personal Society notes compiled by John Standley, Honorary Secretary 1964-1965, and Dr Roy Sherwin Lehrle (1930-2007), producer of the Society’s Christmas entertainment in the early 1950s, together with occasional items of correspondence and miscellaneous additional administrative, financial and printed materials. A number of the series are incomplete; in particular records of the earliest and latest Committee minutes are missing from the archive.

The archive provides a record of the day to day working and evolution of one of the earliest and most successful departmental societies in the University. The records reflect the changing expectations, interests and working relationships of staff and student members from the close of the 19th century to the last decade of the 20th century, and offer a contemporary commentary on in-house issues affecting the Chemistry Department as well as broader issues of topical scientific interest. They also provide an overview of departmental research interests during a period in which the Chemistry Department achieved a reputation for excellence and innovation under the leadership of a distinguished line of eminent chemists, including the first four Mason Professors of Chemistry who between them served as Presidents of the Society for 64 years. Although the archive does not generally contain biographical accounts of members of the Society, or details of their work outside of Society activities, there are occasional references to honours, appointments and departures, and the early minutes in particular highlight the extra-curricular role played by participating staff and students for whom the Society was an integral part of the experience of Chemistry at Birmingham.
NotesTitle supplied from contents of the series.
ArrangementArranged into eight series, largely corresponding with key functions and activities of the Society: administrative records; financial records; official journal and magazine; papers read before the Society; other printed material produced by the Society; publications and printed material received from other organisations; personal papers; ephemera.
Access ConditionsAccess to parts of the collection is restricted. In accordance with Data Protection regulations, records which include personal data are closed for the lifetime of the individual where known, or 100 years. This is indicated at file level.
Finding AidsA catalogue of this collection is available on the online archive catalogue. Click on the Finding Number to display the summary contents list of the catalogue and to view the full catalogue, or view the catalogue as a PDF file by clicking in the document field below. A paper copy is also available in the Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections Department
Access StatusOpen
Physical DescriptionMany of the volumes include loosely inserted items and in some instances pages or bindings have become loose. This is indicated at file level. Material deposited before Nov 1998 was formerly held at GB 0150 Uni Coll 8/iii/9 and GB 0150 Uni Coll 17/vi/1.
Creator NameUniversity of Birmingham Chemical Society
Administrative HistoryThe Council of Mason Science College, Birmingham, (predecessor to the University of Birmingham) passed a resolution sanctioning the formation of Mason College Chemical Society, Jan 1884. The inaugural meeting of the Society was held in the Chemical Theatre, Mason College, 13 Feb 1884, chaired by Sir William Augustus Tilden (1842-1926) first Professor of Chemistry, Mason College later University of Birmingham, 1880-1894, and founder and President of the Society, 1880-1894. The name was changed to 'The University of Birmingham Chemical Society' at the annual meeting, 29 Oct 1900, following the granting of the University Charter in May. In the records the Society is also informally referred to under the acronym 'BUCS' from the late 1950s, and 'B. U. CHEMSOC' from the 1960s.

Initially the aim of the Society was to promote 'intercourse among Chemical Students, and the reading and discussion of papers upon chemical subjects'. It was managed by a Committee operating in line with the Society's constitution. The Society was affiliated to the University of Birmingham Guild of Undergraduates so, although independent, its constitution was subject to approval of the Guild. The majority of Committee positions were held by students elected annually by the members at a general meeting of the Society. The President and Vice-President were chosen by the Committee from amongst the Chemistry staff (the Committee could also nominate an external Vice-President for election by the members). The Honorary Secretary, Treasurer, Librarian and Visits Secretary were early and pivotal officer roles. In particular, the Honorary Secretary had responsibility for convening all meetings, managing the general correspondence and Society notices, compiling the Society's annual report and having 'charge of all property of the Society [bar the library]', including its archives. The Society's aim was broadened to the promotion of 'knowledge and interests amongst students of Chemistry' and the Society's activities expanded. The number of Committee roles increased further with officers and sub-committees elected to support the key functions of the Society including: Assistant Librarians; an Editorial Committee; Social, Sports and Minutes Secretaries; Staff, Course and Research Representatives, together with a number of short term sub-committees tasked with specific events. The Committee formally reported back to the members at general meetings of the Society, and through the 'Annual Report and Balance Sheet'. Membership of the Society was open to past and present students and anyone interested in chemistry or the work of the Society, although external members were not eligible to vote or stand for Committee. Life Membership was introduced in January 1958 further enabling the Society to maintain links with former graduates.

In addition to the annual general meeting, the Society's earliest activities included the provision of a well stocked library, an annual excursion to one or more local industries and fortnightly meetings in the Winter and Spring terms for the reading and discussion of scientific papers (the majority read by post-graduate students, but the programme also included lectures by staff and invited guests). By the end of 1908-1909, the membership had risen to 215. This programme quickly established what were to be persistent features of the Society - building the public profile of the Chemistry Department, maintaining and establishing links with local industry and former students, and encouraging current students to take a broad perspective of the opportunities afforded by their time at Birmingham, to look beyond their course work at developing skills and contacts that would serve them in the longer term. The range of activities increased over time including a regular programme of sporting and social activities and growing programme of visits. Activities were suspended during World War I but the 1920s saw the beginning of a new era for the revitalised Society as it began to play an active role in joint ventures with other members of the Science Faculty, including production of the short-lived journal, 'PSI', 1922-1924. Membership rose again from 50 in 1919 to 182 by 1921.

Through the 1920s and 1930s the Society further extended its links outside the University, inviting external speakers to its meetings, and holding regular joint meetings with other local and national organisations. The 1950s saw new developments including the launch of the Society's first official journal, 'Retort'. The Society's own rugby football team was established in 1959 to play in weekly matches against local teams. Social events were well attended, especially the annual Christmas dinner and entertainment. Joint initiatives with external organisations continued, with visits to and from other chemical societies and the Society's participation in a joint programme card with affiliated organisations. After an extensive refurbishment and building programme beginning in the mid 1940s, staff and student numbers increased dramatically. After only four changes of President since 1884, this pivotal Society role began to be rotated among the staff, on an annual basis. At the same time, the records indicate increasing concern over a drop in active participation in the Society, particularly amongst undergraduates. The Society continued its established core activities but also developed new initiatives in a concerted effort to better reach the current study body, including a second Society periodical, 'Orbital', launched in the late 1970s. However, the Society appears to have been dissolved in the 1990s, superceded by separate undergraduate and post-graduate student societies: the Birmingham Post-Graduate Chemistry Society launched in the mid-1980s, and ChemSoc organised by and for Chemistry undergraduates originating in the early 1990s.
Custodial HistoryThe records were originally the responsibility of the Society's Honorary Secretary and the minutes record their being kept in a locked cupboard from the 1920s. However, it is difficult to determine the extent to which this practice was maintained over time with successive changes of Secretary, and, during the first half of the 20th century, Chemistry Department accommodation. The minutes and account books appear to have been sorted and numbered on at least one occasion to facilitate identification of the contents. Labels written in fibre-tip pen in one hand have been pasted onto the front covers and, in the case of the minute books, information has also been added in ink on the inside cover or title page in another. The ink annotations seem to be in the hand of John Standley. Some of the annotations do not match the current contents. Evidence from the earliest minute books indicates that it was the practice to paste in correspondence and papers relating to matters arising, but at least some of the loose items in the minute books appear to have been inserted after, rather than during the active life of the volumes. For example, correspondence received in 1918 has been loosely inserted into the minutes for meetings of the Society, 1901-1911, presumably because at the time of sorting the minute books for 1912-1921 were, as they are now, missing.
AcquisitionThe bulk of the collection was transferred by the University of Birmingham Chemistry Department, Nov 1998. An incomplete series of unbound copies of the the Society's journal, 'Retort', and a bound volume 'Minutes of the Meetings of the Mason College Chemical Society', 1884-1901, were transferred at an earlier date; details of the earlier transfers are unknown.
Archival NotePapers arranged and described by I. Frlan, Feb-March 2008. Sources: Records of the University of Birmingham Chemical Society; Carter, S. R. and M. Stacey, 'The School of Chemistry in the University of Birmingham', reprint from 'Journal of The Royal Institute of Chemistry', August, 1954; University of Birmingham School of Chemistry website ( viewed 20 Feb 2008; 'Oxford Dictionary of National Biography website ( viewed 27 Feb 2008'; 'Mason College Magazine', vol II, 1884.
Related MaterialThe Special Collections Department holds the archives of the University of Birmingham and its predecessor colleges. These archives include material relating to the activities of the Chemical Society, the School of Chemistry and the Science Faculty (GB 0150 Uni Coll and GB 0150 Uni Archives).


    Some of our most significant collections