Papers and correspondence of William Stuart McKerrow, geologist, 1922-2004

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Section A, Biographical and autobiographical, is not extensive. There is virtually no personal or family correspondence. Items of interest include Mc Kerrow's autobiographical account of his life to 1949 (A.5) and details of the Tribute Meeting in January 2005 (A.4). His Scottish loyalties are attested (A.11) and his long connection with Wolfson College where he was a Founder Fellow, Senior and Emeritus Fellow, and Archivist (A.13-A.18). Section B, Notebooks, records McKerrow's early interest in geology as a schoolboy (B.1, B.40) work at Glasgow University before and after the war, and his continuing research career in a long sequence of notebooks documenting field excursions in Britain and overseas. These continue well beyond his official retirement. Section C, Research regions and topics, is extensive, following, in varying degrees of detail, the development of McKerrow's research from Jurassic fossils to stratigraphy, orogeny and palaeozoic biogeography. There is also abundant documentation for his local attachments, to Arran of which he published a Field Guide and where he took up the cudgels in the cause of public access and the island economy, and, closer to home, to the preservation of Kirtlington Quarry for public and scientific use. Section D, Expeditions and excursions, is short. Most of McKerrow's field trips are recorded in his notebooks, or were undertaken through the Oxford Department of Geology. Section E, Publications and lectures, covers a long time-span 1955-2001, and contains drafts, notes and correspondence mainly for later publications, often collaborative. McKerrow's prolific and successful career as a lecturer, including his visits to America, is well documented. Perhaps surprisingly, only one broadcast is recorded. Section F, Oxford University Department of Geology (now Earth Sciences) is substantial, covering McKerrow's contribution as lecturer, leader of field trips, and enthusiastic supervisor of graduate and doctoral students. He does not appear to have played a part in the more general affairs of the university, except for his important role in promoting the interests of 'non-fellows' and the establishment of graduate colleges. Section G, Visits and conferences, 1964-1999 is scanty and does not fully represent McKerrow's activities in this respect. There some documentation of his visiting posts at universities in the USA and of Europrobe meetings in the 1990s. Section H, Consultancies, is also brief. It includes some material on the planning routes for M40, the Oxford-Birmingham Motorway. Section J, Correspondence, covers the period 1962-2005 and includes a little material on the Southern Uplands controversy kindly made available by P. Stone after the 2005 Tribute meeting. Section K, Non-text material, includes photographs of McKerrow and some of his favourite sites such as Arran and the Oxfordshire region. There are also some of his well-worn and heavily-annotated field maps.

Administrative / Biographical History

McKerrow was born in Glasgow in June 1922 and retained strong loyalty to Scotland throughout his life. His account of his early years, 'Direction Finding' describes how his youthful interest in geology was first aroused at Glasgow Academy and developed at the progressive Abbotsholme School in Staffordshire, his principal place of schooling. Entering Glasgow University in 1940, he opted in 1941 for a course in radio. This led to his war service in the Navy as a sub- lieutenant and expert in high-frequency direction-finding working on convoy escort duties in the North Atlantic. This skilful and hazardous work, including an episode when he repaired a faulty radio receiver while suspended inside the ship in an Atlantic gale, was marked by the award of the Distinguished Service Cross. Demobilised in November 1945, McKerrow returned to Glasgow and resumed his University studies three days later. He graduated in 1947 and was immediately appointed Departmental Demonstrator at Oxford. He remained there until his retirement in 1989, playing a full part in the work of the Department as lecturer and tutor, as supervisor of research and as a popular leader of field excursions. He also held Research or Visiting Fellowships in California, Chicago, Edmonton, Auckland and Massachusetts. At the suggestion and with the support of W.J. Arkell, McKerrow began his research career at Oxford on the brachiopods of the Middle Jurassic, which became the subject of his doctoral thesis (A.7). His interest in the rocks of south-west Ireland, of the Scottish Uplands and of Newfoundland led to many publications in the 1960s and 1970s. In later years he worked extensively on problems of continental redistribution, landscape evolution and time-scale, while never losing his attachment to local geology in the Cotswolds and the Oxford region. His Bibliography (A.1) lists 120 items. In 1978 he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science at Oxford, which he liked to call his 'second DSC'. In 1949 McKerrow married Jean Brown and they had three sons. He died in June 2004, just 10 days short of his 82nd birthday. A weekend Tribute Meeting was held in the University Museum of Natural History 14-16 January 2005, attended by 226 colleagues and friends (A.4). A man of deep religious faith, McKerrow was an Elder of the Presbyterian Church, and often preached at St Columba's Reformed Church in Oxford, where his funeral service was held.


By section as follows: Biographical and autobiographical, Notebooks, research regions and topics, Expeditions and excursions, Publications, lectures, broadcast, Oxford university Department of Geology, Visits and conferences, Consultancies and advice, Correspondence, and Non-text material. Index of correspondents.

Conditions Governing Access

Access to bona fide scholars upon written application to the Director of the Museum.

Acquisition Information

The papers were received from Professor W .J. Kennedy who had assembled them from McKerrow's room in the Department of Earth Sciences at Oxford.

Other Finding Aids

Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of William Stuart McKerrow: NCUACS catalogue no. 139/4/05, 91pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Dr T.E. Powell, NCUACS, August 2006