We’re pleased to announce that we’ve recently made a catalogue of the Wolfson Foundation’s grant files available online.

The Royal Society holds and cares for the records here at Carlton House Terrace, on behalf of the Foundation. The collection of grant files dates from 1958 to 1980, although on occasion later material relating to those original grants has been added to the files. Before beginning, I’d like to thank the Foundation warmly for their help with both the catalogue and this blog post.

The Wolfson Foundation is a charitable trust established in 1955 by Sir Isaac Wolfson FRS, Lady Edith Wolfson, their son Leonard Wolfson FRS (Lord Wolfson of Marylebone) and Lord Nathan. We are fortunate in having some of Lord Nathan’s surviving correspondence to accompany the main grants files, including the letter pictured below, in which he eloquently describes the moment the Trust Deed was signed and the Wolfson Foundation began in earnest. Between 1955 and 1958, the Foundation was largely concerned with preliminary administration including the creation of a Board of Trustees, although some projects such as the British Empire Cancer Research Campaign did secure funding before 1958.

WF/A – Letter from Lord Nathan to Isaac Wolfson 20 July 1955 (1st page)

Many of the grants are awarded to areas of scientific, technical and medical research and it is for this reason that those of us working at the Royal Society associate the name Wolfson with our Grants section. Currently the Foundation is funding the Wolfson Research Merit Awards, and the Royal Society Wolfson Laboratory Refurbishment Grant. In fact the Royal Society and the Wolfson Foundation have worked together to fund scientific posts since 1961, when the Foundation allocated an endowment for a research professor, a scheme which continues today. The first post-holder, from 1961 to 1977, was the renowned expert in crystallography and Nobel Prize winner, Dorothy Hodgkin (pictured below), and the collection includes files relating to this professorship (WF/39). The Foundation has also funded many other scientific and medical research projects and positions, and has helped institutions make improvements to their infrastructure. Do take a look at the catalogue to see who else has benefitted from the grants.

Photograph of Dorothy Hodgkin FRS, Godfrey Argent Studio. Royal Society ref. IM/GA/AR/7132

However the Wolfson Foundation’s funding extends well beyond science, and since 1955 over £1bn in real terms has been donated, currently based around four main themes: Science and Medicine, Arts and Humanities, Health and Disability, and Secondary Education. In the early decades of the Foundation’s existence, large grants were given for the endowments of Wolfson College, Oxford (WF/355) and Wolfson College, Cambridge (WF/563). The Foundation has helped to fund numerous student accommodation building projects at universities across the UK, while museums, libraries and cultural institutions have also received substantial funding. Grants of this nature include assistance in purchasing Goya’s Wellington for the National Gallery in 1961 (WF/72). A wide range of other charitable organisations have also benefitted significantly from the Foundation’s grants, from Sue Ryder (WF/552) to St. John’s Ambulance (WF/49 and WF/711). Our own Library reading rooms are actually the Wolfson Rooms, and have been consistently supported by the Wolfson Foundation.

Although this blog post offers a (very) brief overview of the work of the Foundation and the grant files housed here at the Royal Society, I hope to write more in-depth entries on some of the individual files. In the meantime, if you’re interested in viewing the collection, please contact the Wolfson Foundation in the first instance to gain permission. Once that is given, we look forward to welcoming you in our Wolfson Rooms.

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