fonds YPS - Records of Yorkshire Philosophical Society

Identity area

Reference code



Records of Yorkshire Philosophical Society


  • 1822-2016 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

1.88 cubic metres

84 boxes, 13 volumes and oversize material

Context area

Name of creator


Administrative history

The Yorkshire Philosophical Society was founded in York in 1822. Funded by public subscription, the Society aimed to further the study of the natural sciences (then called natural philosophy), and specifically to ‘elucidate the geology of Yorkshire,’ as well as to create a scientific museum and library as a repository for their work. Its founders included Reverend Charles Wellbeloved, James Atkinson, surgeon to York County Hospital, and William Venables Vernon Harcourt, son of the then Archbishop of York. Among its active members were Daniel Tuke and James and Thomas Backhouse, the Quaker botanists and gardeners.

In 1828 the Society acquired three acres of land on the site of the dissolved monastery of St Mary’s and in 1829 work was completed on their new repository, the Yorkshire Museum. The museum building was designed by architect William Wilkins, who had recently completed Downing College, Cambridge, and was only the second purpose built museum in England, containing display rooms and a lecture theatre to house their scientific and historical collections which included artefacts from recent excavations of St Mary’s Abbey. The surrounding land was used to create a botanical garden containing 1400 specimens and, for a few years, also housed a small menagerie that included a bear and several monkeys.

In 1833 the Society added an Observatory in the museum grounds to house their growing collections of scientific instruments, and by the 1840s their facilities also included a chemistry laboratory used by students at York School of Medicine. In 1912 the facilities were expanded again with the addition of the Tempest Anderson Hall, a new larger lecture theatre funded by a bequest from volcanologist Dr Tempest Anderson. The museum buildings and grounds are overseen by a Keeper appointed by the Society. The first Keeper was geologist John Phillips, the nephew of pioneering geological cartographer William Smith.

In 1831 the Society was instrumental in the formation of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (now the British Science Association), which included William Venables Vernon Harcourt among its founders, together with Charles Babbage. Its first meeting was held at Yorkshire Museum, chaired by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society president, Viscount Milton. In 1889 the Society also supported the creation of the Museums Association and in 1971 they joined with the Council for British Archaeology in an initiative that led to the formation of the York Archaeological Society.

Today the Yorkshire Philosophical Society continues to promote the study of the natural sciences, archaeology, history and antiquities through an annual lecture programme, its annual report (which includes news and essays) and academic prizes. In 1961 the Yorkshire Museum and gardens were given in trust to the City of York and in 2002 the council established the York Museums Trust to run it, together with York Castle Museum, York Art Gallery and York St Mary's.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The archive was deposited at the Borthwick Institute by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society in 2007. Further additions were made in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Includes list of founders and benefactors, c.1823; council minutes, including agenda papers, 1824-1986, 2008-2015; general meeting minutes, 1822-1944; annual general meeting minutes, 1944-2015; special committee minutes, 1850-1860; Building Committee minutes, 1825-1830, 1936; Garden Committee minutes, 1916-1959; General Purposes Committee minutes, 1922-1933, 1913-1921; General Purposes & Finance Committee minutes, including agenda papers, 1934-1950, 1951-1954, 1999-2012 (the committee was then disbanded); Education Committee minutes and related papers, 1969-1999; Publication Committee minutes, 1965-1996; Abbey Restoration Committee minutes, 1929-1938; annual reports, 1923-2016; financial papers, including committee minutes, printed accounts, cash books, audited balance sheets and treasurer’s papers, 1912-2000; papers of museum director, 1950s-1960s; correspondence, including letters relating to Civic Week, property in Micklegate, and staff appointments, 1822-1827, 1913-2001; papers relating to Evening Meetings, including minutes, reports, and papers read, 1829-1848; printed lecture programmes, 1903-1926, 1969-1972; papers concerning foundation and administration of Yorkshire Museum, including copy of land grant for erection of museum, 1828, museum committee minutes, 1921-1932, 1950-1951, 1961-1973, and handbook, 1891; papers relating to the reopening of the Hospitum, 1931; papers relating to the Observatory restoration appeal, including plans, 1970s-1981; papers relating to social events, anniversary dinners and excursions, 1970-2002; newsletters, 1998-2004; visitors books, 1882-1929, 1940-1942, 1985-1995; press cuttings, 1869-1961; papers relating to the Society’s first website, 1998-2001; printed material concerning the society and Yorkshire Museum, 1869-1972; printed history of origins of YPS by A. D. Orange, 1973; personal papers of Society member and antiquary, J. L. Brockbank, 20th century; correspondence and papers of John Hampshire, YPS Chair, concerning relations between YPS, North Yorkshire County Council and City of York Council, and the administration of the Museum and Gardens, 1990-2001.

Records of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society Woodland History Group, including committee minutes and agendas, 1982-2004; annual reports and papers relating to annual lectures, 1981-2006; field visit programmes, 1982-2006; papers relating to field visits, 1982-2005; sample record sheets for woodland and hedgerows, 1980s; inventories of ancient and semi-natural woodland in Yorkshire by the Nature Conservancy Council (now Natural England), 1987-1989; papers and maps relating to Harrogate southern bypass, 1988-1989; papers relating to Selby bypass public inquiry, 1989-1990; reports, articles and news cuttings relating to Askham Bog Nature Reserve, Hob Moor, and others, 1980s-1990s; articles and notes concerning Yorkshire woodland and forests by John McDonnell, editor of The History of Helmsley, 1988-1995; research and notes by Dr Basil Wharton, committee member, 1990-2001; slides, n.d.

Press cuttings, leaflets, and other papers relating to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1866, 1881, 1906, 1981.


Further accruals are expected.

System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Records are open to the public, subject to the overriding provisions of relevant legislation, including data protection laws.

Conditions governing reproduction

A reprographics service is available to researchers subject to the access restrictions outlined above. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the document. Copies are supplied in accordance with the Borthwick Institute for Archives' terms and conditions for the supply of copies, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of documents in the custody of the Borthwick Institute must be sought.

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Includes slides. Access to audiovisual material may be restricted due to technical requirements, please contact the Borthwick Institute for more information.

Finding aids

A typescript finding aid, to file level, is available for consultation in the searchroom of the Borthwick Institute. This includes all material received up to and including 2008. Later material has not yet been catalogued, please contact the Borthwick Institute for more information.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

Further records of Askham Bog are deposited at the Borthwick Institute as part of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Archive.

Further records relating to Yorkshire Philosophical Society, dated 1754-1925, are held by West Yorkshire Archive Service as part of their Bradford Deed Box Collections (Deed box 19: Deeds for Embsay, Skipton, Carleton-in-Craven and elsewhere in West Yorkshire). There are also records of John Phillips, first Keeper of the Yorkshire Museum, which relate to the Philosophical Society held by Oxford University: Museum of Natural History.

Notes area

Alternative identifier(s)

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Subject access points

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Name access points

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Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier

GB 193

Rules and/or conventions used

ISAD (G): General International Standard Archival Description, International Council on Archives (2nd edition, 2000); Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names, National Council on Archives (1997).

Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion

Created 29.10.15, revised 10.07.18




Accession area

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