Edgar Morton Archive

Scope and Content

Edgar Morton and his partnership have left a very substantial archive that comprehensively documents his work as a consulting engineering geologist from the late 1920s to his death in 1973. It also records the work of his company, Edgar Morton and Partner, which continued to practice into the 1990s. Thus the archive includes a considerable quantity of material relating to work undertaken by his colleagues C.W. (Bill) Isherwood and Peter Rowe. It should therefore should be consulted in particular alongside the archive of Rowe, also held at the John Rylands University Library (ref. PWR). The JRUL also holds the substantial archive of Morton's mentor at Manchester, Sir William Boyd Dawkins (ref.  WBD). Together the Morton, Rowe and Boyd Dawkins archives constitute a source of national importance for the history of geotechnical science and civil engineering in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Section EMP/1, Personal and Biographical Papers, is slight. There is a little information about Morton's life and work but the largest group of material (EMP/1/C) relates to Morton's holiday home at Rudyard Lake, Staffordshire, which he acquired in the mid 1920s. There is also a little material relating to Morton's professional affiliations, chiefly with the Institution of Water Engineers.

Section EMP/2, Notes and Drafts, chiefly comprises drafts and associated material for lectures and publications by Edgar Morton. There are notes for his university and evening course lectures at Manchester in engineering geology and applied geology for engineering students. These incorporate notes taken by Morton as an undergraduate, lectures by and correspondence with Sir William Boyd Dawkins and other earlier material (EMP/2/A). The section also includes draft chapters prepared for an intended textbook on 'Engineering Geology' (EMP/2/B) and material assembled by Morton for his D.Sc. application (EMP/2/C). Morton's widespread lecturing and writing activities outside the University are well documented. In the 1920s and 1930s Morton frequently attended meetings of the British Waterworks Association, often presenting papers at them. The files at EMP/2/D include documentation of Morton's contributions to the meetings (both in terms of papers and discussion). Other lectures and publications are documented in a sequence of lectures, talks and publications material, 1925-1954 (EMP/2/E). Audiences for lectures ranged from local bodies such as the Manchester Microscopical Society and professional societies such as the Institution of Civil Engineers, to national trade organisations including the Central Association of the Lime and Limestone Industry of Great Britain. Publications of note include a series of articles on building stone for The Quarry Managers' Journal in the early 1930s, and contributions to The Water Engineer's Handbook & Directory, 1932-1938. Also documented in this section are two radio broadcasts from 1925 and 1926: 'What a water tap means' and 'Cave hunting in Derbyshire'.

Section EMP/3, Consultancies, is by far the largest in the collection. It offers extensive documentation following, in varying degrees of detail, the development of Morton's consultancy work from the 1920s. The section includes work carried out by the company Morton established, Edgar Morton and Partner, which continued in practice after his death in 1973 and covers work undertaken into the early 1990s. It is divided into four series: Public Water Supply; Private Water Supply; Foundation, Stability and Construction Problems; and Planning and Mineral Workings.

Public Water Supply (EMP/3/1-225) covers Morton's extensive consultancy work on public water-supply projects in Britain. It comprises files relating to over two hundred public water-supply projects with which Morton (and his company Edgar Morton and Partner) was involved as a geotechnical engineering consultant. Morton was working at a time when the water industry in Britain was required to meet a rapidly increasing need for assured supplies of water for domestic and industrial use. After the Second World War local authorities had been given greater powers to build and extend reservoirs and search for potential new sources of supply. Morton and his company, Edgar Morton and Partner, were much in demand in advising on public water supply. He himself was involved with more than one hundred and fifty dams and reservoirs throughout Britain, many being long-term projects with Morton advising on different aspects of investigation, design, construction, litigation and site monitoring over many years. The largest bodies of material relate to the construction and development of Grimwith Reservoir for the Bradford Corporation Waterworks (later Yorkshire Water Authority); the Roadford, Colliford and Wimbleball Reservoirs (South West Water Authority); and the Foremark Reservoir and Carsington Reservoirs (Severn Trent Water Authority). Significant amounts of material occur also for the Isle of Man Water Board (Sulby, or Druidale, Reservoir Scheme, and others), the North West Water Authority, the Staffordshire Potteries Water Board, St Helens Corporation, Buckinghamshire Water Board, Nottingham Corporation, Portsmouth and Gosport Water Company, North Devon Water Board (the Meldon Reservoir Scheme) and the City of Cardiff Corporation Waterworks (Llandegfedd Scheme).

Not all the public water-supply projects for which Morton was acting involved reservoirs and dams. Morton was also concerned in the construction of pumping stations, sewage works, water treatment works and other such water supply projects. Morton gave advice to many local authorities on water sources, often subterranean, for augmenting the public water supply, protection of gathering grounds, new well sites, etc., and advised on borehole licence applications. The majority of the material dates from the 1930s to the early 1990s, although in some cases, where a related project or the same local authority was involved, the working papers incorporate earlier William Boyd Dawkins material, dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and used for background engineering and geological information. Others represented in the papers include colleagues in his consultancy, Professor Peter Rowe (1922-1997), Charles William (Bill) Isherwood (1924-2006) and John Scriven.

While most of Morton's hydrogeological work was concerned with public water supply, he also acted as a consultant for private cases, from the supply of drinking water to individual farms to the industrial-scale water requirements of major companies such as Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) and Whitbread Breweries. These Private Water Supply cases are presented at EMP/3/226-EMP/3/404. The bulk of the material relates to Morton's support of applications to bore for water under Section 14 of the Water Act, or opposition thereto, and to general advice on the augmentation of water supplies from local sources. Much relates to sites in the North-West of England, though there are also cases from the Midlands and southern England. Little of the material post-dates Morton's death in 1973, although there is significant material relating to water supplies for British Nuclear Fuels' Chapelcross Power Station, 1978-1991 (EMP/3/255).

The series Foundation, Stability and Construction Problems (EMP/3/405-EMP/3/588) documents a wide range of consultancy activities of Edgar Morton and Edgar Morton and Partner, principally focused on issues of site assessment. The types of client and the nature of projects vary considerably, although geographically there is a concentration in the English counties of Lancashire and Cheshire and in North Wales. Projects include cases of subsidence, resulting from both coal mining and salt extraction; sewerage schemes, particularly relating to land stability; investigations of the suitability of sites for refuse disposal; power plant developments, both fossil fuel and nuclear; and housing developments. There is particularly voluminous coverage of Edgar Morton and Partner's involvement with the Glasgow engineering consultancy Babtie Shaw and Morton on the A890 Strome Ferry by-pass, a particularly challenging engineering feat which was to require ongoing inspection and remedial work (documented to 1996), and the M90 motorway. Work was also undertaken for a number of public authorities. Those best represented are the British Electricity Authority/Central Electricity Generating Board (site investigations and ash disposal for power stations), Lancashire County Council (M62 motorway), Manchester Regional Hospital Board and the North West Gas Board (Bradford Road gasworks in Manchester and other sites). Also of note is material relating to Trinidad Leaseholds, investigating possible oil storage sites immediately prior to and during the early years of the Second World War, and the Inquiry into the 1966 Aberfan disaster. Edgar Morton and Partner material postdating Morton's death includes, for example, projects undertaken for the North West Water Authority (site stability at Giant's Seat, near Bolton), Rhuddlan Borough Council (main drainage scheme), UK Atomic Energy Authority (geological implications of sites for nuclear waste) and the Welsh Water Authority (Bangor sewerage scheme). As well as such large-scale concerns, Morton also acted for small companies and individuals, including subsidence claims affecting individual homes.

The final series, Planning and Mineral Workings (EMP/3/589-EMP/3/665), brings together material relating to advice given by Morton (and Edgar Morton and Partner) on planning issues (usually site investigations, planning appeals and public or local inquiries), and consultancies on mineral workings - generally sand, gravel and brine extraction. Much of the material is similar in nature to work undertaken by Morton in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s documented in section EMP/4, Research Interests and Minor Consultancies. Furthermore, as both planning and mineral workings often impinged on water supply or had site stability implications, so there is considerable overlap with material elsewhere in this section. There is a geographical concentration on Cheshire, as the largest bodies of material relate to the Cheshire Brine Subsidence Compensation Board and to Cheshire County Council, with advice on brine subsidence problems, planning applications, inquiries and appeals, and sand and gravel workings.

The section EMP/4, Research Interests and Minor Consultancies, brings together Morton's files on small consultancies not included in EMP/3, together with research material. The material has been grouped together by broad area where possible and the section is arranged in an alphabetical sequence. The bulk of the consultancies date from the 1920s and 1930s, with a geographical concentration in the counties of Cheshire, Derbyshire and Lancashire, and many relate to Morton's expertise in determining the properties and qualities of stone. Thus there is material relating to Road Stone (EMP/4/H) including work for the Ministry of Transport and the British Standards Institution; Silicosis (EMP/4/J), mostly relating to Morton's analyses of the silica content of stones, evidence given in silicosis compensation cases and reports for the Sandstone Industries Compensation Fund; and Stone Testing for quarry owners 1927-1964 (EMP/4/O). Morton also undertook site investigations, advising quarries and landowners on the geological nature and mineral possibilities of their land (EMP/4/K). Other areas covered include the legal background to water supply (EMP/4/Q/2), with particular reference to underground water (EMP/4/P).

Administrative / Biographical History

Edgar Morton was born in Timperley, Cheshire, on 28 December 1898. He was educated privately. During the First World War he served with the Royal Flying Corps. In 1919 Morton entered the Victoria University of Manchester, studying geology and graduating B.Sc. in 1922. He undertook postgraduate research in the Geology Department (M.Sc. 1924) and in 1923 he was appointed Special Lecturer in Engineering Geology. Morton remained on the staff of the University of Manchester, mainly in a part-time or special capacity, from 1923 until his retirement in 1966, pioneering courses in applied geology for students of civil engineering, architecture, building and town planning. He was made Reader in Applied Geology in 1963.

Edgar Morton was a student in the Geology Department at Manchester at a time when the legacy of Sir William Boyd Dawkins, the first Professor of Geology (1872-1908), was still strong. Boyd Dawkins was the pioneer of engineering geology in Britain and through his consultancies he had done much to forge links between geology and industry. He was still active in the 1920s and Morton worked with him on a number of projects. On Boyd Dawkins's death in 1929 Morton established his own consultancy in engineering geology. From the establishment of his practice to his death, Morton undertook well over five hundred projects, and the company he created, Edgar Morton and Partner, continued into the 1990s.

Morton had considerable ability in analysing the physical and microscopical properties of stone and the relation of these properties to the behaviour of stone in roads and buildings. He was a pioneer in this subject, amassing a great deal of factual data as well as a valuable collection of rock specimens from all over the British Isles, many of which are now housed in the Manchester Museum. His professional advice was sought by quarrying companies anxious to establish the qualities of their rocks for building and other purposes. His growing reputation in this area led to service on technical committees of the Ministry of Transport and the British Standards Institution, advising on standards for road and kerb stones. Morton was also consulted in relation to silicosis. From 1929 legislation required quarries to pay compensation to workers affected by the disease and the Sandstone Industries Compensation Fund was established for this purpose. Morton analysed samples of stone and gave advice to the Fund and to individual quarry owners on their liability.

Many of Morton's principal consultancies arose from his expertise in hydrogeology. He was involved in numerous major water schemes undertaken in Britain in the mid-twentieth century, being concerned to various degrees with more than one hundred and fifty dams and reservoirs, including those at Baitings (near Ripponden), the Durham Derwent, Staunton Harold, Llys-y-Fran, Llandegfedd, Siblyback, Meldon and Ardleigh, all of which are represented in the archive. Following Morton's death in 1973, the partnership continued its involvement in major dam and reservoir schemes, such as Grimwith in Yorkshire, the Roadford, Colliford and Wimbleball reservoirs in the south west of England, and the Carsington reservoir in Derbyshire. Morton also specialized in the problems of underground water (including the legal implications) and throughout his career he gave advice on boreholes for public, private and industrial water supplies. Morton's consultancies also included advising on an extensive range of foundation, stability and construction problems, such as road construction, subsidence resulting from coal mining and salt extraction, land stability for sewerage schemes and refuse disposal, and site assessments for power plants and housing developments. He continued to advise on planning issues and mineral workings, in particular in his capacity as Geological Adviser to Cheshire County Council. In 1952 Peter Walter Rowe joined the University of Manchester from St Andrews, and Morton invited him to work with him in his consultancy as adviser in soil mechanics.

In addition to his university lecturing duties, Morton gave many public and invitation lectures to a wide variety of audiences. His publications output was closely related to his professional interests and he wrote a number of technical papers arising from his work. His final paper, 'A review of the influence of geology on the design and construction of impounding dams', Journal of the Institution of Water Engineers, vol. 27 (1973), presented at the Summer Meeting of the Institution in 1973, won him the Institution's Whitaker Medal (awarded posthumously). Morton also gave evidence as an expert witness in arbitration and legal cases, including the Inquiry into the 1966 Aberfan disaster at which Morton acted for the National Union of Teachers.

Morton was a member of the Institution of Water Engineers from 1928 and was elected an Honorary Member in 1971. In 1954 he became an Associate (subsequently Companion) of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He was an Honorary Member of the Institute of Quarrying from 1931, and a member of the British Waterworks Association.

Morton's interests in geology, soil mechanics and geochemistry were of long standing but he was always open to new ideas and their application. He was direct and straightforward in his lectures, with a very practical approach - his audiences greatly appreciated his use in lectures of numerous drawings relating to work on which he was actually engaged. Morton's extensive knowledge and untiring enthusiasm for engineering geology greatly benefited the water engineering profession, while his contribution to teaching at Manchester was recognised by the endowment of the Edgar Morton Prize awarded annually to the top final-year student in geotechnical subjects. Morton had a great love for the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and had a cottage on the Isle of Skye. He died on 21 November 1973 in the Royal Northern Infirmary in Inverness.

The firm of Edgar Morton & Partner continued in business along much the same lines after the death of its founder. In 1975 its offices moved from Morton's former home, Styperson House in Adlington, Cheshire, to Alpha House in Macclesfield, when Morton's sister Catherine left Cheshire to live in Inverness. Edgar Morton & Partner was closely associated with a small site investigation company, Geo-Research Limited of Stockport. In the late 1960s and 1970s, under the direction of Colin Hill, Geo-Research grew to meet the demands of Professor Peter Rowe for high-quality drilling, soil sampling and testing for his thriving consultancy work, notably in the reservoir sector. Edgar Morton & Partner also appointed them, often as a nominated contractor, for their own projects, particularly when Peter Rowe acted in his role as soil mechanics consultant to the partnership. Edgar Morton & Partner itself was taken over by Sir M MacDonald & Partners in 1988. The name was changed to Edgar Morton and Partners and operations were transferred to the parent company's regional office in Altrincham. The separate identity of Edgar Morton & Partners ended in 1992. Finally Geo-Research Ltd was wound up in 1999, two years after the death of Professor Peter Rowe.


A preliminary outline listing of the Edgar Morton archive was undertaken in 1992 by Timothy Procter on behalf of the John Rylands University Library, and the arrangement of the archive has largely followed the organization set out in that list.

The papers have been arranged into the following subfonds:

  • EMP/1: Personal and Biographical Papers, 1925-1976;
  • EMP/2: Notes and Drafts, 1911-1970s [bulk 1920s-1960s];
  • EMP/3: Consultancies, 1885-1998 [bulk 1930-1990];
  • EMP/4: Research Interests and Minor Consultancies, ?1886-1975 [bulk 1920s-1960s].

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The Edgar Morton Archive was transferred to the John Rylands University Library from the offices of Geo-Research Ltd, Brighton Road, Heaton Norris, Stockport, Cheshire SK4 2BE, in several tranches in 1998. It was formally donated to the Library by Miss Catherine Morton, surviving sister of Edgar Morton, in August 1998.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The Edgar Morton Archive was originally located at Styperson House in Adlington, Cheshire, which was Edgar Morton's home and the registered office of Edgar Morton & Partner. The office and archive were transferred from Styperson House to Alpha House in Macclesfield in 1975. Alpha House remained the firm's office until Edgar Morton & Partner was taken over by the large engineering consultancy Sir M MacDonald & Partners in 1988. At this point, the firm's current records were transferred to their regional office in Altrincham, while the non-current archives were transferred to a disused laboratory in the Simon Engineering Building of the University of Manchester, through the good offices of David Procter. They remained there for several years until a refurbishment of the Simon Building forced their removal to the offices of Geo-Research Limited in Stockport, a firm with which Edgar Morton and Partner had been closely associated (there was an attempt around this time to establish a firm called EMG (Edgar Morton Geotechnical) based in Geo-Research's offices). The material from Altrincham was added in due course. Finally the entire archive was transferred to the John Rylands University Library in 1998.

Information kindly supplied by Mr John Scriven.


A limited amount of unlisted material on loan from the Edgar Morton Archive for current teaching purposes will be returned for cataloguing in due course.

Related Material

The John Rylands University Library holds the archive of Edgar Morton's professional partner, Professor Peter Walter Rowe (ref.  GB 133 PWR), and the archive of Morton's mentor at Manchester, Sir William Boyd Dawkins (ref. GB 133 WBD). Together the Morton, Rowe and Dawkins archives constitute a source of national importance for the history of geotechnical science and civil engineering in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Morton's collection of rock specimens is held by the Manchester Museum.