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Climate change comes to Bagley Wood

Geologist and science writer Nina Morgan considers some new evidence for global warming.

The village of Kennington south of Oxford has a reputation as a geological hotspot. From its epicentre in Bagley Wood Road, the village has provided the Department of Earth Sciences (formerly the Department of Geology and Mineralogy) at Oxford University with some of its top geological talent.

The list of luminaries includes the intrepid field geologist, J V Harrison [1892 - 1972];  geologist and petrographer Keith Cox [1933 – 1998], known for his work on flood basalts and kimberlites;  geochronologist Stephen Moorbath [1929 – 2016], famous for his work in Greenland and the identification of the oldest rocks on Earth; and structural geologist and plate tectonics pioneer, John Dewey, born 1937 and still very much alive. 

Quality Street

Bagley Wood Road has also gained a reputation for the quality of its Christmas cards.  J V Harrison, may have started the ball rolling. In the 1930s, before he arrived in Oxford, Harrison, known for his passion for undertaking field work ‘under the most arduous conditions that could be arranged’ began by producing Christmas cards illustrated by his photographs taken in the wilds of Persia. After he arrived in Oxford, these cards were replaced with gifts of Christmas trees cut from his property in Bagley Wood (see Distant Thunder, Geoscientist 22.11, December 2012). 

jkgThen in the late 1970s a new type of handmade Christmas card emerged from Bagley Wood Road. These unique and charming cards – each incorporating her fingerprint – were designed and produced by Stephen Moorbath's wife, Pauline, an artist with a qualification in industrial design who was then working for Pressed Steel as an exhibition designer and later for the Oxford Education Authority producing supplementary material for schools.  A new design emerged yearly.  For many years the creation of the cards was entirely down to Pauline, with Stephen adding handwritten notes to his friends and colleagues. 

Evidence grows

However, once Pauline reached the end of a delightful 12-year series (representing the twelve days of Christmas) Stephen began to exert some influence on the design, and clear evidence of the effects of global warming began to emanate from Bagley Wood.

The card for the 'thirteenth day of Christmas' sent out in 2014, was illustrated by a giraffe, grazing on holly in Bagley Wood. The 'fourteenth day of Christmas' issued in 2015, hit home by featuring eight redundant reindeer.  And the strongest message of all appeared on the 2016 card (picture, above left), sent out after Stephen's death in October. This card highlighted the effects of global warming in Greenland, one of his favourite places. Although this card features Pauline's signature fingerprint and charming art work, the subject matter and punning references in the text have Stephen's fingerprints all over it. 

A very happy holiday season to all!


I thank Pauline Moorbath for telling me about the origin of the cards and Stephen's involvement, and for permission to reproduce one here; Philip Powell for drawing my attention to the cards; and Philip Powell and the late David Vincent for sharing their personal recollections of J V Harrison.  Harrison’s Christmas cards can be found in the Special Collections section of the BGS GeoScenic website W:

* Nina Morgan is a geologist and science writer based near Oxford.  Her latest book, The Geology of Oxford Gravestones, is available via