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Radcliffe Trust Archive


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The archive catalogue covers several accessions of material relating to the Radcliffe Trust that have arrived in the Bodleian Library by various routes since 1928, and have been processed in different ways over the years. The catalogue presents these records in coherent series based on the Trust's corporate identity and principal activities, regardless of their precise origin, although in the main a given acquisition forms the bulk of a particular series or subseries.

The first series comprises material relating to John Radcliffe himself, along with contemporary and later papers associated with him. The Trust's corporate records divide into appointments of Trustees, minutes and meeting papers, correspondence, legal papers, estate and property records, financial papers, general administartive papers and printed matter. Records of the Radcliffe Library encompass material relating to both its construction and operation, while Radcliffe Infirmary records are limited to its founding and building. Radcliffe Observatory records once again include administrative papers and in addition observation records, and extend to cover the new observatory at Pretoria. Further series deal with records of the Trust's support of music, crafts and other schemes in recent years, and outcomes of some of these projects. A final series consist of Ivor Guest's papers relating to the history of the Radcliffe Trust.


  • Creation: 12th century - 2012


97.10 Linear metres (802 shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English
  • Latin
  • French
  • Dutch; Flemish
  • Italian
  • English, Middle (1100-1500)

Conditions Governing Access

Some material is closed.

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark, e.g. MS. Radcliffe dep. 1, fols. 1-2].

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Mus. a. 2, b. 41-2, d. 259, MSS. D.D. Radcliffe a. 1-6, b. 1-29, c. 1-92, d. 1-43, e. 1-6, f. 1, MSS. Radcliffe dep. 1-230, MSS. Radcliffe Records A.1-ZC.7, MSS. Radcliffe Records 1-42, MSS. Radcliffe Trust a. 1-25, b. 1-19, c. 1-45, d. 1-64, e. 2-32, f. 1-7, g.1

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 6639, 7853


Archive of the Radcliffe Trust, encompassing papers relating to the Trust, its administration and estate; the Radcliffe Library, the Radcliffe Observatory, and the Radcliffe Infirmary; grants and fellowships awarded by the Trust; and manuscripts collected by the Trust and subsequently passed to the Bodleian LIbrary.

Biographical / Historical

The Radcliffe Trust was created under the provisions of the will of Dr. John Radcliffe (1650-1714), who bequeathed (inter alia) a legacy of £40,000 for the construction of a new library in Oxford, along with other sums annually to employ a librarian, purchase books and maintain the building.

Implementing these terms of the will took a considerable time, owing to the life interest of Radcliffe's sisters in the legacy, and the complexities of purchasing the site for the library in what is now Radcliffe Square. The foundation stone was laid on 17 May 1737 and construction to designs by James Gibbs proceeded. The building, then called the Radcliffe Library, finally opened on 13 April 1749.

The nature of the library was not prescribed by Radcliffe, and this led to a somewhat haphazard collection to begin with, mostly through bequests and gifts as no sums were forthcoming from the Trustees for some time. It was not until the early 19th century that the need for a library specializing in natural history, botany, chemistry, mineralogy, agriculture and rural mechanics (as proposed by Arthur Young) was recognised, and implemented by George Williams, Regius and Sherardian Professor of Botany, and Radcliffe Librarian 1810-1824.

In 1861 the Radcliffe Library moved to the University Museum, following a plan by the then Librarian, Henry Wentworth Acland. The former Library building was handed over to the Bodleian to be an additional reading room, and thereafter was known as the Radcliffe Camera. It remained the property of the Radcliffe Trust until 1927 when ownership was transferred to the University.

The Radcliffe Library in the Museum moved to a new library building, built close by and opened in 1902. In 1927 responsibility for this library was passed to the Bodleian, and it became known as the Radcliffe Science Library. A new wing was opened in 1934.

Following completion of the original Radcliffe Library, the Trust turned its attention to other uses of its funds, there being provision under Radcliffe's will to apply the residuary income from his estate for such charitable purposes as the executors should think best. This income derived largely from the Wolverton estate in Buckinghamshire, one of two owned by Radcliffe and retained by the Trustees as a source of income.

In 1758 the Trustees agreed to fund the building of a hospital on land on Woodstock Road in Oxford. Plans were presented and work commenced in 1759. Building was substantially completed only in 1767, because of delays in progress, and the official opening took place in 1771. The Trustees took no active part in the running of the Radcliffe Infirmary, but retained ownership of the site until 1884 when title was vested in the Governors of the Infirmary.

The next major project to receive support was the building of an astronomical observatory in Oxford, at the request and for the use of the Savailian Professor of Astronomy, Thomas Hornsby. The Trustees agreed to support the building in 1768; the foundation stone was laid in 1772 and building proceeeded to plans by Jame Wyatt (replacing an earlier scheme). It functioned as an observatory from 1773 but once again there were delays in progress. The Radcliffe Observatory was completed in 1794 and became fully operational in 1797. This time the Trust retained active control of the running of the Observatory.

In the late 1920s consideration was given to the move of the Observatory to a site in Pretoria, South Africa, to overcome problems with the Oxford location and take advantage of the better climate. Much legal argument took place before the Radcliffe Trust's right to make such a move was established. Construction commenced in the 1930s but the Observatory instruments were not finally completed and installed until after World War 2. The site of the old Observatory was sold in 1934.

By this time the Radcliffe Trust's ability to support other charitable projects had bec ome more limited. However in the 1960s, with the selection of the location for a new town, the Trust's Wolverton estate became the subject of negotiations for purchase by the Milton Keynes Develpoment Corporation, and the sale was concluded on 29 September 1970. The proceeds gave the Trust a substantial endowment and increased income. It was felt that this income was insufficient to support significant science projects, and instead new fellowships and grant schemes were developed to support projects in the arts, particularly music and crafts. The Trustees continue in this role today.

For a full account of the history of the Trust see I. Guest, Dr. John Radcliffe and His Trust, The Radcliffe Trust, London, 1991.


The papers have been arranged in record series relating to the Trust's corporate existence and administration, including property records (especially the Wolverton estate from which it derived its principal income); papers relating to the Oxford insititutions it founded, funded and administered: the Radcliffe Library (later the Radcliffe Science Library), the Radcliffe Infirmary and the Radcliffe Observatory; and papers relating to grants and fellowships funded through its crafts and music schemes and other benefactions.

Other Finding Aids

Separately numbered deeds and rolls in the series Estate and property records, described inidivdually or in bundles as 'Radcliffe dep. deeds', are further described in the Calendar of Charters and Rolls available on fiche in the Bodleian Library.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

  1. MSS. D.D. Radcliffe a. 1-2, b. 1-8, c. 1-3, d. 1-21, e. 1 and f. 1 were deposited by the Radcliffe Trustees in 1928. They were previously stored in the Old Observatory.
  2. MSS. D.D. Radcliffe a. 3-4, c. 4-72 and d. 22-39 were deposited by the Radcliffe Trustees in 1949 and 1950. They were previously in the custody of Longbourne, Stevens, and Powell, and the Radcliffe Science Library.
  3. MSS. D.D. Radcliffe c. 73-74, d. 40-43 and e. 2-4 were deposited by the Radcliffe Trust in 1974.
  4. MSS. D.D. Radcliffe a. 5(R)-6(R), b. 9-29, c. 76-92, e. 5-6 were deposited by the Radcliffe Trustees between 1976 and 1982.
  5. MSS. Radcliffe Records A.1-ZC.7 and 1-42 were transferred from the Radcliffe Science Library in 2010 and 2014. Most were accumulated by the Radcliffe Library and Radcliffe Science Library in the course of its business, but certain items were acquired from elsewhere and their provenance is noted in the catalogue.
  6. MSS. Radcliffe dep. 1-230 were deposited by the Radcliffe Trust in 2013 and 2014. They were previously in the custody of Veale Wasborough Vizards, the Trust's solicitors, and the Trust's Music Adviser.
  7. MSS. Mus. a. 2, b. 41-2, d. 259 were deposited by the Radcliffe Trustees between 1976 and 1982.
  8. MSS. Radcliffe Trust a. 1-25, b. 1-19, c. 1-45, d. 1-64, e. 2-32, f. 1-7 and g.1 became the property of the Bodleian by decree of Chancery in 1932 or were given to the Bodleian by the Radcliffe Trust in 1935-1938.
  9. MSS. Radcliffe Trust. a. 1-10, Les Frères van Cleef & B. Scheurleer, March 1825 (Joan Raye sale), lot 55 of the folios.
  10. MSS. Radcliffe Trust. c. 1-12, d. 1, e. 2-3, bought by the Radcliffe Trustees, Sotheby's, 31 May 1916, lot 577. Bookplate of Frances Mary Richardson Currer in each volume.
Catalogue of the Radcliffe Trust Archive
Charlotte McKillop-Mash, Jacqueline Cahif and Michael Hughes, with Harriet Costelloe
EAD version 2020
Language of description
Script of description
The completion of this comprehensive catalogue of all the Bodleian Library's archive and manuscript holdings relating to the Radcliffe Trust has been generously funded by the Trust to mark its Tercentenary year.
Edition statement
Second edition.

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom