Humberside Geologist No. 14

Humberside Geologist Online

A tribute to Professor Michael House

by Dr. Roger A. Hewitt

Rather than writing recollections of Michael Robert House, who I first encountered on October 14, 1968 in his second year as professor [=chairman] of the Geology Department at Hull University, I have followed the example of certain ministers in the government which closed the department down and supplied diary entries. The subsequent period is covered by extracts from his personal letters to me when I was his Ph.D. student and fellow investigator of fossil cephalopods.

My diary at Hull University

31 January 1968

"Have Geography and another Geology Interview. I still want to change course and am given offer of Special Geology average D in two [additional A-level] subjects.

These diary entry records the day when John M. Hurst, aged 17, introduced himself to me. He was a future fellow undergraduate at Hull University 1968-71 and post-doctoral fellow at Birmingham University in 1974-6. This association produced an unpopular paper aiming to give ammonite biostratigraphy a biological interpretation.

10 October 1968

"Go on to paleontology lecture" [from ancillary geography], slides of PussyCat and Dog – very enjoyable and relaxing-. Then have lecture on mineralogy by Dr. [Arthur G.] Fraser. Start on crystallography, the basis of subject, symmetry elements, Law of Constancy of Angle, Form, Habit, Zone of crystals. Go to lunch.

This was not only the start of my formal University education in Geology, but also that of Peter J. McCabe future and very appropriately President of the Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists. Dr. John W. Neale, with John R. Senior as demonstrator, gave the paleontology course. Prof. House lectured on geophysics in that term; but he did teach paleontology in our third year.

14 October 1968

"Then have lecture by Professor House on introductory geology and the nature of the Earth….Direct someone in street for first time here (to Clough Road Dog’s Home)".

15 November 1968

"Have Harker Society meeting about orientation in fossils (current slopes nautiloid at Castleton), Gastrioceras goniatite in Namurian Shale Blackheaded Gull’s food track etc".

The students spent one pound five shillings on the speaker. Memory supplies the image of Dr. Fred M. Broadhurst holding up a black unfamiliar and unattractive three-dimensional specimen (from bullions) and saying it swam only backwards by jet propulsion. Our Professor House noted that Nautilus could actually turn the hyponome back to swim forwards in subsequent discussion, which reinforced this memory.

21 November 1968

"Go to Geology Department. Professor House on continental drift, mainly Gondwanaland."

21 March 1969 [Rosguill Mapping Course]

"Get up. Breakfast. Go out in House’s jeep. Walk from near Derrycassan across to Cleebeg, then along to Portgannow area [1.5 km Dalradian with dykes]. Field map etc. Have long lunch while draw field sketch. Meet Belfast boys in Paul’s [Hanson] area. Go over towards Derrycassan [where] meet Prof. House. Field map. End up at Derrycassan Lower and come back by jeep. Have tea".

30 May 1969

"Get coach from [Hull] University at 9 am. Go on it to Scarborough for geology field trip. Rains. Get off coach at Cayton Bay south of Scarborough. Walk down [numerous steps] to beach in rain. Trip led by Mr. Senior and Prof. House. [students without notebooks told to return and buy one at shop]. Look at exposure of Cornbrash and collect Lopha marshi, walk east in poring rain and wind. The Professor explains cliff measurement trigonometry in rain by drawing in sand. Do some farsical measurements. Go on to Calf Allen Rocks across boulder beach. See the Deltaic Series and the marine incursion; the Millipore Bed. Go on, see the Yons Nab Beds and plant beds. Go round into next bay, see Scarborough Beds (marine), collect belemnite. Climb steepish muddy cliff and walk back to starting point. Walk up to holiday camp while others sit in coach and eat their lunches. I attempt to get mine in fish and chip queue for 25 mins. but have to give up. The coach goes on to Scarborough, descend 200 feet of garden covered cliffs to the pool. Walk south and examine a cliff section of the Deltaic Series showing good sedimentary deltalic structures. Walk north through the water of breaking waves on the lower prom. And see more deltaics. Climb cliffs to coach. Return to Hull.


Letters from Prof. House

2nd September 1971

"I am pleased that the N.E.R.C. have awarded you a research studentship. I am writing to ask when you will return to Hull, assuming you will take it up. The studentship commenced on the first of the month. You certainly should try and be here in ten days or so when the Stereoscan will be installed. I will be away from 8th – 11th September and again from 19th – 27th September. I should think you would probably want to do some collecting before term begins".

27 January 1975

"I am enclosing the remaining chapters of your thesis. What I have done seems more editorial than critical…The whole seems to have much more coherence than I thought initially when reading the bits and pieces. But you must be extremely careful about presenting your favoured hypotheses as demonstrated fact. You have a tendency to do that in several places and I have marked most".

Thesis "factors influencing the ontogeny and preservation of cephalopod skeletons" by R.A. Hewitt B.Sc. Was supervised by Prof. House. Hull University awarded me the degree of Doctor of Philosophy on July 4, 1975.

12 December 1977

"A note to thank you for the copies of the reprint and your letter which I was very pleased to have. I will look up the paper by Boletzky. I am happy to have you use my name for reference at anytime".

[refers to Hewitt & Hurst (1977) in Lethaia 10:287-301]

13 June 1983

"Thank you for your letter of May 27. I saw the latest Neus Jb. Part at the Geol. Soc. Last week so have caught up with your latest work and one of the reprints has arrived. It is good to see so much activity"….."You raise the question of fluting patterns in Devonian oxycones. Rectoclymenia and Sphenoclymenia are only two such. There are a wide range of others indicating to me that structural control of shape is not paramount. Generally Sphenoclymenia is much larger than specimens of Rectoclymenia. The Treatise needs reading with the greatest caution".

29 August 1994

"I did go off shortly after [June] for two weeks to Russia {Moscow and Timan} and since then have been trying to get the Orbital Forcing Timescale volume off to the printers and finish three with only three more to go before I can have a rest and get back to the [Devonian ammonoid] Treatise. You’ve probably forgotten now that you mentioned Arkell’s [Geol. Survey] Memoir published [1947] when I was 16 and ready for something interesting which, since I was living at Weymouth, it certainly provided. What would I be doing now if I had not read it? I sided with Arkell on Kimeridge until I noticed that William Smith used two m’s. You are right about how much more work still needs to be done on Dorset. Steve Etches has some marvelous KC ammonites with large bites out of the ventral and posterior part of the body chamber – presumably to eat them better. Have now retired, but doing 12 lectures a year still. I think we will move to Dorset next year".

27 March 1999

"I’m off to Morocco on 9th April for 3 weeks. Thomas [Becker] will also be there. It is mostly and SDS/IGCP affair but at least we are writing much of the guidebook – at least Thomas writes and I do the diagrams. The Sea Life Aquarium in Weymouth on my last visit had six Nautilus".

December 2001

"A good year for us. Felicity has so improved under homeopathic treatment we have disposed of the wheelchair!"


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