Stories of experiences as geology undergraduates submitted by alumni


Honours Chemistry with Geology subsidiary
I arrived in Sheffield in September 1951 to study Honours Chemistry where I was faced with a mandatory choice of two subsidiary subjects. The first choice of physics was easy but the next one was problematic - maths - not one of my strengths, physiology - can't stand the sight of blood - geology no prior knowledge! I had very much enjoyed geography at school but had been deflected from its 6th form study to strengthen my maths background so I chose geology. Sometimes in life you strike lucky and this was certainly so here!
I found a very friendly, enthusiastic, staff led by Professor Leslie R. Moore, supported by Drs Hugh Wilcockson, Charles Downie, Peters Sylvester-Bradley and Wilkinson, who ignited in me a life-long love of their subject. I remember Trevor Ford as a postgraduate well.

Discovering the pleasure of local field trips
Being allowed free access, in my own time, to minerals, fossils and thin sections to learn their recognition
The annual Easter 1st year week long field trip - I still have some fossils I collected on the trip and the recollection of a very cold and snowy afternoon on Twm Barlwm, being kept warm whilst eating our packed lunch by a bonfire courtesy of the Scouting skills of Peter Sylvester-Bradley and being descended on by a party of geography students from our own University led by Dr (later Professor) Alice Garnett - apparently coincidentally!

Alan Dyer
Research Professor, University of Salford
Submitted 1 Nov 2011


Selected and edited sections of report relating to Norway Expedition in 1958

The outstanding field trip of my undergraduate years was one at the end of my second year, when a geology department group went to Norway. Apart from a little hitchhiking in northern France, this was my first trip overseas. We sailed from Newcastle, on the Fred Olsen Line, to Oslo, on my first sea voyage longer than a channel crossing. We were a gang of staff (including our technician friend Mike Smith), post grad students (including Bill Sarjeant), and final year undergraduates. I took along my four-pound geological hammer on a long shaft which had been a 21st birthday present from fellow students, and which I reckoned justified its extra weight by the fewer blows I needed to inflict on any outcrop of interest.

In Oslo we toured the city, visiting the City Hall, the National, the Viking Ship museum and the Kon Tiki Museum. On our explorations we found the Vigeland Park, dedicated to the work of artist Gustav Vigeland. There were 212 bronze & granite sculptures, culminating in a 46-foot monolith containing 121 squirming figures. "Life is but a sordid struggle" said Bill, summing up the experience.

We toured the islands in Oslo Fjord, seeing outcrops of striking rhomb porphyrys and I collected some rough garnets which I still have. I was bareheaded upon a very long, hot day, and was struck down by sunstroke the next day - headaches and vomiting, which meant I had to stay behind in the Youth Hostel and sleep it off. (To this day, I have never heard of anyone else having sunstroke in Norway!) We stayed at youth hostels and inexpensive hotels, taking fast trains to the city centre. Our meals (as far as memory goes) seem to have been largely salami and goats cheese; both unfamiliar - and not particularly congenial - to me at that time, though a staple today.

Then we moved north into the interior, visiting Lillehammer and the Larvikite quarry. Lastly, we went by train across the mountains to Bergen - over my first mountains. I had by this time acquired my first 35 mm camera, an Agfa Silette, but was still taking black and white. I remember it was so cold outside the train that the camera misted up inside when I held it out of the train windows to photograph mountains. We spent the night in Bergen, then caught a coastal steamer back to Stavanger and Oslo, a nice preparation for the fjord coast where I live now on the west coast of British Columbia. Sailing back from Oslo to Newcastle, we hit a heavy storm, and for the first and only time I was violently seasick.

Dave Spalding
Dave is an author based in British Columbia and a professional associate of the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan. He has written a fascinating, but so-far unpublished autobiography which includes the chapter A geology student at the University of Sheffield
Submitted 1 May 2013


I have happy memories of my time as a student in the department under Professor L.R. Moore. My first year was 1958-59. I particularly remember the first Palaeontology lecture when Dr Sylvester-Bradley lay prone on the demonstration bench at the front of the main Geology lecture theatre and announced that when he died he wished to be fossilised!

Our first field trip was to the west of Sheffield and the visibility was very poor, When we reached "Surprise View" on Hathersage Road there was no view, only very thick mist! - since then I have seen it in all its glory many times!

John Hedley
Submitted 16 March 2012


I still have my mapping and fieldwork ... and also the notes of the dissertation on St George's Land - which was hard to comprehend even with some "Gondwanaland ideas" then prevalent and way ahead of "Island" Arcs before they became "Tectonic" plates - I have an excellent book on Island Arcs printed 1960/1 - the year before tectonics came in - it must be a "special" text book these days.

My degree "talk" was on meteor craters and their effect on the planet - amazing how I was soooo right all those years ago about massive damage to the earth and the 60 million hit - hardly anyone believed me - but seeing Meteor Crater in the real time in Arizona was a mind boggling moment.

Peter Rayner
Submitted 14 April 2012


Easter Geology Field trip 1961 to the Forest of Dean hotel in Cinderford. As a result of this trip the Dept. was banned in future! One of the huge corridor mirrors was smashed as a result of entrapping one of the PhD students in his bedroom. The local pub, the "King's Head", was invaded for a game of skittles in its bowling alley (20 yards long); the local scrumpy was a bit strong and, after a few pints of this, full pint mugs were being used instead of balls. The two local policemen were called out at midnight to break up the proceedings with threats of arrest.

John Slack
Submitted 4 April 2012

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