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Our history

Students in the early 1950s on a geology field trip.
Students in the early 1950s on a geology field trip.

We aspire to carry the values of the School forward into the future. We have a clear mission to help our students and staff to achieve their full potential for the benefit of society.

The 1800s

1883: The University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire opens its doors in the Old Infirmary Buildings, Newport Road. Despite it being a vibrant era for the South Wales coal mining industry, geology isn’t taught as a subject.

1889: To halt industrial and manufacturing decline, the Technical Instruction Act passes the duty of establishing technical education in England and Wales to the College, kickstarting the beginning of geology teaching.

1891: The first Mining Department is founded with the appointment of S.W. Galloway (1840-1927) as Professor and Head of the department. F. T. Howard is the first lecturer in geology, assigned to teach a one-year course specifically for engineers.

South Wales Daily News - Tuesday 20 October 1891
A newspaper article from the South Wales Daily News on Tuesday 20 October 1891.

1891: Political pressure demands teachers receive formal training in geography. The Education Department of Government agrees to fund 32 school teachers on a joint geology-geography course. Taught by Howard, they study stratigraphy, palaeontology and petrology with microscopy.

1897: W.S. Boulton is appointed as a Lecturer in geology.

The 1900s

1907: W.S.Boulton is promoted to the first Full Professorship in Geology, marking the start of a distinct geology department. The School has 15 students with just 4 following the full 3-year degree scheme.

1920: Geology department firmly established with Professor A.H. Cox, 2 lecturers and a laboratory attendant in post. 

1935: T. D. Jones becomes the Chair of Mining prompting a new start for the College with mine owners supporting scholarships for five students per year.  

1956-60: Due to coal mines being nationalised, there is an increased influx of students and the Mining Department receive financial assistance towards a new Mining Building.

Students in a geology lab in 1962
Students in a geology lab in 1962.

1962: The geology department moves out of the Infirmary site into purpose-built accommodation in the south side of the Main Building.

1973: Physical geography teaching begins with the appointment of C. Harris to teach an environmental science course. This leads to a joint geology-geography degree and teaching of geography in both the Faculties of Science and Arts.

1977: Professor Mike Brooks is appointed as Professor of Geology and Head of Department after serving as a geophysicist in the Geological Survey and then as a lecturer in University College, Swansea.

1977: Teaching staff expands to include a professor, three senior lecturers, five lecturers and two research demonstrators, plus eight technical and secretarial staff, with two further lecturers teaching geography courses.

1977: Teaching expands to include a number of new courses including Geology (BSc), Engineering Geology and in Geophysics (MSc), Mineral Exploitation (Mining Geology and Mining Engineering), Civil Engineering and Environmental Studies, Geophysics (BSc), Joint Honours degrees involving Geography and a Preliminary Year Course.

1983: Professor David Rickard is appointed as Joint Head of the Mineral Exploitation Department and Professor of Mining Geology.

1988: A merger with University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology sparks the beginning of a Maritime Studies Department in the College and the introduction of a Marine Geography course.

1992: The 1987 Earth Science Review leads to the closure of many Geography courses. Harris is retained as Course Director of the MSc in Applied Environmental Geology.

A typical medium to large-sized laboratory session for Earth science students.
Students in a geology lab in 2012

1994: Name changed to the Department of Earth Sciences

The 2000s

2000: The department of Maritime Studies closes and marine geography staff join the Department of Earth Sciences, bringing about the BSc in Marine Geography which continues today.

2002: Name changed to the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences.

2003: Dianne Edwards becomes Head of School. Dianne remains at the School as an active Research Professor.

2008: 75% of the School's research outputs were deemed 'world-leading' or 'internationally excellent' (RAE 2008).

2009: Professor R John Parkes becomes Head of School.

2014: Professor Ian Hall becomes Head of School.

2014: 94% of the School's research outputs deemed 'world-leading' or 'internationally excellent' (REF 2014).

Environmental geography field trip in Switzerland
Environmental geography students on a field trip in Switzerland in 2017.

2016: New Environmental Geography (BSc and MSci) degree programmes introduced. 

2019: New Physical Geography (BSc and MSci) and Water in a Changing World (MSc) degree programmes introduced.  

2020: The School includes a staff of more than 55 academics, including two Fellows of the Royal Society.

2020: Name changed to the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

This information is based on ‘From Geology Department to School of Earth & Ocean Sciences: a record of the staff over 125 years (1891–2016) of Geological Science research and teaching in Cardiff’ compiled by Emeritus Professor Bernard Elgey Leake, Honorary Research Fellow.