A brief history of the Department of Geology

Dr Henry Clifton Sorby (1826-1908) was perhaps Sheffield's most internationally recognised scientist of his age. His many interests included research into the subject of geology and and part of his legacy to the University of Sheffield was a significant sum to establish a Chair of Geology. The Department was set up in 1913 under Professor W.G.Fearnsides. Prior to World War II the much of the teaching was for non-geologists, chiefly mining and engineering students with only a few pioneering Honours Geology students. Between 1945 and 1949 Professor Fred Shotton started to recruit more geology students to the Department before moving on to the University of Birmingham.

Professor Leslie R. Moore arrived in Sheffield in 1949 and immediately began to expand and develop the Department. Plans for a new building during the mid-1960s were well advanced when financial cutbacks hit and the scheme was abandoned. Nevertheless the Department continued to flourish with a growing international reputation. Moore retired in 1977, just before the compromise of splitting the Department between Mappin Street and the Beaumont Building (now Dainton) was reluctantly accepted by Professor Downie as Head of Department. Barry Dawson was appointed Sorby Professor in 1978 and Head of Department in 1980.

The unfortunate decisions made by the University's Academic Development Committee in 1986 resulted in a much weakened Geology Department just before the University Grants Committee's Earth Science Review with the result that closure was recommended. The last undergraduates completed their course in 1990 and what was left of Geology became a Unit within the Animal and Plant Sciences (APS) Department. Staff continued to teach Natural Environmental Sciences in cooperation with Geography and APS. A major effort by the staff, led by Professor Alan Spears, was rewarded with full reinstatement as the Earth Sciences Department in 1993 and the start of the Environmental Geology course. However, with such a reduced number of staff, the Department was unable to compete against the larger departments at other universities in attracting funding from research councils and failed to achieve the high research ratings demanded by the University. Despite protests from students, parents and politicians the Department was finally closed in 2001 and the staff were dispersed to other Departments in Science and Engineering.

R. Alison Hunter
Sorby's Legacy

Sorby's Legacy: Geology at the University of Sheffield
2nd Edition, R. Alison Hunter 2015

(203 pages - with details of the history of the department, fully illustrated and indexed)


1948 (about) Jack Shirley - Eric Robinson

Jack Shirley
With thanks to Eric Robinson

Jack Shirley was a member of staff in the Department of Geology from 1931-1945. I was unable to find a picture of him in time to be included in the book. This is detail from a group photograph of a field trip was taken about 1948 and has been submitted by Eric Robinson, one of Jack's former students at King's College, Newcastle. (Later University of Newcastle)
1978 Student Hockey team - A Harding

©A. Harding
The mystery students who played for the Student Team in the 1978 Hockey Match (page 124) have been identified as Pete Sowden and Patrick Harrison (Not postgrads as indicated in the book). My thanks to Niels Arveschoug for this information.

Page 50 The first Junior Technician was Joan Liversedge (not Jean)
Page 125 Photograph shows Final year honours class of 1979 (not 1978) - thanks to Aly Harding
Page 144 Photograph shows staff and MSc palynology students from 1984 (not 1988) - thanks to Gaynor Boon.
Appendix III - The list Honours Geology graduates (Appendix III) was unfortunately reformatted at the printers and as a result some of the year groups were muddled in the book, the list below is in the correct order.

BSc Honours Geology 1923-1990

Additional information

It was not possible to include all information in the book and further data has been received since its publication. It is proposed that the website will evolve to reflect this additional material, alumni are invited to continue to contribute.
See Photos, Memories and Memorabilia


Alison Hunter illustrator@aditlevel.co.uk

University of Sheffield Geological Society Logo Site updated 22 October 2018