John Strutt, Lord Rayleigh

On the wall of the chapel of St Andrew in Westminster Abbey is a white marble memorial to John William Strutt, Lord Rayleigh, physicist. The tablet, with a portrait relief, is by sculptor Francis Derwent Wood and was unveiled on 30th November 1921 by Sir J.J. Thomson, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. The inscription reads:

John William Strutt: O M: PC: 3rd Baron Rayleigh 1842-1919 Chancellor of the University of Cambridge 1906-1919 President of the Royal Society 1905-1908. An unerring leader in the advancement of natural knowledge

He was born at Maldon in Essex on 12th November 1842, a son of John James Strutt, 2nd Baron Rayleigh, and his wife Clara (Vicars). Ill health disrupted his education at Eton College but he later attended Harrow School and studied at Cambridge. After a spell in the United States he returned to his home in Essex to set up his laboratory. He succeeded James Clerk Maxwell as Cavendish Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge and worked on electrodynamics, electromagnetism, optics, acoustics and on colour vision. In 1873 he succeeded his father as 3rd Baron Rayleigh. He wrote the Theory of Sound and also published works on photography. In 1904, with chemist Sir William Ramsay, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for their joint discovery of the gas argon. John was a founder member of the Order of Merit. In 1871 he married Evelyn Balfour and they had three sons, of whom Robert also became a physicist. He died at his home on 30th June 1919.

Further reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


12th November 1842


30th June 1919


30th November 1921


Scientist; physicist


Chapel of St Andrew

Memorial Type


Material Type


John Strutt, Lord Rayleigh
John William Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh by Walter Stoneman

© National Portrait Gallery, London [Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 3.0]

John Strutt, Lord Rayleigh
John Strutt, Lord Rayleigh memorial

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster