Catalogue description Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of SIR PETER KENT FRS (1913 - 1986)

This record is held by Nottingham University Library, Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections

Details of NCUACS 43.5.93
Reference: NCUACS 43.5.93
Title: Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of SIR PETER KENT FRS (1913 - 1986)



















The material is presented in the order given in the List of Contents. This large collection covers almost all aspects of Kent's professional career.


Section A, Biographical, is substantial. There is Kent's autobiographical account 'Recollections in retirement', and records of Kent's student work at University College Nottingham, his membership of the East African Archaeological Expedition 1934-35, his Second World War service and his career with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company/BP. The honours received by Kent are well-documented, including his election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1966, the MacRobert Award in 1970 and his knighthood in 1973. The section also includes diaries 1950-71, family and social correspondence, including a sequence of letters home during Kent's period in Iran 1948-51, and miscellaneous personal papers and memorabilia.


Section B, Research and surveys, is the largest in the collection. It documents Kent's survey and oil exploration work and his own geological research from the first work with Anglo-Iranian Oil in Lincolnshire in 1936, through his postwar work for BP in the UK and overseas in Iran, East Africa, Papua New Guinea and North America, to the North Sea discoveries of the 1960s and 1970s, and post-retirement research to 1986. There was a close relationship between Kent's work for Anglo-Iranian/BP and his academic geological research; with the company's goodwill Kent was able to use information from company surveys in his own publications. Kent retained a continuing interest in the geology and oil prospects of areas of the world he had visited and this is reflected in the wide geographical coverage of the papers. The bulk of the material, however, is concerned with the geology of England (particularly the Midland counties) and Iran (including the work of the Exploration Advisory Group). The material, most of which was found in Kent's own folders or envelopes, includes correspondence, manuscript notes (some on pages from 'filofax' style notebooks), typescript drafts and notes, stratigraphical columns, oil well logs, maps, sections and photographs. There are also a number of notebooks.


Section C, Deep Sea Drilling Project, documents Kent's involvement in the Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP) from the negotiations over British participation in 1973 and the establishment of the International Phase of Ocean Drilling (IPOD) in 1975. The lead agency in the UK was the Natural Environment Research Council, of which Kent was Chairman. Kent served on the Executive Committee of JOIDES, the consortium of member-institutions of the project, 1975-81, and on the UK IPOD Co-ordinating Committee. His involvement continued to the completion of the IPOD in November 1983 and the campaign for British participation in its successor programme, the Advanced Ocean Drilling Project (AODP, later just ODP). Kent played an active part in the research, reviewing the results of Leg 25 of the DSDP, which surveyed the western Indian Ocean and contributing to the series Initial Reports of the Deep Sea Drilling Project.


Section D, Publications and lectures, brings together material for many of Kent's published papers, 1936-87, and lectures from 1952. The largest single body of material documents his geological memoir for the Institute of Geological Sciences, Eastern England from the Tees to the Wash (HMSO, 1980). The lectures were chiefly delivered to university and college geological societies of local geological and natural history societies. The latter include Presidential addresses to the Yorkshire Geological Society and to the Lincolnshire Naturalists' Union. There are also sequences of editorial correspondence and Letters to The Times. At NCUACS 43.5.93/D.134 is material relating to a BBC radio broadcast on explorers in which Kent took part. There is an (incomplete) set of Kent's published papers at NCUACS 43.5.93/D.135.


Section E, Natural Environment Research Council, includes papers relating to Kent's service on the the Geology and Geophysics Committee (later Institute of Geological Sciences Advisory Committee) of the NERC 1968-73, his Chairmanship of the NERC 1973-77 and subsequent Council service 1977-80. These activities are poorly documented since, with the exception of his first year as Chairman of the NERC, Kent did not retain many committee papers or official correspondence. The bulk of the papers document Kent's service on Preparatory Group 'A' of the Council, as a member of which Kent served on the Deep Geology Committee and Visiting Groups to the Institutes of Geological Sciences and of Oceanographical Sciences.


Section F, Societies and organisations, is the second largest in the collection. It documents Kent's association with 41 British, overseas and international bodies. These include the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, for which Kent acted as adviser in territorial disputes in the North Atlantic Ocean (Rockall) and the English Channel, the Geological Society, of which Kent was President 1974-76, the International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature, the Royal Society and the Watt Committee on Energy. For material relating to the British Geological Survey see the entry for the Institute of Geological Sciences and, specifically relating to the campaign to safeguard the future of the Survey 1984-86, the Institution of Geologists. Also of interest is the material on local geological and natural history societies of which Kent was a member, including the East Midlands and Yorkshire Geological Societies and the Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Trusts for Nature Conservation.


Section G, Commercial consultancies and companies, comprises material relating to Kent's work for commercial organisations, principally BP, LASMO and the Minworth Group. The material relating to BP includes documentation of his later managerial career within BP, but much of it dates from his post-retirement consultancy from 1973. Kent's involvement with LASMO 1977-84 is the best documented component of this section. As a member of the Board and a consultant Kent was very closely involved with the operation of this company at a crucial stage in LASMO's development into a leading independent British oil company. The LASMO material also records the history of Charlton Thermosystems Ltd, a small company attempting to market a pioneering heating system, in which LASMO had a close interest. Kent's shorter period of service with the Minworth Group, as Board member and Chairman of Minworth Ltd and Chairman of Strontian Minerals, is also well-documented.


Section H, Visits and conferences, presents a chronological sequence, 1951-85, of some of Kent's engagements both in the UK and abroad. The visit for which most documentation survives is the 1968 International Geological Congress held in Prague, Kent led the UK delegation. The proceedings were cut short by the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia and the Soviet occupation of Prague and the material includes accounts of the events by Kent and his wife, and memorabilia. The section does not present all of Kent's extensive travel and attendance at meetings and conferences. His overseas research and survey work for BP is documented in section B and his visit to East Africa with the East African Archaeological Expedition is documented at NCUACS 43.5.93/A.53-A.102.


Section J, Scientific correspondence, is the smallest in the collection. There are no extended sequences of correspondence. Much of Kent's correspondence is to be found in other sections, retained with other material with which it was found. There is, for example, a great deal of scientific correspondence in section B.


Compiled by Timothy E. Powell and Peter Harper


The work of the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, and the production of this catalogue, are made possible by the support of the following societies and organisations:


British Petroleum plc


The Institute of Physics


The Royal Society


The Wellcome Trust


We are very grateful to Lady Kent for making the bulk of the papers available and to Lady Kent and Dr Dorothy Johnston, Keeper of Manuscripts, Nottingham University, for advice and encouragement.

Date: 1913-1987
Related material:

An album containing photographs taken during the East African Archaeological Expedition was donated by Kent to the British Museum (Natural History) in January 1977.

Held by: Nottingham University Library, Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Kent, Sir, Peter (Percy Edward), 1913-1986, Knight, scientist and geologist

Physical description: 94 boxes
Access conditions:








Immediate source of acquisition:

The bulk of the papers were received in February and August 1990 from Lady (Lorna) Kent. The papers deposited in Nottingham University Library by Sir Peter Kent in 1985 were received from the Library in August 1990.

  • Geology
Administrative / biographical background:

Percy Edward (from an early age he chose to be called Peter) Kent was born in West Bridgford, Nottingham, in 1913. He was educated at West Bridgford Grammar School and University College, Nottingham, where he read Geology under Professor H.H. Swinnerton. He graduated B.Sc. with first class honours in 1934. He was then awarded a scholarship by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research for research on the stratigraphy of the Lincolnshire Limestone and registered with London University for his Ph.D. Shortly after graduation, however, Kent was recommended to L.S.B. Leakey as geologist for his fourth East African Archaeological Expedition, the original choice K.P. Oakley having withdrawn. The expedition searched for remains of Homo sapiens at Pleistocene sites at Kanam and Kanjera in Kenya following on from Leakey's expedition of 1931-32, and then at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, but with inconclusive results.


Kent returned to the UK in 1935 and spent the following year writing up his results and resuming his study of Lincolnshire Limestone. On the strength of his work in Lincolnshire Kent joined the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later to become British Petroleum) as an Assistant Geologist. He undertook survey work on the south coast of England 1936-37. Kent then returned to Lincolnshire to report on the geology of the area and was also assigned to check the geology of the 'Market Weighton Anticline' in south east Yorkshire. Kent's survey showed that in fact not anticline existed. In 1938 Kent was despatched to Scotland where exploration for oil had begun in the carboniferous rocks of central Scotland, and in 1939 to Formby in Lancashire where oil seepages had been discovered.


On the outbreak of war Kent was in a 'reserved' occupation and so continued to work for Anglo-Iranian in Nottinghamshire. In 1941, however, he was released by Anglo-Iranian as they cut back on their geological surveying and he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He was assigned to the Photo-Intelligence Branch of D section (Industry) of the RAF Central Interpretation Unit based at Medmenham, Buckinghamshire. Kent worked on the assessment of German oil supplies - initially locating oil storage tanks, later identifying synthetic oil plants in which the Germans were converting coal to oil. Kent was seconded to the Mediterranean Allied Air Force in Italy in 1944 and in 1945 he was posted to the Pentagon, Washington DC, to work with G2 Branch of US Army Intelligence on photo-interpretation of Japanese oil installations. For his work on identifying oil plants in Axis held Europe he was awarded the US Legion of Merit in 1946. At the end of the war with Japan Kent was the only non-American to accompany the US Strategic Bombing Survey, assessing the effectiveness of air raids on targets in Japan.


After the war Kent rejoined Anglo-Iranian and resumed work on oil finds in the Upper Carboniferous rock of the east Midlands, based at Eakring, Nottinghamshire. In 1948 he was posted to Iran for stratigraphic survey work in the Zagros mountains in south east Iran. He returned to the UK in 1951, following the political disturbances in Iran which had resulted in the nationalisation of BP's Iranian interests and so curtailed further survey work. He was almost immediately sent to East Africa, a report having been received that a Kenyan government geologist had found signs of oil. It transpired that no oil was to be found, although the area was geologically promising, and Kent went on to Tanganyika where the prospects of finding oil seemed better. The results of this pioneering geological work were published in 1971 by the Geological Survey as Geology and Geophysics of Coastal Tanzania with Kent as a co-author.


In 1955 Kent was posted to Papua New Guinea, first as Deputy Chief Geologist later Chief Geologist, with the Australasian Petroleum Company, a part-owned BP subsidiary. Kent was involved in surveys in the rain forest and the highlands of Papua. This met with little success despite the promising geology of the area. Kent was posted to Canada in 1957 as Adviser to the President of BP Canada. There was little progress in eastern Canada and work moved westwards to the Northwest Territories and Canadian Arctic islands in 1958. In 1959 BP also began investigating oil prospects in the north of Alaska. BP Exploration (Alaska) was formed with Kent as its first President. The work of Kent and his team was to lead to a number of discoveries of oil and gas including the two huge fields at Prudhoe Bay and Kuparek. In 1970 Kent and two BP colleagues, H.R. Warman and A.N. Thomas, were awarded the MacRobert Award of the Council of Engineering Institutions for the techniques they pioneered for accurate surveying through permafrost which made the discoveries possible.


From 1961 Kent's duties became more managerial. He was appointed Deputy Chief Geologist of BP in 1961, Regional Manager of BP North and South America in 1962 and Technical and Regional Manager of BP America and the Western Hemisphere a year later. In 1966 Kent was made Chief Geologist and was much involved in operations in the North Sea, particularly the discovery of the Forties field. Kent was appointed Assistant General Manager (Exploration) in 1971. Kent retired from BP in 1973 but continued as a consultant on exploration matters with special reference to Iran, Canada and the UK. Kent had maintained his close connection with oil exploration in Iran through his service from 1965 on the Exploration Advisory Group, a body formed in 1957 to advise oil companies operating in Iran on exploration matters. In 1973 Kent became Chairman of the Group, his continuing membership of the EAG being part of his post-retirement consultancy with BP. The EAG's activities were halted in 1978 by the Islamic revolution and the overthrow of the Shah.


On his retirement Kent was appointed Chairman of the Natural Environment Research Council, a post he held until 1977. In 1977 Kent joined the Board of LASMO (London and Scottish Marine Oil). He resigned from the Board in 1983 having seen LASMO develop from a very small investment house into a leading independent British oil company. In 1982 he accepted an invitation to join the Board of Directors of Minworth Ltd, the controlling body of the Minworth Group of companies, and became its Chairman the following year. He also served as Chairman of Strontian Minerals, a subsidiary company within the Minworth Group, 1983-86.


Kent's numerous contributions to geology were introduced by his Royal Society memorialists as follows:


'Under Professor Swinnerton we may assume that Peter became so familiar with the chronostratigraphy of the Jurassic and Cretaceous that he was able to recognize with confidence the zonal level of the rocks in Lincolnshire and Leicestershire that formed the subjects of his earliest researches. This was one of the techniques upon which his career was based; the other was the art of field mapping. Neither of these techniques, however, became an objective in its own right in his hands; both were employed for the deciphering of the structural history of parts of the Earth's shallow crust, some of them of great economic importance. His work will remain influential in this field of structural interpretation; growing from small beginnings in the East Midlands, thence to the North Sea and beyond that to the aseismic continental margins of northern Europe and East Africa'. (N.L. Falcon and Sir Kingsley Dunham, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 33, 1987, 343-373, p.360).


Kent was accorded many honours for his contributions to geology and to petroleum exploration. He was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of London in 1938 and was awarded the Society's Lyell Fund in 1949 and their Bigsby and Murchison Medals in 1953 and 1969 respectively. He served as President of the Geological Society 1974-76. Kent was elected to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists in 1957 (Honorary Member 1976), the Geological Society of America in 1966 and the Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain, of which he was a founder-member in 1965 and which he served as Chairman 1966. He received the MacRobert Award (see above) in 1970. Kent was President of the Yorkshire Geological Society 1965-66 and was awarded its Sorby Medal in 1973. He received Honorary Degrees from the universities of Leicester (1972), Durham (1974), Bristol (1976), Glasgow (1977), Aberdeen (1978), Cambridge (1979), Hull (1981) and Birmingham (1983). Kent was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1966 (serving on Council 1967-69) and was awarded its Royal Medal in 1971. Kent was knighted in 1973.


Kent married twice, in 1940 to Margaret Betty Hood, who died in 1974, and in 1976 to Lorna Ogilvie Scott.

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