100 years since John E Marr elected Woodwardian Professor,
30th October 1917

John Edward Marr painting, seated in university robes.

‘A great scientific department must not be without a head, even when class-rooms are empty’
‘University Intelligence’ Cambridge Daily News, 1st November 1917

On 30th October 1917 John Edward Marr succeeded to the Woodwardian Chair. A a selection of documents from the archive are available to view online for the first time. There is also a small facsimile display at the A.G Brighton Building, West Cambridge. 

Despite war-time duties, and falling undergraduate numbers (3,263 in 1913 to 575 by 1916) academic life in Cambridge continued. Marr’s long apprenticeship -he had been a lecturer since 1886, responsible for teaching all of stratigraphy and physical geology with Thomas McKenny Hughes, Alfred Harker and Henry Wood- ensured he was the perfect candidate for the Professorship. 
On 30th October 1917 Marr succeeded to the Woodwardian Chair four months after the death of Professor Thomas McKenny Hughes. His ‘keen and boyish enthusiasm was most infectious’ although he would only serve for 13 years.

Marr was born at Morecambe, Poulton-le-Sands, Lancashire June 14th 1857, the youngest of 9 children born to John Marr and his wife Mary. Marr entered St Johns College, Cambridge and obtained a first class degree in the Natural Sciences in 1878. He was elected a fellow of his college in 1881 which he retained until his death.

In 1893 Marr married Amy Birkett Stubbs (1873-1933), the daughter of a hotel proprietor, and they had one son, Francis Alleyne (named after Marr’s older brother Francis, and Henry Alleyne Nicholson, 1844-1899) who would assist his father’s fieldwork in the Lakes.

In his early years Marr studied the lower Palaeozoic rocks of Bohemia and Scandinavia, but most of his career was spent exploring the stratigraphy of the Lake District. In later life Marr studied the Pleistocene deposits around Cambridgeshire.

Marr served on the council of the Geological Society for almost 40 years, acting as secretary for 10, and president 1904-1906. He was awarded both the Lyell Medal (1900) and Wollaston medal (1914). In 1896 he was president of section C (geology) of the British Association, and became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1891. He was awarded a Royal Medal in 1930.

Marr retired from the Woodwardian Professorship in 1930 due to failing eyesight and ill health. He died after suffering from a stroke on the 1st October 1933 and is buried in Cambridge City Cemetery. 

The Collection
Marr’s Archive, which consists predominantly of geological field notebooks (totaling 65 consecutively numbered items, and a further 4 miscellaneous ones) spans his entire geological career from 1875 to 1931.

In 2012 Dr Lyall Anderson made comprehensive notes about some of the field notebooks (numbers 24 to 65). It is possible to get a comprehensive picture of where Marr’s interests took him, details of the examinations he undertook, as well as the people he worked with or just merely encountered. Several notebooks have fragile bindings so one of the Museum Archive volunteers, Cherry Booth, used acid-free board to repackage them.

Further Information
For further information about the John E Marr Archive (ref. MARR), please visit the Archives Hub.


Back at the beginning of lock down the Getty museum challenged us to recreate famous works of art with objects from around the home (#GettyMuseumChallenge). As soon as I heard about it I knew I had to make the Duria Antiquior. Despite it’s size, you might have missed the ‘Duria’, high up on a wall in the Jurassic pond area of the museum.

University of Cambridge Museums (UCM) create 28 page Explore and Create pack for families in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.