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Frederic Gladstone Bell 1937-2014

Distinguished Engineering Geologist and prolific author of academic papers and textbooks

Bell FredFred Bell died at home in Blyth, Nottinghamshire on 3 May 2014 aged 76. He was born on 12 July 1937 in the heart of the Northumberland Coalfield in Ashington where he is now buried close to his mother, to whom he was devoted. His father was a miner who died while Fred was still a boy. He graduated from Durham University in 1959 with a degree in geology. Fred became an Assistant Lecturer in geology at Newcastle College of Further Education, then moving to Ealing Technical College in London to lecture in geology.

In September 1965 he returned north to become a Lecturer in Engineering Geology at Sheffield College of Technology, now Sheffield Hallam University. He received a Master's degree in Sedimentary Petrology from Durham University in 1968. He began research for his doctorate (part-time) at the University of Sheffield in the same year. On receiving his doctorate, he was promoted to Senior Lecturer in the Department of Civil Engineering, Sheffield Hallam University. There began Fred's prodigious output of academic papers, articles and books. His first paper and first book were both published in 1975, the former on salt subsidence in Cheshire and the latter on site investigation in areas of mining subsidence.


In 1977 he became a Principal Lecturer in Geotechnical Engineering and subsequently, in 1981, Deputy Head of the Department of Civil and Structural Engineering at Teesside Polytechnic. In 1989 he was offered a Professorship and Head of Department position in the Department of Geology and Applied Geology, University of Natal, South Africa where he remained until he retired in 2001. He was awarded a DSc by the University of Natal. He was a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Missouri-Rolla (USA) and a Visiting Research Associate at the British Geological Survey.

He won a number of awards – the Coke Medal of the Geological Society, the Holdredge Award of the Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists (USA) (twice), the E.B. Burwell, Jr. Award of the Geological Society of America and the University of Natal book prize (the only person to have won this three times). He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa, the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, as well as of the Geological Society.

Fred will be remembered worldwide for his vast published output, including 17 textbooks, four edited Engineering Geology Special Publications and nearly 250 papers. The range of his research was wide, covering ground instability; mining subsidence; foundation engineering; site investigation; ground treatment; cement, lime and PFA stabilization of clay soils; acid mine drainage; landfills; derelict and contaminated ground; rock durability; groundwater; and geohazards.

Soils & rocks

However, one of his main contributions was to our understanding of how the geotechnical properties of soils and rocks could be related both to specific geological formations and to the processes that formed and acted upon them. This research was summarised in one of his textbooks on the Engineering Properties of Soils and Rocks which ran to four editions. Fred also carried out a considerable amount of consultancy work in the UK and South Africa. However, Fred was probably more proud of the educated and trained (and inspired) students he sent out into the world to work in the civil and mining engineering industries than he was of his scientific contribution. He was responsible for initiating and developing the careers of many fellow geologists and is renowned for his advice, friendship and guidance. Fred’s loyalty was demonstrated by the contacts that he kept with many of his former students once they graduated and entered work in industry and academia.

Fred was a shy and private person. Very few people knew the 'whole' man. He was a 'workaholic' but he retained his interests in football, classical music, military history, malt whisky and politics.

Martin Culshaw, John Cripps, Dennis Gillen & Laurance Donnelly