Some teachers have a profound and lasting impact on the lives of their students. Mabel Tomlinson was one such teacher. She taught geology at Yardley Grammar School, and many of her students found their calling in this class, crediting her enthusiasm as the starting point of their careers. Through her own research, and the work of a generation of scientist she inspired, Mabel Tomlinson truly contributing to shaping the field of geology. We recently received this tribute from a former student:

Dr. Tomlinson was an extraordinary person in that she was able to follow two career paths concurrently and to achieve resounding success in both.

She grew up in Polesworth, a town on the north Warwickshire coalfield. From 1913 she studied at Birmingham University and received her first degree there in 1916 (BA Combined Arts). In the following year she became a teacher at what was then Yardley Secondary School, a co-educational school in south-east Birmingham. She continued teaching at Yardley for forty-two years until retirement in 1959.

In her early student years she already had an interest ing geology, soon beginning, as an amateur, her own fieldwork in the vale of the Warwickshire River Avon. During two decades of investigations she unravelled the physical history of the Avon and its tributaries over the whole drainage basin. This was a complex history of changes in the routes and profiles of all the watercourses as they responded to the advances and retreats of invading ice sheets throughout the great Pleistocene Ice Age, a period of perhaps 2.8 million years. River-borne sands, muds, and gravels were frequently built up and then re-distributed, leading to the landscape we see today: floodplains, gravel terraces, moraines and out-wash fans.

Between 1919 and 1922 Mabel Tomlinson had somehow squeezed-in her second degree course, leading to her B. Sc. in geology, again at Birmingham. Thereafter she submitted, step-by-step, portions of her growing vale of Avon research work for higher degrees, gaining her M.Sc. in 1923 and Ph. D. in 1929. The accolade came in 1936 with the award of her D. Sc., which was based chiefly upon the works she published in the Quarterly Journal of The Geological Society of London in 1925 and 1935. In parallel with all this she remained a loyal and diligent teacher at Yardley.

Her most striking fossil find was a fine mammoth tusk form gravel beds near Claverdon. Careful work with the trowel must have been essential to extract that prize without damage.

In the nineteen forties the writer was a pupil of Mabel Tomlinson. Her lessons were well planned, clearly delivered and packed with information. However, it was during her field excursions, and in school laboratory work on samples of minerals, rocks, and fossils, that one felt the full power of her infectious enthusiasm and intellect. In appearance she was rather ordinary: medium build, not tall, neatly dressed, with well-kept grey hair. When preparing for the next field investigations she thought nothing of walking the 3 1/2 miles between her home in Solihull and school in order to be fit and ready for action. Appearances are sometimes very deceptive.

From the first formal geology lessons at Yardley in 1943, which was when the subject appeared initially on the curriculum for Higher School Certificate examinations, a majority of her sixth form pupils went on to read geology at university for B. Sc. Several of them continued, eventually to become key professional figures, some in academe, others in government surveys at home and abroad, one at the Natural History Museum London, still others in the oil industry. Most gained their Ph.Ds, and at least one a D.Sc.

In honor of Mabel Tomlinson her name appears as one of the two in the title of the Tomlinson-Brown Trust, a charity which works to engineer interest and participation in our science by young people, and when feasible by the public.

Mabel Tomlinson thoroughly earned the deep gratitude still felt by numerous Old Yardleians to this day. In her later years she became Senior Mistress and Deputy Head of the school, greatly respected for her quiet but firm authority, loyalty, and scholarly demeanor.

David Gossage, April 2016

Many thanks to Dr. David Bailey, who initially contacted us with David Gossage’s tribute. He credits Tex Wales, a trustee of the Tomlinson-Brown Trust, with putting them in touch. Although it was difficult to locate images of Dr. Tomlinson initially, we were later contacted by another trustee and Yardley geologist, Dr. Peter Oliver, with photos and a scan of an article published following her retirement in the Yardleian in September 1959, which also includes a few personal reminisces. Images and the article are reproduced here with permission.


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3 thoughts on “Mabel E. Tomlinson

  1. There is a better website for the Tomlinson Brown Trust at:

    I know this because as the web manager for the Earth Science Teachers’ Association, I created it.

  2. Dr Laura Basell says:

    Dr Mabel Tomlinson also assisted the keen archaeologist, A.L. Wedlake from Somerset. Wedlake and his son were trying to source 3 Palaeolithic implements known to have been found at the site of Doniford in north Somerset by Mr C.W.K. Wallis of Birmingham in 1913 and 1914. They had not been successful in finding them, but clearly got in touch with Mabel who kindly sent them the only implement she was able to trace which remains on display at Watchet museum and which I photographed as part of my own ongoing research into the site of Doniford. This information is published in Wedlake and Wedlake 1963 Proc. Som. Arch. and Nat. History Society.

    I’d be interested if anyone knows what the relationship was between Wallis and Tomlinson. They were both in Birmingham at the same time, and he was very active in the field of Palaeolithic archaeology. Anyway, thanks so much for the photo of Mabel Trowelblazers. I’ll be using it in a talk at the QRA conference this week with due credit to this great website!

    1. Brenna says:

      Oh how fun! We would love to know anything you find out — catch us on our TeamTrowelBlazers gmail, or through the contact form on the website if you learn more about Mabel. Best of luck with your talk and project too, sounds interesting!


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