History & Achivements

Landmarks in the History of the Society

From: 1962 To: 2012
Author: Alan Smith


The Society originated from a small gathering of people called the West Cumberland Geology Group which met initially in 1959 in the then Whitehaven College. Instigated by Charles Edmonds, Edgar Shackleton and a number of other enthusiasts in the west of the County, it met throughout 1960 and 1961. A series of winter talks were held in various venues when members introduced a variety of geological topics. Noted highlights were Edgar Shackleton on ‘Mountains: their nature and origin’ and Tom Shipp on ‘Fossils’. Audiences of 50 were recorded and there are frequent references to displays of specimens and lectures illustrated by slides and film strips. Visits were arranged to local quarries and there were several underground visits to coal mines, notably the recently closed Walkmill Mine at Moresby and to Haig Pit. Visits to Borrowdale, St. Bees, Ennerdale and a number of other Lake District locations also appeared in the programmes.


The Society had a very active first year, with excursions starting on January 22nd and February 23rd to local mines, and then further afield every month throughout the year. Edgar Shackleton gave a long address on ‘Granite and Granitisation’ to a large audience in February. The events were recorded in the first edition of Proceedings, produced in a soft cover, with the contents typewritten and duplicated on stencils, with a cover price of two shillings and six pence. A diorama of Lakeland Scenery adorned the cover. Volume 2 appeared later in the year and for several years the Society managed to produce two Proceedings per year in the same format. The colour of the cover changed each time and various designs were tried for the cover illustration. The early Proceedings make interesting reading. The Society relied entirely on its own membership for its events – talks, films, practical classes and excursion leadership. Membership grew quickly and by the end of 1962 had reached 95. There were discussions about the difficulties of having large numbers (as many as 60) on excursions. An early aim was to have its own duplicator to produce Proceedings – clearly a very onerous task. Bob Pearson (The first Gen. Secretary) and Tom Shipp (The First Editor) did a magnificent job in editing and producing these volumes. The large number of excursions and local visits were a very notable feature of this early period including weekend excursions and camping expeditions.

This … “brings back memories of endless hours of typing and stencilling on Gestetner “skins”, black smudges of ink everywhere, aching shoulders through turning the handle to churn out copies, one page at a time!
Fortunately, we had plenty of space in the apartment we rented in Hensingham, just a short way on from Edgar and Doris Shackleton’s little semi in Lincoln Road.”

Tom Shipp (November 2011)

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Annual Events

Saw increased activity. Membership had reached 110. The first Annual Dinner was held on January 4th at the Commercial Hotel in Workington with Professor Hemmingway of Kings College, London as the Guest speaker. Interestingly in his address he referred to the Society as only the second county Geological Society in the country after Yorkshire.

Field excursions again dominated the activity of the Society with continuing visits to mines, classic Lakeland sites and the limestones of West Cumberland. The year also marked the first special publication of the Society, a tradition which has marked out the Society ever since. Edgar Shackleton’s ‘The Limestone Series of West Cumberland’ was a detailed inventory of West Cumberland limestones, their succession, fossil content and exposure locations – very much a personal record of the authors detailed knowledge of the area and its rocks. Again it matched the Society Proceedings in its format – soft back, typewritten contents. Priced at ten shillings it marked the Society’s first venture into commercial publishing.

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Started on a sad note with the death of Charles Edmonds, the first President, on January 2nd. An appreciation of his life and work was published in Proceedings and the Society put in train the setting up of the Charles Edmonds Memorial Fund in his memory. Edgar Shackleton took over the role of President of the Society, a position he continued to occupy for nearly 20 years until 1981.

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The Society’s second occasional publication was produced in 1965 with Alan Smith’s ‘Bibliography of Lake District Geology and Geomorphology’. This again matched the style of the previous Society publications and produced a listing of over 550 papers and publications in the field, together with an index and maps to locate references.

The Library

Late in 1965 it was announced that a Society Library had been established, starting with a nucleus of books presented by Tom Eastwood (formerly Geological Survey Geologist in West Cumbria). The collection was organised by Morley Burton, who became the first Society Librarian. At first, the collection was quite modest – considerable runs of a number of journals, 25 bound volumes and 30 miscellaneous pamphlets and maps. A catalogue was produced listing the collection.

Since those early days the collection has grown enormously. A permanent space on the upper floors of Whitehaven Public Library continues to provide a home for this valuable facility. Over the years numerous bequests have been received so that today the collection is undoubtedly the most comprehensive geological collection in the County.

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Membership had grown to 265, including many institutional members. Attendance at Lectures and field meetings was strong. The Proceedings in the late 1960’s record not only details of the lecture meetings, film evenings, camping weekends and field excursions but also the advent of speakers coming from outside the Society and the first publication of papers on Cumbrian geology and geomorphology. The Society had established an identity as a regional geological society.

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The Proceedings were revamped and a new format introduced. It was decided to publish on a bi-annual basis in a new A5 design, with four separate parts per volume, starting with Volume 3. A simple colour banded design was chosen, with the Society logo prominent in the centre of the cover. The four parts of Volume 3 all contained the trilobite logo from earlier Proceedings.


Volume 4 saw the introduction of the new Society Logo – a representation of the Carboniferous goniatite Gastroceras cumbriense. This has remained the Society Logo ever since and figures on all publications, letterheads, the web site and correspondence. In more recent volumes it has gained more definition and a larger size. The colour banded design has continued through all subsequent volumes, with the printer being given the task each time to come up with a slightly different shade. The yellow Volume 6, part 3, had a special cover, bearing the words ‘Millenium Edition’. Early Volumes were all folded and centre stapled. Since Volume 6, part 4, a perfect bound format has been adopted. Volumes 3-5 were variously printed by either Reeds Ltd, Penrith, or Bethwaites, Cleator Moor and Workington. Since Volume 6, part 2 our printer has been Imprint, Cleator Moor and Cockermouth. The 20 parts (Volumes 3-7) published to date are shown in order, top to bottom, opposite. Within these five volumes the Society has published 103 original papers, over 90 of which were on Cumbrian topics. In addition the Proceedings have recorded 50 summer field excursion seasons – well over 350 individual localities. With the advent of the new format for the Proceedings in the early 1970’s the Society had a channel for publishing original work on Cumbrian Geology, as well as a recognised record of its events. A regular programme of winter lectures, summer excursions and an Annual Dinner were well established.


In 1990 Part 2 followed, bringing the listing up to date. Both volumes were
in the style of the new Proceedings with a colour banded cover, but in A4 format.

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In 1974 the first printed publication appeared with Alan Smith’s ‘Bibliography of the Geology and Geomorphology of Cumbria’. This was a much expanded version of the Lakeland bibliography published in duplicated format in 1965 and covered the then new County of Cumbria. It contained a listing of over a thousand published items on the county, along with an index and maps.

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The 1980’s were marked by a number of significant events in the life of the Society. It marked the beginning by the Society of the publication of Field Guides to the Lake District and Cumbria – a tradition which has continued up to very recent times. In 1981 Edgar Shackleton, with failing health, had to give up the Presidency of the Society, a post he had held for over two decades. Many of the Society events had centred around ‘Shack’ as he was affectionately called. He had delivered several Presidential Addresses and given many lectures. Many members, numerous groups of young people, summer visitors to the Lake District, WEA groups and countless members of the general public had been introduced to Cumbrian geology through his field excursions.
His dictum of ‘Go and See’ inspired many. He continued to attend Society events in his later years, but his inability to cope with field meetings in particular, diminished his involvement. The Constitution of the Society was changed shortly after the resignation of Edgar Shackleton as President. From that point on the President was able to serve a maximum of only two or three years in office.
1982 saw the publication of ‘The Lake District’ a field excursion guide in a series published by Allen Unwin. It was edited on behalf of the Society by Tom Shipp and was entirely written by eight members. It contained material on the geological background of the district, followed by 13 detailed excursions to classic Lakeland sites. Sales proved to be very good and this established the Society as a resource of local expertise, as well as bolstering the Society finances.

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Following the same pattern, ‘Lakeland Rocks and Landscape: A Field Guide’ edited by Mervyn Dodd and first published for the Society by Ellenbank Press in 1992, proved to be even more successful. It ran to many editions and again became the best selling field guide to the district aimed at interested amateurs with some background knowledge of the earth sciences and for field study groups. It again contained some general geological background to the district, followed by descriptions of eighteen separate field excursions. It was written by members and friends of the Society.

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The Millennium

To mark the year 2000 the Society looked back at the work of some of the early geological pioneers who had first worked on Cumbrian geology and landscape. In the very early Proceedings Edgar Shackleton and others had contributed biographies of some of the early men who had worked in Cumbria – notably Jonathan Otley, Adam Sedgwick, J. F. N. Green, Alleyne Nicholson and Clifton Ward. For the Millennium, however, a large number of members researched more widely. Volume 6, part 3 of the Proceedings was a bumper edition, thicker than had ever been produced before, when accounts of the life and work of nineteen of these early pioneers was published. The summer field excursion programme followed up on this work, with the theme of “… in the footsteps of….”. With trips to Cat Gill in the footsteps of Clifton Ward, to Glenridding in the footsteps of Thomas Hay, ‘In Charles Edmonds day’ to Longlands and Clints, and ‘The Furness of John Bolton’.
All this work was followed up and expanded and led to another publication by the Society – ‘The Rock Men’ edited by Alan Smith and published for us by Dixons in Kendal. We were successful in gaining a substantial award from the ‘Awards for All’ Lottery Grants for Local Groups Scheme which allowed this relatively expensive publication to go ahead. It presented portraits of 25 of the early ‘Rock Men’ who had deciphered the geology of the district from the early days of the science.

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Cumbria was devastated with the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease when large areas of the County were out of bounds. This severely affected our field excursion programme. All was not lost however. Shortly before, Dr. Eric Robinson had effectively challenged the Society to consider the geology of the urban environment in two inspiring lectures to us, one on local building materials and a second on geology and walls. This led to some interesting work by members on local building materials and the use of stone in our urban areas. Excursions round Whitehaven, Buttermere, Keswick and Penrith ensued and generated considerable interest plus some subsequent writings in Proceedings.

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The society launched ‘Small Awards for Students’. This was designed to assist students who have limited funds with geological fieldwork projects. Preference is given to students at school, college or University with Cumbrian connections. The amounts of funding are small but it was mounted to fulfil part of our role as a Society to support education in the earth sciences.

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May 2006 regrettably saw the death of Angela Marchant, the first time a President had died whilst still in office. Angela, our only female President to date, had played a major role in Society affairs. A very considerable sum of money was donated at her funeral to the Society. This now forms a Bursary fund in her name to support young people in their studies of geology and is now part of our small awards scheme.

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Life Memberships

In October 2007 The Council of the Society bestowed Honorary Life Membership on three long standing members – Mervyn Dodd, Tom Shipp and Alan Smith. This is defined in the Constitution as “…awarded to any person who has rendered signal service to the Society or is distinguished in the pursuits of the objects of the Society”.

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Continuing in our tradition of publishing local guides, 2008 saw the launch of ‘Exploring Lakeland Rocks and Landscapes’ edited by Susan Beale and Mervyn Dodd. Yet again a group of members contributed to the volume with 17 excursion itineraries, several to new areas of Cumbria, written in a form for the general reader. For the first time we were able to use colour in the book, greatly enhancing the quality of the maps and illustrations. Fittingly it was dedicated to the memory of Angela Marchant who was very much involved with the planning of the volume before her death. ‘Exploring Lakeland Rocks and Landscapes’ won the Joint First 2008 Eni Challenge Award.

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The most recent publication from the Society has been Mervyn Dodd’s book on ‘The Story of Iron Ore Mining in West Cumbria’. Published in 2010 it brings together the history and geology of the distinctive haematite field of the area around Egremont and Cleator Moor. Based on Mervyn’s extensive local knowledge of the geology of the field, it is a valuable record of an area which has been the venue for many Society field excursions.