L. S. Penrose Papers

  • Penrose; Lionel Sharples (1898-1972); physician
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


Papers of Lionel Sharples Penrose, 1806-1974, comprising personal papers relating to Penrose and his family, 1806-1974; papers relating to the professional training, medical, scientific and voluntary work of Penrose, 1918-1972; and letters, mainly to Penrose, 1915-1973.



Physical description

96 boxes


Arranged in three sections:
1. Personal and Family Papers
2. Work-Related Material
3. Correspondence

Acquisition note

Researchers who have used this collection in the past and are familiar with the printed handlist should note that the collection was re-numbered in July 2012. Old reference numbers have been noted in this online catalogue under the field "Previous Number". The new reference numbers should be used when requesting material or making citations.

Biographical note

Lionel Sharples Penrose was born on 11 June 1898, second of four sons of James Doyle Penrose and Elizabeth Josephine, nee Peckover. His maternal grandfather was Alexander Peckover, later Baron Peckover and Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, and his younger brother was the artist Sir Roland Algernon Penrose. He also had an older brother, Alexander Peckover Doyle Penrose, and his youngest brother was Bernard Edmund Penrose.

L S Penrose was educated at the Downs School, Cornwall and Leighton Park School, Reading. Born into a Quaker family, from 1916 he served in the Friends' Ambulance Unit in France, a voluntary ambulance service founded in 1914 by members of the British Religious Society of Friends. After the war, Penrose went up to St John's College, Cambridge, where he gained a first in part II of the moral sciences tripos in 1921. He remained in Cambridge for a year's postgraduate research in psychology before spending two years studying psychiatry in Vienna. Deciding that a medical qualification would be advantageous to the progression of his research, he returned to England to carry out clinical work at St Thomas' Hospital, London, and qualified as MRCS LRCP in 1928. He received his MD in 1930 after undertaking a study in schizophrenia at the City Mental Hospital, Cardiff.

Penrose continued his study of mental illness at the Royal Eastern Counties Institution, Colchester. The resulting seven years of research was published in a Medical Research Council special report, known as the "Colchester Survey", and expanded into two books, Mental Defect (1933) and The Biology of Mental Defect (1949). During the Second World War, Penrose was director of psychiatric research in Ontario, Canada, and in 1945 he was appointed to the Galton Chair of Eugenics at UCL. He had the post renamed in 1963 as the Galton Chair of Human Genetics, and carried out his research on mental illness and genetic defect throughout his time at UCL. One of his particular interests was at the time known as "mongolism", but which he named "Down's anomaly" (later Down's syndrome). When Penrose retired from the Galton chair in 1965 he continued his research into genetic diseases at the Kennedy-Galton Centre, Harperbury Hospital

In addition to his research into Down's syndrome, Penrose was also an authority on finger, palm and sole prints as indicators of genetic disease and made significant contributions to the detection and treatment of phenylketonuria (PKU). He was awarded honorary degrees by McGill (1958), Edinburgh (1970), Newcastle (1968), and Göteborg (1966), the Weldon medal from Oxford (1950), the Albert Lasker award (1960), the international award of the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation (1964), and the James Calvert Spence medal in paediatrics (1964). He was president of the Genetical Society of Great Britain (1955-8) and of the Third International Congress of Human Genetics in Chicago in 1966. He was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society in 1953, of the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1962, and of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 1971. (Source: DNB)

Penrose married Margaret Leathes in 1928 and they had four children: Oliver (b. 1929, Professor of Mathematics), Sir Roger (b. 1931, mathematical physicist), Jonathan (b. 1933, ten times British Chess Champion) and Shirley (b.1945, geneticist S V Hodgson). He had many interests outside his work life, particularly chess and puzzle-solving, both of which are well-represented in his archive.

L S Penrose died on the 12th May 1972.

Related material

University College London Records Office holds two files relating to Penrose:

  • L S Penrose Staff Appointment File, 1945-1974; including material relating to the terms of his employment and correspondence relating to various other matters
  • L S Penrose's Appointment as Galton Chair of Eugenics, 1943-1946; including correspondence on possible candidates for the Chair following the resignation of R A Fisher, reports on the future of the departments of Eugenics, Biometry and Statistics, and correspondence relating to L S Penrose's departure from Canada

  • For further information, please contact the Records Office directly. Please note that files of former staff and students are generally not available for public access for 80 years after the individual has left UCL.

    Glasgow University Archive Services holds material relating to Penrose in its Guido Pontecorvo, James Harrison Renwick and Malcolm Andrew Ferguson-Smith collections.

    In the Pontecorvo collection, related material can be found in the following series:

  • "Genetics research correspondence" (UGC/198/3);
  • "Lectures and broadcasts" (UGC/198/8);
  • "Personal and family material"(UGC/198/9);
  • "Personal and family photographs and negatives" (198/10).
  • In the Renwick collection, related material can be found in the section "Research material" (UGC/155/3).

    In the Ferguson-Smith collection related material can be found in the following series: "Correspondence 1959-61" (UGC/188/3/1); and "Correspondence 1961-1964" (UGC/188/3/2).

    The Royal Institution of Great Britain holds correspondence between Penrose and William Bragg in the William Lawrence Bragg Papers (W.L. Bragg/93PQ/45-51) and (W.L. Bragg/35A/26-28).

    The Royal Society holds Penrose's Certificate of Candidate for Election, 1953, (EC/1953/18), and a portrait photograph (IM/GA/AR/6934).

    The Wellcome Library holds correspondence between Hans Gruneberg and L S Penrose, 1951-1972 and further correspondence with Hans Gruneberg and Margaret Penrose after her husband's death, 1972-1973 (PP/GRU/64/1); also correspondence between F H C Crick and Penrose, 1968 (PP/CRI/D/1/1/16).

    Copyright note

    Some of this material may be subject to copyright restrictions additional to those outlined above. Specific restrictions are noted at item level.

    Terms of use

    Some items in this collection are not available for general access due to data protection and confidentiality restrictions. Specific restrictions are explained in the description for each item.

    Language note


    Location of duplicates

    A digitised copy is held by the Wellcome Library as part of Codebreakers: Makers of Modern Genetics.

    Ownership note

    Presented to University College London in 1975 by Mrs Margaret Newman, formerly Mrs Margaret Penrose.

    Where to find it

    Location of original

    The original material is held at UCL Special Collections. This catalogue is held by the Wellcome Library as part of Codebreakers: Makers of Modern Genetics.

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