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Trevor David Ford 1925 - 2017

srtuDistinguished Leicester University academic, describer of Charnia, enthusiastic speleologist and expert on the geology of Derbyshire.

Trevor Ford, one of the giants of traditional British Geology and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Geology at Leicester University until he retired in 1987, died on 22 February aged 91. 

Early in his career he was recognised as an astute and energetic geologist from the quality of his work on the Ingleton and Stainmore Coalfields, and his growing interests in speleology, geomorphology, and the mineral deposits of the Peak District. 


Trevor was born 19 April 1925 at Westcliffe-on-Sea in Essex.  His family moved to Sheffield soon after, where he attended the King Edward VII School from 1939 to 1941.  He became a temporary wartime bank clerk from 1941 to 1944 before being called up to the RAF.  However, he was soon transferred to the Royal Navy because of his colour-blindness. 

He was a Stores Assistant from 1944 to 1946 with service in Ceylon, India, Burma, Singapore and Hong Kong.  At the age of 22 he went to Sheffield University to study geology, following his BSc with a PhD on the Ingleton and Stainmore Coalfields before coming to Leicester.

In 1952 he was appointed as an Assistant Lecturer at University College, Leicester to join Mac Whitaker.  Between them they taught all branches of Geology up to the standard required by London University External Honours Regulations.  As the department grew and the University was granted its Royal Charter, enabling conferment of its own degrees, his teaching was mainly in stratigraphy, palaeontology, micropalaeontology, map interpretation, quaternary geology, economic geology (mainly coal, oil and water-supply), environmental geology and the history of geological science. 

He also taught a variety of extra-mural courses at Vaughan College and elsewhere.  He was an enthusiastic lecturer and field course leader, and despite a deceptively gruff manner was greatly respected and appreciated by his students for the encyclopaedic knowledge of his subject and his kind understanding in helping with their problems.  Many of them became lifelong friends.

Trevor was well known internationally for his tremendous geological output on Derbyshire and elsewhere; specifically, his work on tufas, and the variety of fluorite known as Blue John became well known.


The aspect of Trevor's work that enjoyed the greatest international impact concerned his description of the Precambrian fossil Charnia.  This frond-like organism was found in Charnwood Forest by a Leicester schoolboy, Roger Mason (himself later a well-known geologist), and described scientifically by Trevor in 1958.  It was one of the first convincing organisms to be described from rocks that were incontestably Precambrian.  Charnia and its relatives are now renowned as members of the enigmatic Ediacaran biota, following further discoveries in many parts of the world as well as in Charnwood itself.  Their interpretation continues as a lively and controversial field of research, discussed at special conferences, including one in Leicester in 2007, the 50th anniversary of Charnia’s discovery, at which Trevor was revered as a founding father. 

He himself followed up the Charnwood discoveries with visits to Australia, Newfoundland and especially the Grand Canyon, on which he became an authority, leading many field trips to the National Park.  For many years he was a geological guide on raft cruises down the Colorado River.

Trevor supervised 22 research students and examined a similar number of PhDs.  He held visiting Professorships in both US and Australian Universities.  He published over 500 papers, books, guides and reviews.  He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1980 and retired from the University in 1987, after 35 years’ service. 

He was then given the title of University Fellow and maintained links with the Department, continuing his work on local geology, mining history, and caving.  He was a frequent visitor and may be described as an iconic figure in the Department.  He became immobile in his final years but more than welcomed home visitors who never ceased to be astonished by his lively mind and extraordinary memory.


He served the University extensively, as a member of the Board of the Faculty of Science and an elected member of Senate and Council serving on the Honorary Degrees Board, Sites and Buildings Committee, Higher Degrees Board, Research Board, Board of Education, Departmental Assistants Board, Collegiate Studies Board, Part-time Degrees Committee, Vacation Awards Board, V.C.'s Committee on Teaching Methods, and as an Assessor for the Disciplinary  Committee.  He was Senior Tutor and later Associate Dean for Combined Studies in Science.  He was chairman and Convenor of the Board of Studies in Earth Science at Nene College, Northampton from 1974 to 1987.

Trevor’s standing in the community is reflected in the posts he held outside the University.  He was elected Honorary Editor of the Cave Research Group in 1964 (later the British Cave Research Association), and also of the Peak District Mines Historical Society in 1965.  He held both posts until c. 1990 and was Chairman or President of both organisations for various periods.  He was President of the East Midlands Geological Society from 1982-1985. 

He was Hon Editor of the Transactions of the Leicester Literary & Philosophical Society from 1986 to 2000, and President of the Society in 1982.  He was the series editor of the ‘Limestone and Caves of….’ books, of ‘The Science of Speleology’, and general editor of the Proceedings of the 7th International Congress of Speleology, 1977.


Trevor’s achievements have been well recognised by a number of awards culminating in an OBE  in the 1997 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, for ‘Services to Geology and Cave Science’.  He was awarded the ‘Champion of British Sport’ medal by Derbyshire Caving Association in 1998.  In 1974 he was awarded a moiety of the Lyell Fund by the Geological Society of London.  In 2016 an honorary DSc was conferred upon him by the University of Derby (at his home, because of his limited mobility) in recognition of his contributions to the geology and landscape of Derbyshire.

Trevor’s first wife Ann (née Thornhill) died in 1956.  In 1958 he married Betty (née Thomas) who died in 2006. He is survived by his two daughters, Alison Tagg and Janet Baxter and his granddaughter, Kirsty Baxter.  Trevor Ford OBE, PhD, BSc, FGS 1925-2017

Aftab Khan and Janet Baxter