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Reviews - December 2008

The Yorkshire Dales: Landscape and geology

Yorkshire dales

Tony Waltham
Published by: Crowood Press, Wilts
Publication date: 2008
ISBN: 9781861269720
List price: £16.99
224 pp

This is the first of a proposed series of regional volumes aimed at the general reader, rambler and lover of the countryside. The author is a true admirer of the Yorkshire Dales and has brought together an overview of the basic geology, stratigraphy, structure, geomorphology and land use, liberally illustrated with his own photographs (the aerial view of the Ribbleshead drumlins is particularly striking). The basic geology perhaps requires some prior knowledge of the subject at around A-Level standard, but it would be well worthwhile for the ordinary rambler to digest it. The geological section amounts to nearly a third of the book and is simpler than the British Geological Survey’s Regional Guide to ‘The Pennines and Adjacent Areas’ (4th Edition, 2004). However, the remainder of Tony Waltham’s book brings together some topics hardly touched on in that guide, particularly regarding the extensive cave systems.

The Yorkshire Dales comprises a classic area for glacio-karst scenery. Though well known there is no other publication with such an up to date coverage as this. The various aspects of limestone erosion and glaciation are discussed with due reference to the climatic oscillations of the Pleistocene. Details of the Dales’ valley glaciers and their effects are brought together in an easily readable account. The geomorphology of the limestone is linked to a description of the many cave systems, so often ignored by surface-oriented geomorphologists. The book concludes with chapters on the soils and vegetation (or lack of them on the limestone pavements), on the old lead mines, on the quarrying industry, on farming practice and on public usage by virtue of the National Park.

A major criticism is that I found many of the page numbers missing, with occasional cross-references to un-numbered pages making things difficult. The style of inserts of coloured pages to explain selected topics is confusing - these inserts would be more effective if they blended with the running text. In one such insert on mining, the gangue minerals include fluorite, but it is not listed in the main text. I have never heard of crinoids standing on one leg (p.23); perhaps “stem” would be more appropriate. There are two minor omissions; nothing is said about the lamprophyre dykes cutting the Ingletonian, and I found no mention of silver being extracted from the lead ores, important in monastic and later times.

There are some useful maps, though the colours on the map and key do not all match on pp.12-13, and why are some towns not marked, e.g. Sedburgh, Ingleton and Dent? The caption on p.143 has “Easter Groot”, surely it should be Grotto! On pp.158-9, the long distance paths such as the Pennine Way are difficult to follow - they deserve a separate map. There is a brief list of suggested further reading and a useful glossary.

Altogether, I found this book a fine introduction to the Yorkshire Dales and I look forward to others in the series.

Trevor D Ford


‘Hud’ - The Life and Work of Robert George Spencer Hudson, FRS


William Hudson
Published by: San Antonio, Texas
Publication date: 2008
ISBN-10: 0981555624
List price: $15 plus p&p (Amazon)
117 pp

The cover to this biography features an arresting scene in the wooded foothills of somewhere mountainous, probably Kurdistan − a robed left hand holds the bridle of a magnificent mule, ears alert, on whose saddle sits the substantial figure of Robert George Spencer Hudson of the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC). Hudson is sitting back and stares imperiously at the camera, brown hair tousled with eyes slightly hooded against the sun. From his saddlebag the wooden shaft of a geological hammer sticks out: one imagines the bags to be stuffed with samples and fossils collected so far that day. In the left lapel and top buttonhole of his tweed jacket are entwined thongs leading to chest and side pockets, evidently attached to hand lens and compass-clinometer. The date of the photograph is 1947, yet just seven years earlier, Hudson, a devoted academic, had abruptly resigned his newly - and hard - won Chair of Geology at the University of Leeds. How did this remarkable transition, from Yorkshire to Kurdistan, come about?

The story is told by Hudson’s son, William, himself also a geologist. RGS Hudson was born in 1895, his father a skilled carpenter. We learn of his education up to the age of 20 as an external University of London Science graduate, and war service until (at the battle of Bullecourt in 1917, serving as a young 2nd Lieutenant of the Warwickshire Regiment) he was shot through the neck, the scar of the exit wound clearly visible on his chin in the photograph described above. He then studied geology at UCL under EJ Garwood gaining BSc First Class Honours, an MSc by research in 1922, an assistant lectureship at the University of Leeds in 1922 and a DSc on the basis of his original published research in 1929. His thesis was the first detailed elucidation of the stratigraphy and palaeontology of the Carboniferous Yoredale cyclothems of Upper Wensleydale. In the next 20 years he and his students did intensive fieldwork, publishing a string of pioneering papers on the Carboniferous structure, stratigraphy and palaeontology of the Craven basin and Askrigg block, the latter which he named. Hudson was even co-founder of the British Speleological Association.

Hudson resigned abruptly from his Chair at Leeds when, after representations from various factions, aspects of his personal life were deemed unacceptable by the Vice-Chancellor. But all was not lost! He moved on to undertake pioneering palaeontological and stratigraphic research all over the Middle East - Iraq, Kurdistan, Palestine, Oman, Emirates. Following the 1958 Iraqi revolt and the nationalisation of the IPC, Hudson returned to academia and eventually secured the Chair at Trinity College, Dublin. His last 10 years were glory years: Vice-President and Murchison medallist of the Geological Society, Fellow of the Royal Society and eminence grise behind the founding of the Palaeontological Association. He died in Dublin in 1965, his new devotion to Irish Carboniferous geology and his reform of the Trinity department left tragically incomplete.

William Hudson’s handsome, well illustrated and sensitively told book deserves a wide audience. It should appeal to Carboniferous aficionados, geologists in Yorkshire, Ireland and the Middle East, historians of scientific progress, and those social historians of past misdeeds of autocrats in great Universities. In present halcyon days of ´working locally, thinking globally´ it is reassuring to know that we stand on the broad shoulders of grafting giants like ´Hud´.

Mike Leeder


Darwin Diary 2009


Published by: Natural History Museum (stationery)
Publication date: 2008
ISBN: 978-0-565-09227-6 (hbk)
List price: £9.99
112 pp

With 2009 celebrating both the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin (12th February) and 150 years since the publication of his seminal work On the Origin of Species (24th November), look out for many events and memorabilia to commemorate the great man. This week-per-page desk diary from the Natural History Museum highlights key events and people in Darwin’s life with a series of superb illustrations (one per double-page spread) and anniversary notes. Many of the pictures are from the museum’s own archives and feature paintings, drawings, photographs and facsimiles. Some of the paintings, in particular, are exquisitely reproduced in full colour and demonstrate why original books with such illustrations are now almost priceless. There is also a useful page listing web sites covering aspects of Darwin’s life, his work, and events to mark the bicentenary.

This diary is beautifully produced, and this may be its main disadvantage – it is far too good to scribble on! However, it will probably become a collector’s piece in time and so would repay careful handling. Perhaps use for inspiration rather than for doodling. This would make an excellent and inexpensive Christmas present to grace the desk of any naturalist.

Ian Lancaster, Warrington

Cooke Book

The Evolution of Nettie Huxley 1825 – 1914

Martin Huxley Cooke
Published by: Phillimore & Co
Publication date: September 2008
ISBN: 978-1-86077-528-4
List price: £20.00
150 pp 

It is often said that behind every successful man there is a woman, a phrase that is particularly well used when it comes to successful historical scientists. From Emma Darwin to Mileva Marie Einstein, the wives of famous scientists throughout history (SWAGS?) are increasingly being recognised as having played a crucial role in their work. Despite this, the name Nettie (Henrietta) Huxley is a fairly unfamiliar one. In this fascinating biography, Martin Huxley Cooke, Nettie’s great grandson, unravels the story of a woman Huxley called his ‘little white mouse’, who he met in Australia during his voyage on The Rattlesnake, and waited for eight long years to marry. 

Despite the scarcity of documentary evidence, particular relating to Nettie’s early life, her extraordinary character is evident throughout as the details of her life are unravelled. Born to an unconventional family (particularly noteworthy is an ancestor named Stede Bonnet, driven to piracy by the ‘discomforts of married life’), she was the illegitimate daughter of Sarah Richardson, a married woman, and Henry Heathorn. The couple later eloped, and Nettie spent her early years following her father’s various failed business ventures, eventually finding herself in Sydney, where she met Huxley, her ‘knight in shining armour’. She then endured what can only be described as the ultimate long distance relationship, waiting behind in Australia whilst Huxley attempted to establish a scientific career in England, until she was able to join him eight years later. From then on, her story is one of a formidable figure in Victorian scientific society, hosting dinners and ‘tall teas’ at which some of the most eminent figures of the age were present, and facilitating debate between scientists, churchmen and politicians over the hot topic of the day, evolutionary theory.

It is here that the Huxleys’ story has most relevance. Despite their differences of opinion (Nettie was a devoted Christian, Huxley the original agnostic) the couple were able to find common ground, and to tolerate, even admire, their respective views. We often look back on the period, particularly Huxley’s role in the famous debate with Bishop Wilberforce over evolution, as a time when science and religion fell out irreparably with one another. The story of Nettie Huxley shows that, far from finding themselves on the opposite side of a great divide, scientists and believers had much to learn from one another; an attitude summed up by one witness to Huxley’s lectures, who noted that scientists such as he ‘have a religion of their own’. Such a point of view is as important now as it was then, and makes this entertaining and engaging biography essential reading for anyone interested in the continuing controversy over what relationship should exist between science and religion.

Sarah Day