Whittard, Walter Frederick

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(b. London, England, 26 October 1902; d. Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol, England, 2 March 1966)

paleontology, stratigraphy.

Walter Frederick Whittard (known as Fred) was the youngest of four children of Thomas W. and Sarah Whittard, who lived in the Battersea district of London. His father was a prosperous and successful proprietor of a grocery store in Clapham. Fred entered the County Secondary School in Battersea and was one of the founiding members of the school’s Natural History Society. At that time he was interested primarily in zoology, but an interest in geology was roused by a family friend, Tom Eastwood, who worked for the Geological Survey. At Eastwood’s behest young Whittard was allowed to enroll in evening classes in geology at Chelsea Polytechnic (now part of the University of London). As an enthusiastic amateur the boy made many collecting excursions around London and the Home Counties, even reaching the West Country. On leaving school, Whittard enrolled as a day student at Chelsea Polytechnic and in 1922 entered the geology department at Imperial College of Science and Technology, where he studied under W. W. Watts. Two years later he graduated with first-class honors in geology and zoology in his ARCS (Associate of the Royal College of Science) examinations, and in geology he gained the external London B.Sc. degree. Such prowess won him a place as a graduate student in the college, in company with Cyril J. Stubblefield, O. M. B. Bulman, and Howel and David Williams. There he began to map the Lower Silurian of south Shropshire and to study Lower Paleozoic paleontology. He even engaged in work on fossil amphibians with Bulman, supervised by Donald M. S. Watson. He received a Ph.D. from Imperial College in 1926.

A senior government scholarship made possible Whittard’s attendance of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, which led to a Cambridge Ph.D. in 1928. This highly formative period for Whittard included an introduction to arctic geology on the Cambridge expedition to East Greenland, led by J. M. Wordie, in 1929.

That same year Whittard was back at Imperial College with an 1851 senior studentship, and in 1931 an assistant lectureship. By then P. G. H. Boswell had succeeded Watts as professor. In 1935 Whittard accepted a full lectureship. Two years later he moved to the Changing Wills chair of geology at the University of Bristol, succeeding A. E. Trueman, and remained there for the rest of his professional life.

In 1930 Whittard married Caroline Margaret Sheppard; they had one son, Lawrence, Whittard was devoted to his wife and son, and to serving the university, as well as to fostering his research and many other interests. He was a man of considerable energies and robust health; this was nowhere more evident than when he conducted field mapping classes with students or when he organized and ran research cruises.

In his early years of professional work, Whittard published papers on the Precambrian, Ordovician, and Silurian formations of south Shropshire. His paleoenvironmental reconstructions of the Silurian transgressions in south Shropshire have stood as a model for many years. After this, he devoted much of his time in the field to mapping the Ordovician sequence in the Shelve area, a difficult task to which he added the monographic description of the Ordovician trilobites of the region. This work was posthumously completed by a former student of his, W. T. Dean. Other paleontological studies included one on a Cambrian wormlike fossil, Palaeoscolex piscatorum, and a presidential address to the Bristol Naturalists Society titled “Enigma of the Earliest Fossils” (1953).

Whittard’s early foray with Bulman, in 1926, into vertebrate paleontology and the reconstruction of the amphibian Branchiosaurus was followed by papers on fossil amphibians (1928) and a compilation on vertebrates from the Lower Cretaceous Weald (1927). Whittard’s extensive knowledge of Paleozoic stratigraphy led to his assuming the joint editorship of fascicle 3a of Lexique stratigraphique international with Scott Simpson, contributing largely to the volumes on the Ordovician and Silurian.

During World War II, Whittard served as adviser on many local geological matters, including water supply and the use of underground quarries for wartime factories and storage. Later he advised on the siting of the Severn Bridge and of the nuclear power station at Berkeley, in Gloucestershire. Throughout this time he was an active fellow of the Geological Society of London and a member of the Geologists Association. Locally, he had joined the Bristol Naturalists Society in 1938 and was president from 1938 to 1940 and from 1952 to 1953.

Whittard of necessity devoted much time to the administration, growth, and rehousing of his department, It became well known for its balance, esprit de corps, and well-being, as well as for its impressive research output. He was dean of the Faculty of Science during the period 1945 to 1948.

In 1955 Whittard took over from W. B. R. King of Cambridge the latter’s work on the geology of the English Channel, extending it to the Western Approaches. At Bristol he built up a small team to investigate the Cretaceous and Tertiary rocks and the marine superficial deposits between Britain and France, and to continue with some of the geophysical survey. This work was carried out from the research vessel Sarsia, owned by the Marine Biological Association at Plymouth, and involved two cruises per year for almost ten years. A program of heavy dredging and coring was supplemented by one of acoustic survey involving the Woods Hole research vessel Chain. Several major publications resulted directly from this work, and the involvement of a Bristol team in marine geological studies across th continental shelf adjacent to Britain has continued to this day. The results of these voyages have been incorporated into the British Geological Survey maps of the Channel area. Less than a year before he died, Whittard organized the International Symposium on Submarine Geology and Geophysics for the Colston Research Society that was held in Bristol.

In addition to his university work, Whittard served on the councils of the Geological Society, the Palaeontological Society, and the National Committees for Geology and for Geodesy and Geophysics. He was vice president of the Palaeontological Association in 1961 and 1962. He gained his London D.Sc. and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1957. The award of the Murchison Medal of the Geological Society, in 1965, a year before his death, served as a substantial recognition of his services to the study of geology.

As relaxation from his work, Whittard became an enthusiastic gardener and a skilled bookbinder, enjoyed music, and later took up watercolor painting. On a visit to Canada in 1965 he contracted a virus infection of his lungs that led to his death from heart failure early the following year.


I. Original Works. A complete bibliography of Whittard’s works is Bulman (see below). His more important works include “The Stratigraphy of the Valentina Rocks of Shropshire: The Main Outcrop”, in Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, 83 (1928), 739–759; “The Geology of the Ordovician and Valentian Rocks of the Shelve Country, Shropshire”, in Proceedings of the Geological Association, 42 (1931), 322–339; “The Stratigraphy of the Valentian Rocks of Shropshire: The Longmynd Shelve and Breidden Outcrops”, in Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, 88 (1932), 859–902; “A Geology of South Shropshire”, in Proceedings of the Geological Association, 63 (1952), 143–197; “The Ordovician Trilobites of the Shelve Inlier, West Shropshire”, Palaeontological Society Monograph, pts. I–VII (1955–1956), 1–306; “The Geology of the Western Approaches of the English Channel, I. Chalky Rocks from the Upper Reaches of the Continental Slope”, in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, B245 (1962), 267–290, written with D. Curry. E. Martini, and A.J. Smith; “ The Geology of the Western Approaches of the English Channel. II. Geological Interpretation Aided by Boomer and Sparker Records”, ibid., B248 (1965), 315–351, written with D. Curry, J.B. Hersey, and E. Martini; and “The Geology of the Western Approaches of the English Channel. III. The Globigerina Silts and Associated Rocks”, in Colston Papers, 17 (1965), 239–261.

II. Secondary Literature. A memoir is O.M.B. Bulman, “Walter Frederick Whittard”, in Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 12 (1966), 531–542. See also Bernard E. Leake, “Whittard, Walter Frederick”, in Dictionary of National Biography, 1961–1970 (Oxford, 1981), 1073–1074.

D. L. Dineley

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