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Frederick William Sherrell, 1932 - 2001

Frederick William Sherrell was born on 2 February 1932 in Bere Alston, Devon, the son of a Tamar Valley farmer. Educated at Tavistock Grammar School he went up to Bristol University at seventeen and a half. Disappointed with geography he switched to geology - to which he took with great exuberance. After mapping training with Desmond Donovan he joined (aged 18) the 1950 Lauge Koch Expedition to East Greenland, to work on Mesozoic rocks. Excused independent mapping, he graduated (1952) with honours in geology.

After National Service with a Royal Engineers survey team in Iraq, Fred joined Huntings Surveys Ltd. to work for a season in Antarctica. The following year he joined civil engineering contractor Costain Ltd., and was sent to Malta to work on the development of the island's groundwater resources. Here Fred developed a life-long interest in groundwater, both as a water supply resource and as a potential building/civil engineering hazard.

In 1958 Fred returned to Tavistock and, with the support of his wife Cynthia, built a drilling rig and started a well-boring business. Fred successfully applied geology to the practical task of locating and developing rural groundwater supplies in southwest England. Although then supported by government grants, drilling was a risky business - especially when a drill string was lost in a well. Drilling and site investigation contracts for civil and structural engineers and architects led to consultancy in the developing field of engineering geology. In the mid-1960s Fred sold his well-boring company to concentrate on engineering geology and geotechnical engineering.

The 1960s saw the development of modern dual carriageways and motorways. In 1968 a major landslide occurred during construction of the Cullompton Bypass (M5) and Devon County Council turned to Sherrell for advice. Using his detailed local knowledge, Fred devised a novel remedial scheme. The landslide was successfully stabilised by under-drainage using adits and boreholes.

Fred started a PhD thesis based on his experience in investigating and developing groundwater supplies on the Triassic aquifer in East Devon and West Somerset. Bristol University awarded him his doctorate in 1972. He also managed to find time for flying lessons. After gaining a pilot's licence he bought a two-seater Cessna - his pride and joy for many years. Fred was also active in the Tavistock Round Table.

During the following 20 years Fred Sherrell advised on many major schemes. The A30 trunk road dualling (Exeter – Launceston), the Bodmin Bypass, the A380 Newton Abbot Bypass, and the A38 (Exeter - Plymouth) dual carriageway, Plymouth Domes Visitor Centre (built over a cave system) and the Sutton Harbour (Plymouth) lock gates and flood defence scheme, are but a few examples.

Fred Sherrell was active in the Geological Society Engineering Group and the Ussher Society. He was especially proud to be accepted into both the Institution of Civil Engineers as a Chartered member, and the Association of Consulting Engineers in the early 1970s. He received an Honorary DSc from the University of Plymouth in July 2000.

Fred was widely known and admired in the geological and engineering professions, not only for his practical knowledge and innovative thinking but also for his boundless enthusiasm and good humour. In his later years Fred fought against acute emphysema, retiring in 1993 to enjoy his garden and family. He died on 5 August 2001, leaving his wife, Cynthia, daughters Judith and Helen, his son Murray and five grandchildren.

John Harris & Roland Goldring