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Charles Hepworth Holland 1923-2019

Eminent Professor of Geology and Mineralogy who co-founded the Ludlow Research Group

Charles Hepworth HollandCharles Holland was a natural born organiser and committee Chairman, who rose to eminence in several fields of geology, notably including Presidency of the Geological Society from 1984 to 1986. 

He was born on 30th June 1923 at Stockport, Lancashire, and his physics degree at Liverpool was interrupted by WWII service in the air force. After demobilisation, his cousin Charles Hepworth persuaded him to change to geology, which he read at Manchester, where William Pugh was head of department. 

Manchester and the Ludlow Research Group

A key figure then at Manchester was S.H. Straw, who kindled Holland’s interest in the Upper Silurian and, after Pugh’s departure, supervised Holland’s doctoral thesis on the mapping of Knighton, Radnorshire. There were then a dozen or so like-minded younger workers in several places who together founded the Ludlow (originally Ludlovian) Research Group (LRG). The Group met for an annual meeting in the field every autumn, initially to provide discussion towards a coherent stratigraphical understanding for the whole of the Upper Silurian of Wales and the Welsh Borderland of England, and circulated an annual LRG Bulletin from 1954 onwards, initially mimeographed. Of those, Holland, J.D. Lawson and V.G. Walmsley combined to remap the Ludlow area itself, and their new stratigraphy was published in a brief Nature paper in 1959 and also in a more substantial British Museum (Natural History) Bulletin in 1963. 

Four formations (termed stages) were erected, but since they were based on biostratigraphy rather than lithology, they were not accepted for the subsequent lithostratigraphical maps of the British Geological Survey. From 1962 the scope of the LRG was extended to cover the whole Silurian, but the name of the group was retained. 

London and Dublin

After a short time as temporary assistant lecturer at Manchester, in 1952 Holland became a lecturer at Bedford College, London, then an all-female college in the idyllic setting of Regent’s Park. When in London, he was one of the 67 people present at the foundation of the Palaeontological Association, with which he became heavily involved. He joined the second council in 1958 and rose to President from 1974-1976, with a Special Paper in his honour in 2002 and the award of the Lapworth Medal in 2008. 

What ended up as a permanent move away from his native England came when he was appointed Professor and Head of the Geology and Mineralogy Department at Trinity College, Dublin in 1966, which he enlarged to become a vibrant research school. He went on to become a leader in Irish geology, including the editing of A geology of Ireland published in 1981 within which he wrote five papers himself. He became particularly interested in the Dingle Peninsula of County Kerry, one of the few Irish places where the Silurian includes shelly fossils rather than the interminable graptolitic shales of most of the island. 

International outlook

His outlook was ever international: he had become a member of the Siluro-Devonian Boundary Committee, headed by Anders Martinsson of Sweden, which after long debate stabilised that boundary in 1980 at the base of the Devonian at Klonk, Czech Republic. But Holland himself took the lead in defining the various international divisions within the Silurian System, and was Chairman of the IUGS International Subcommission on the Silurian from 1976 to 1984. During those eight years, he succeeded in formalising the division of the Silurian into four series, each with two stages apart from the longer Llandovery Series which has three stages, and the shorter Pridoli, which only has one. That system was internationally adopted by the IUGS Commission on Stratigraphy at the Moscow International Geological Congress in 1984. 

He saw the publication of the first four substantial volumes, all edited solely by himself and intended to provide a complete survey of the Lower Palaeozoic Rocks of the world. However the publisher, John Wiley, could not fund the subsequent volumes of the series. Initially through the Silurian Subcommission, Charles developed strong links with Chinese geologists, notably Mu En-zhi, which later culminated in a volume edited by Holland and M.G. Bassett in 2002 which contrasted the Upper Llandovery (Telychian) of South China and Britain and attempted detailed biostratigraphical correlation between the two regions.

The Silurian Chart 

Earlier, the Stratigraphy Committee of the Geological Society had recognised the need for correlation charts for each system across the British Isles (including Ireland), and had appointed Holland to produce the Silurian chart, together with L.R.M. Cocks, R.B. Rickards and I. Strachan. That group was the first to complete its task and Holland read it to the Society in 1970, with the result that not only was it published within the regular Journal of the Geological Society but also as the first volume in the free standing Special Report series. Holland, Cocks and Rickards were also the first team to produce a revised chart in 1992. The Stratigraphy Committee commissioned the same three as well as M.G. Bassett and P.T. Warren to revise and standardise the type Wenlock area in Shropshire, which after new mapping and collecting was published in 1975, whose two stages were internationally recognised as standard within the 1984 scheme. 

Although interested in all the various fossils present in the Silurian, Holland was particularly active in the study of cephalopods, many of which were commonly misidentified by the old name of Orthoceras. He wrote a number of short papers on those molluscs, but was hampered by their relatively poor cast and mould preservation in the British Silurian, and, although he never realised his original aim of compiling a summary monograph, cephalopod classification formed the core of his 1987 Presidential Address to the Geological Society. 

Charles was active on Irish committees, not just in Trinity College, and was appointed a Member of the Royal Irish Academy. After his formal retirement in 1993, he retained an office at Trinity and was designated Emeritus Professor, writing a formidable number of papers, particularly on cephalopods. 

Charles died on 26th December 2019: his wife Eileen died three years earlier, but he is survived by his daughter Celia and two grandchildren.        

By Robin Cocks