Percy Fry Kendall

Percy Fry Kendall FRS (1856-1936)

by David Rowe


Percy Fry Kendall taught geology variously at Manchester, Stockport and Leeds. He is well known for (a) his early work on the glacial lakes and gorges of the North York Moors, and (b) The Geology of Yorkshire (1924), a very readable book based on one of his lecture courses but written in his retirement in collaboration with Herbert E Wroot (1868-1939) with amateurs in mind. Wroot, who was Secretary (1919-1926) of the Yorkshire Geological Society, was an amateur geologist and an editor at the Yorkshire Post.

Early Life

imageKendall was born in Clerkenwell 1856. As he was considered delicate he never went to school but he was a studious reader, naturalist and collector. His more formal education was in South Kensington in parts of what is now collectively Imperial College, London. In his teens he attended a course of University Extension lectures in geology given by William Johnson Sollas (1849-1936), a palaeontologist, later FRS and Professor of Geology at Oxford. Kendall later attended courses in the Science and Art Department where in 1874, exceptionally for a geologist, he won the Silver Medal of the Department. In1881 he entered the Science School at the Royal School of Mines where he enjoyed the stimulating teaching of Professor J. W. Judd FRS (1840-1916) in geology and Professor T. H. Huxley FRS (1825-1895) in biology: he was attracted to biological aspects of geology and his earliest research was on Pliocene fauna of East Anglia, a subject to which he returned in his retirement at Frinton-on-Sea, Essex where he died in 1936.

Academic Career

In 1885 Kendall was elected a Bishop Berkeley Fellow of Owens College, a forerunner of the University of Manchester: two years later he was appointed assistant lecturer in geology under Professor (later Sir) W. Boyd Dawkins FRS (1837-1929). From about 1889 he was also a part-time lecturer at the Stockport Technical College and, from 1891, a part-time lecturer at Yorkshire College, Leeds. (Around the turn of the century there was a loose federation of northern university colleges). Kendall became Professor of Geology at Leeds in 1906 when the Yorkshire College attained full university status and he remained there until his retirement in 1922.

Kendall and Glaciology

Kendall’s interest in glaciology started at Owens College and was influenced by Henry Carvill Lewis (1853-1888), a pioneer American glaciologist then Professor of Geology at Haverford College, Pennsylvania. They first met at the 1887 meeting in Manchester of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (or BA), now the British Science Association.

Like Lewis, Kendall believed that there had been land-ice in Britain during the “Ice Age” although that was still a minority view at the time. (The majority view was that glacial deposits. or “drift” came from floating icebergs during marine incursions). When Lewis died in Manchester in 1888 Kendall became the chief proponent in Britain of the land-ice theory. Within four years, with the aid of members of local scientific societies co-ordinated by the Erratic Blocks Committee of the BA, Kendall and his associates had charted the distribution of sea shells and erratics – i.e. boulders and pebbles of non-local origin – in drift around the Irish Sea. In 1891 the Glacialists’ Association was formed to extend the work for which Hints for the Guidance of Observers of Glacial Geology was written by Kendall and widely distributed: from 1893 to 1898 he edited The Glacialists’ Magazine. In the 1890s Kendall travelled to Norway to visit sources of erratics (like larvikite) found in Yorkshire, and to Switzerland to see existing glaciers. There he was much impressed by the Märjelensee, a glacial lake impounded by the Aletsch Glacier, the largest in the Alps, cutting across its valley. These visits gave him a heightened appreciation of the probable glacial landscape of Yorkshire during the Ice Age.

On moving to Leeds Kendall started to investigate the glaciation of NE Yorkshire and in the course of a decade he re-mapped in detail the drifts of the North York Moors, Holderness, the Yorkshire Wolds and the surrounding country. It was clear from the distribution of erratics that (a) North Sea ice had invaded the hinterland of the whole of the Yorkshire coast, (b) a Vale of York glacier with Lake District erratics (especially the distinctive Shap Granite) had travelled southwards as far as Escrick [SE 6243] where it had left a large terminal moraine (and another at York during retreat), and (c) a mixture of the two ice sources from the lower Tees Valley had entered the Cleveland Hills area of the North York Moors. The Moors were therefore bounded to the east, north and west by ice and to the south by the Vale of Pickering. At the BA meeting in Manchester in 1887 Carvill Lewis had indicated that the Vale of Pickering was the site of a glacial lake: also, in 1892, C. Fox-Strangways (1844-1910) of the Geological Survey had independently mapped there laminated clays of seasonally alternating coarseness (typical of glacial lakes) and deltaic deposits including one at the mouth of Newtondale on part of which Pickering [SE 7983] had been built.

Kendall appreciated that normal drainage of the land would have been obstructed. Outstandingly in Eskdale North Sea ice had penetrated as far as Lealholm [NZ 7607] and deposited a large moraine there effectively blocking the valley outlet. To the west, ice from the lower Tees Valley in the Ingleby Greenhow [NZ 5806] embayment blocked westward drainage from Kildale resulting in the formation of a glacial lake there which rose and overflowed into upper Eskdale. Eskdale with Sleddale, Baysdale, Westerdale, Commondale, Danby Dale, Great and Little Fryup Dales, and Glaisdale coalesced into a single Glacial Lake Eskdale, a common collecting area for precipitation and melt water from impounding ice especially from the ice sheet advancing from the north. Remnants of glacial watercourses (“mosses”, “slacks” or “swangs”) can still be traced on the moors: a notable example is Ewe Crag Slack [NZ 699097] descending towards Danby [NZ 7107]. Kendall deduced that at a height of about 750 feet (229 metres) OD Lake Eskdale started overflowing its basin and he traced a course of the overflow via the Murk Esk Valley and across Goathland Moor to Fen Bog [NZ 8597] at the head of Newtondale. From there the waters carved an impressive gorge through which they dropped to Glacial Lake Pickering.

imageA lot of lakes also formed on the fringes of the Moors. Some along the north-facing escarpments of the Cleveland Hills created spillways to the south through nicks in the escarpments at low points: for example, waters ran through Bold Venture Channel [NZ 605130] and Highcliff Gate [NZ 616138] to Sleddale and on to Lake Eskdale; further west several low points in the Cleveland escarpment, including Haggs Gate (Clay Bank Top) [NZ 574034], let water flow via Bilsdale and Ryedale to the western end of Lake Pickering. Further west still Scarth Nick [SE 473002] allowed water to flow southward but near Osmotherley [SE 4597] the water joined a series of marginal drainage channels between the Vale of York Glacier and the Hambleton Hills: drainage in these channels found its way round the SW corner of the Yorkshire Moors at Roulston Scar [NZ 513815] to the western extremity of Glacial Lake Pickering in the Coxwold-Gilling Gap between the Hambleton and Howardian Hills. During recessional stages of the ice sheet inland of Whitby/Robin Hood’s Bay/Scarborough (an area formerly with seaward drainage and now the catchment area of the upper River Derwent) abundant melt water was produced and most of it was funnelled southwards to carve the Forge Valley gorge [SE 9887, 9886 and 9885] with outflow to Glacial Lake Pickering near East Ayton [SE 9985]. At times there were various glacial lakes of which the larger were at Harwood Dale [SE 9595] and Hackness [SE 9690] while the valleys of Jugger Howe Beck [SE 9399 and 9498] and Langdale [SE9394, 9393, 9392 and 9491] were formed and remain as significant gorges. At about 225 feet (69 metres) OD Lake Pickering overflowed into Glacial Lake Huber at Kirkham and carved a gorge [SE 765677 to 740655], now the start of the lower course of the River Derwent until it becomes confluent with the River Ouse.

Kendall’s work on “Glacier Lakes” was reported in Kendall (1902) supplemented by Kendall (1903a) and Kendall (1903b). Chapter 43 of Kendall and Wroot (1924) (Volume 1, Pp. 491-524) on “The Glacial Lakes of the Cleveland Hills” is a revised version of the earlier papers with a different course in detail for the overflow from the Murk Esk Valley to Fen Bog: the revised course postulates glacial lakes in Wheeldale and the Ellerbeck valley, sometimes separate and sometimes unified. A useful extended illustrated summary (48 pages) of Kendall’s classic work is White (1989).

Kendall’s Other Geological Work

But Kendall’s interests were broad. To enrich his teaching of coal-mining students he made an intensive study of the Coal Measures on which he became an acknowledged expert. As such he was called upon to advise the Royal Commission on Coal Supplies 1901-1905 on the probable extent of the concealed Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Coalfield. He tackled this problem with originality making use of the principle of ‘posthumous folding’ and inferred that the known folding of the Mesozoic beds unconformably overlying the Permian provided an indicator of the main trends of folding in the Coal Measures underlying the Permian. His account of his method in the Royal Commission 1905 Report, masterly according to Fearnsides (1936), earned him the 1909 Lyell Medal of the Geological Society.

For the remainder of his time in Leeds Kendall collaborated with collieries in studying small-scale structures in coal seams

Concurrently with his work in Cleveland Kendall got involved with underground water in the Carboniferous Limestone in the Craven Uplands and the source of the River Aire; also more generally with water supplies to villages and towns – especially from the chalk beneath the drifts of East Yorkshire and from the Permo-Trias around Doncaster. He naturally took an interest in the problems caused by underground water in sinking shafts at new collieries being developed around Doncaster and in the Sherwood Forest around the turn of the century. In his retirement he remained a Consultant to the Metropolitan Water Board in London.

Publications from 1906

As Head of Department at Leeds Kendall had less time for field work and most of his later publications were general accounts of Yorkshire geology, starting with his long chapter on geology in the Victoria County History of Yorkshire (written in 1904, published 1907) with a wealth of detail and breadth of vision, full of suggestions for future research many of which have since been undertaken: Sollas, in presenting Kendall with the Geological Society’s Lyell Medal, pronounced the VCH geological history as “a model of its kind”. Kendall also contributed chapters on the British Carboniferous, Permian and Quaternary in Handbuch der Regionalen Geologie, written before 1914 but not published until during the Great War. A chapter on Coal Measures was included in the British section of Regionalen Geologie the Handbook of Geology of Britain (Evans and Stubblefield editors) written in 1927 and published in 1929 was highly regarded by coalfield geologists.

Societies and Honours

Kendall was a Fellow of the Geological Society from 1889, a Member of Council for some years, and a Lyell Medallist in 1909. On his arrival in Leeds he joined the Yorkshire Geological Society and served as a Member of Council from 1892. On the death in 1910 of the Marquis of Ripon who for 52 years had been its president the Society changed its rules and since then has appointed presidents from among its distinguished members for two-year terms: Kendall was its first new-style president and he was elected an Honorary Member of the Society in 1930 as a mark of distinction. He was President of the Leeds Literary and Philosophical Society (1912-1914) and was made an Honorary Member of the Institute of Mining Engineers.

For forty years Kendall was an active committee member of Section C (Geology) of the BA and was President for its Hull meeting in 1922.

The University of Leeds awarded Kendall Honorary degrees of M.Sc. in 1906, on its attaining university status, and D.Sc. in 1926 in his retirement when he was also made Professor Emeritus.

In 1924 Kendall was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.


Dr Sarah King of the Yorkshire Museum kindly provided me with a copy of Kendall’s obituary in Nature and I am grateful to Professor Max Rowe of the University of Aberdeen for his interest, and to Bradford Museums for permission to reproduce the photograph sent by Kendall to Wroot.


A. G. 1936. Obituary: Prof. P. F. Kendall, F.R.S. Nature 137, 692-693. (A. G. is almost certainly Albert Gilligan, Kendall’s successor as Professor of Geology at Leeds).

Fearnsides, W. G. 1936. Percy Fry Kendall. 1856-1936. Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society, 2 (5), 57-62.

A. Gilligan 1936. Obituary Notices Percy Fry Kendall.
Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 92, cviii-cx.

Kendall, P. F. 1902. A System of Glacier Lakes in the Cleveland Hills. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, 53, 471-571 & Pls. xx-xxviii.

Kendall, P. F. 1903a. The Glacier Lakes of Cleveland. Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society, 15 (1), 1-39.

Kendall, P. F. 1903b. Observations on the Glacier Lakes of Cleveland. Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society, 15 (1), 40-45.

Kendall, P. F. and Wroot, H. E. 1924. Vienna (Privately printed).The Geology of Yorkshire,

Versey, H. C. 1937. In Memoriam. Percy Fry Kendall, 1856-1936. Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society 23, 196-198.

White, Stanhope 1989. Newtondale, the Forge Valley and the other Gorges in the North Yorkshire Moors. Scarborough, Published by the Author (ISBN 0 9512215 1 5).

Bradford Museums are currently digitising and making publicly available some interesting material on Percy Fry Kendall and his friend and collaborator Herbert Wroot, see:

Image captions

Percy Fry Kendall. This photograph was given by Kendall to his friend and collaborator, Herbert Wroot, who later fixed it into his personal copy of The Geology of Yorkshire. (Reproduced with thanks to Bradford Museums,

Eskdale Lake. Map reproduced from Kendall 1902.