Cholmondeley, John St. Clair | The Government Laboratory

  • Reserved First and only edition of this unusual and rare booklet on the history of the Government Laboratory, Britain’s national laboratory for chemical and biological measurement standards, now the National Measurement Laboratory at LGC Ltd. Though this work has been cited in scholarly articles several times in recent years, we can locate no copies in either WorldCat or Library Hub. This copy from the library of Government Chemist Sir Robert Robertson (1869-1949).

    The first iteration of the Government Laboratory was created by the Board of Excise in 1842 to oversee the purity of goods such as tea, spirits, and tobacco. The role of Government Chemist, established in 1909, “oversees the statutory function of referee analyst within the UK, resolving disputes over analytical measurements, particularly in relation to food regulatory enforcement” (NML website). The author of this booklet, John St. Clair Cholmondeley, is listed on the title page as “formerly Assistant of Excise at the Government Laboratory”. The contents include a history of the laboratory from 1842 based on its annual reports, Inland Revenue documents, Royal Commission Reports, and newspapers, and there is an appendix containing information about staffing and sample exams. Chapter VI contains suggestions for improvement that the author hopes “may receive more attention than hitherto apparently bestowed upon them”. These include publishing more of the Laboratory’s investigations, better organisation of research work, improved staffing levels, and the provision of a common room and better library facilities.

    The owner of this copy, Sir Robert Robertson, was an expert on explosives and made numerous contributions to their development and manufacture for the colonial Indian administration, the Boer War, and both World Wars. He was appointed Government Chemist at the laboratory in 1921 and “the work of his department, which provided chemical advice and services to other departments (particularly the board of customs and excise), was considerably increased between 1921 and 1936 by the introduction of various new import duties, and by legislation involving chemical control. Robertson placed much emphasis on promoting independent research activity among staff of the laboratory. As an innovation, he introduced occasional seminars at which staff (including himself) would read research papers. These meetings, held after hours, were not popular and were abolished soon after he left. He also served on numerous government committees” and “pursued important fundamental research. In collaboration with John Jacob Fox, who succeeded him as government chemist, he made a detailed study of the infra-red absorption of the gases ammonia, phosphine, and arsine and interpreted the main features of their spectra. This pioneering work stimulated the growth of infra-red spectroscopy both in Britain and abroad” (ODNB).

  • London: C. Fry, 1902.

    Octavo. Original limp green cloth, title to upper wrapper gilt. Manuscript title to spine in black ink on a white slip of paper, separate sheet of blank paper loosely inserted at rear. Corner of upper cover creased, gilt dulled, spine rolled, contents a little shaken and toned. Very good condition.