I did not join the British Society of Soil Science until 1968 however prior to this I made a study of the then market gardening area of eastern and central Bedfordshire and without any training in soil science had the temerity to construct a map of the soil texture of the Sandy parish.
In the spring oif 1965 when I was responsible for Geography at what bwas then Kirkby Teachers’ Training College on the northern frings of Liverpool, I was investigating the possibility of fieldwork in the Wirral when I met a man (probably of ADAS) who told me he had recently been a postgraduate in soil science at Aberdeen University where the head of department was a Dr Joseph Tinsley. This was an opportunity I felt. I telephoned Dr Tinsley who courteously said that whereas no promises could be made to me at that stage I was welcome to visit the department if that is what I wanted to do.
I did not need to declare my interests to the College and if I was absent for a day it would be thought I was supervising students on teaching practice. So one day soon after, I caught the night sleeper from Liverpool to Aberdeen and arrived at the Soil Science Department in Meston Walk the next morning. Joe Tinsley, a devout evangelical, saw an important function of the department was to train postgraduate students from Africa, south east Asia and Central and South America so they could return to their countries of origin and take jobs that would help impoverished population. Joe would meet them at Aberdeen railway station in his small bus, take them to where they would stay and moreover provide them with warm clothing if they lacked this. From their background in the Third World they were amazed to be met by the head of the department.
I found that Joe would have met me too had I told him the time of the train. I found the soil science department on the top floor of the Chemistry building. Although Joe was head of department his designation then was still Reader. There were only five other members of the academic staff of the department at that time: Dr Coutts, a Soil Physicist, a senior man whi had come from, I believe, the University at Durban. He impressed the class with his knowledge of his field. Others were Dr John Parsons, a Soil Chemist, who came originally from the Liverpool area and one of Joe Tinsley’s students from the University of Reading. John and his wife Jill took a kindly interest in the overseas students and held a party evening for them at their home at Christmas. Another talented Soil Chemist was Michael Court whio was also the department’s statistician. Dr E A Fitzpatrick, or Fitz as he was universally known and who hailed from the Caribbean was a Pedologist with a number of interesting ideas of his own. Fitz organised and conducted the fieldwork excursions. Most recently to join the academic staff of the department was Dr Paul Burnham from the Soil Survey of England and Wales where he had carried out considerable work in the field and worked on the application of Land Classification to agriculture. That afternoon I joined an undergraduate fieldwork excursion that Paul Burnham was conducting.
Dr Tinsley had told me that I could join the post graduate class for MSc in Soil Science that September if that is what I wanted to do. However since I had no background in science, especially chemistry, I would be required to attend the course in chemistry for agriculture and forestry undergraduates, and very importantly there would be no financial support. Paul Burnham kindly ran me to Aberdeen airport where I boarded a flight to Liverpool. As I gazed down at the golden lights of the cities of Britain I felt, as then a single man, I could not miss the opportunity to study Soil Science.
Following the two year MSc course at Aberdeen I spent eleven years in university appointments overseas, in Australia and Nigeria. When possible I returned to the UK to attend the annual meetings of the BSSS including the field excursions. Notable attendees of these meetings were always the distinguished soil scientist Walter Russell and his wife.
A few years after I left Aberdeen, the Soil Science department became merged with Plant Science, and now sadly, I believe, Soil Science no longer exists as a subject at Aberdeen University, though the subject had made a substantial contribution.