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Christopher King 1943-2015

KingExpert on the deposits of the London Clay, who once stopped to retrieve a sample in Oxford Street traffic.

Chris was born on the outskirts of Southampton, where he attended Barton Peveril Grammar School.  He read Geology in Kingston College of Technology.  In his early years Chris had two main interests, astronomy and fossils, the latter leading him to become a member of the Geologists’ Association (1958) aged 15, and he remained one throughout his life.

Family trips to Lyme Regis meant exploring for fossils. He became a meticulous collector, teaching himself skills that brought him an international reputation as geologist and specialist stratigrapher.

At Kingston, and subsequently Imperial College under Derek Ager, he developed his devotion to the London Clay. He became renowned for the bathtub and spade in the back of his car, for removing large amounts of sediment from holes in the road wherever they provided good material – including on Oxford Street (then still driveable) when a lump of London Clay from the Victoria Line excavations 'fell off a lorry'. Chris stopped to grab it in the middle of moving traffic.

Samples filled his mother’s attic and garage and cleaning them in the sink frequently led to blocked pipes. Despite this, his London Clay research continued.

Chris joined Paleoservices Ltd. in 1971 as stratigrapher and micropalaeontologist. During the 1970s Paleoservices was a growing company and all present survived his incessant puns.  Anyone close to him will remember the groans that followed his perpetual wordplay.

He had a capacious memory and wrote a 158-page manuscript for a Tertiary Research Group (1980) publication entitled The Stratigraphy of the London Clay and associated deposits during what he described as a “period of enforced inactivity” on the oil rig Deep Sea Saga. 

The bathtub in his Citroën estate was still used to collect all available London Clay samples and he managed, with assistance from supervisor Dick Moody, to maintain his registration at the University of Kingston. Finally, in 1991, his PhD thesis The Stratigraphy of the London Clay Formation in the Hampshire Basin was accepted and he was duly acknowledged for the time, research and sink-blockages that had gone into this unsurpassed study.   

Chris left Paleoservices in 1992 but continued working in the North Sea, North Africa, Venezuela and UK onshore. His research took him across Eurasia, North Africa & the USA. He was a Chairman of the IGCP Regional Committee on Northern Paleogene Stratigraphy and Member of the IGCP Paleocene-Eocene Boundary Working Group.

His London Clay expertise led him to teach courses to engineering geologists, associated with Dr Jackie Skipper. These became prescribed for staff working on Crossrail and the Thames Tideway projects; hundreds have attended them since they started. Chris’s input into the interpretation of the ground around tunnelling projects has greatly increased our understanding of how London Clay behaves and how it can be engineered.

Chris will be sorely missed by all those people his life has touched.  He is survived by his wife Pat, three younger brothers David, Robert and Raymond and his mother Joan, aged 95. Christopher King 5 December 1943 – 5 January 2015.

Compiled by Haydon Bailey with assistance from Dick Moody, Jackie Skipper, David Ward, Ross Sandman, David King, Malcolm Hart and Graham Williams. Photograph courtesy Mike de Freitas.