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Peter Robert Thomas 1939 – 2011

Peter Robert ThomasPeter graduated from Liverpool University in 1962 with an honours degree in Geology, having been a Student Fellow of the Society since 1960. This was the Shackleton/Rast era of intense debate and controversy that enlivened the excellent lectures of the Herdman Society of which Peter was President in 1961-62. With Mike Edmunds the results of their honours theses were published in 1963, recording polyphase folding in Central Connemara.

Peter then undertook an arduous three years’ mapping in the Grampian Group of the Scottish Highlands for his PhD. This was one of the first accounts of polyphase folding in these rocks and was the core of his subsequent geological work. His field-sheets reveal meticulous mapping and the results, from the remote parts of Atholl and Ben Alder Forests, have established the Ossian Steep Belt as a major source of upright isoclinal folds. He also made a substantial contribution to the remapping of the 1:50:000 Sheet 55W (Schiehallion) for BGS. His final paper on the Grampian structure was with Geoff Tanner, published in 2010, detailing the geometry and age of some of the major recumbent folds in the Glen Orchy district.

Peter saw opportunities in engineering geology as a desirable and useful way of practising geology. Joining Soil Mechanics Ltd was an eye-opener to complex testing methods and fascinating site-work at a time of great civil engineering expansion in Britain. Experiences came thick and fast as motorways, dams, bridges, tunnels, factories and hospitals were being planned throughout the country.

There was so much geological misunderstanding between engineers and geologists in the sixties that Peter decided to find a good college or university where practical sandwich degrees were taught – this meant that students understood sites and office life and could better see the relevance of ground engineering. He joined Paisley College of Technology where he used many innovative techniques and where MACDATA (Materials And Components Development And Testing Association) was set up by staff and a consultancy was born. He became MIGeol in 1984 and CGeol in 1990.

Peter was later invited to join the Geotechnical Division of the Civil Engineering Department at Strathclyde University to start up new labs and courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, concentrating on Engineering Geology and Rock Mechanics. Further innovative teaching using live and in house videos, expert systems and practical geological and geophysical work, gave students experience rarely found in other courses.

Peter retired in 1994 and has since completed two projects. The first involved the health and safety of all of Burlington’s quarries in the Lake District and the second was working with members of Westmorland Geological Society to produce a 1:10,000 Sheet SD48SW for BGS together with the research report. The results of some of this work, with which he was particularly pleased, was published, with Mike Balderstone, shortly before his death.

He would leave, he said: “a contented man – no prizes, no medals, just a great life at an exciting time in history”. Sadly, he also leaves Helen his wife, a daughter, a son and four grandsons.

Jack Treagus