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Dr Frederick William Sherrell,1932-2001


FREDERICK William Sherrell, who died on 5 August, was born in Bere Alston, Devon in 1932. writes John Harris. He was educated at Tavistock Grammar School and Bristol University and graduated in 1953 with a BSc (Honours) degree in geology.

During national service with the Royal Engineers, Fred served with a survey team in Iraq. After the army, he joined Huntings Surveys to work for a season in Antarctica.

The following year he joined civil engineering contractor Costain and was sent to Malta to work on the development of the island's groundwater resources. It was here that he developed a life-long interest in groundwater - both as a water supply resource and as a potential hazard to building and civil engineering projects.

In 1958, Fred returned to his home town of Tavistock and with the support of his wife, Cynthia, he built a drilling rig and started a well boring business. He successfully applied the science of geology to the practical task of locating and developing rural groundwater supplies in the south west of England.

Drilling and site investigation contracts for civil and structural engineers and architects led to consultancy work in the developing field of engineering geology. This side of the business expanded rapidly and in the mid 1960s Fred sold his well boring company to concentrate on engineering geology and geotechnical engineering.

In the 1960s work started on a modern system of dual carriageway trunk roads and motorways. In 1968 a major landslide occurred during construction of the Collumpton Bypass (later part of the M5).

Devon County Council turned to Fred for advice. Using his detailed knowledge of the regional geology and hydrogeology, he devised a novel remedial scheme, with the landslide successfully stabilised by under-drainage using a series of adits, tunnels and boreholes.

Not content with running a successful and busy consultancy, Fred started work on a PhD thesis, based on his experience of investigating and developing groundwater supplies on the Triassic aquifer of east Devon and west Somerset.

Bristol University awarded him a PhD degree for his research in 1972. He also managed to find time for flying lessons.

After gaining a pilot's licence he bought a two-seater Cessna aircraft which was his pride and joy for many years.

During the following 20 years Fred advised on the engineering geological and geotechnical aspects of many major civil engineering building schemes. The A30 trunk road dualling from Exeter through to Launceston, the Bodmin Bypass, the A380 Newton Abbey Bypass and the A38 Exeter to Plymouth dual carriageway, together with the Plymouth Domes visitor centre (built over a cave system) and the Sutton Harbour (Plymouth) lock gates and flood defence scheme are a few examples of his work.

Fred Sherrell was an active member of the Engineering Group of the Geological Society and the Ussher Society. He was especially proud to be accepted into both the Institution of Civil Engineers as a chartered member and the Association of Consulting Engineers in the early 1970s.

Fred was known and admired by many in the geological and engineering professions, not only for his practical knowledge and innovative thinking but also for his boundless enthusiasm and good humour.

John Harris is a director of Frederick Sherrell.

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