Aberdare Boys’ Grammar School
Memories and Memorabilia
The Fossil Tree
from Geoff Kerley & Colin Rees
Readers of the books that chronicle the history of Aberdare will
probably be familiar with the photograph of the large fossil tree that was brought to
the surface at a Cwmdare pit in the late nineteenth century. Here we describe what we
know of this fine geological specimen as well as giving some more up-to-date news of
the fossil and of Geoff Kerley.
This photograph shows the fossil when it was in the grounds of Bryn Awel House which was at the far end of Clifton Street. The picture dates from the 1880s and the man in the picture could be William Thomas, a mining engineer who lived in Bryn Awel at this time. It is said to have been brought there from Nantmelyn Colliery (third photo down in this link), and here, which was also known later as Bwllfa No. 2 Colliery. This colliery was in Cwmdare; you can locate where it stood by putting the grid reference SN975028 in the Grid box on this page.
When Bryn Awel was demolished, Tom Evans, Head of Geography, arranged for the specimen
to be relocated to the front of the new school at the bottom of Cwmdare Hill. By that
time the fossil had been reconstructed from large fragments, and it had lost some of
Much more recently in October 1995, the fossil tree formed the backdrop to a meeting
between geology teacher Geoff Kerley and one of his ex-students who had just been awarded
his Ph.D. in Geology. Geoff, on the right, was a pupil at ABGS 1962-64, and after graduation
in 1968 started his teaching career in Price’s Grammar School in Fareham, Hampshire
and remained there until 1978 by which time it had become a sixth form college. He returned
to Aberdare to take up a teaching post in 1978 at the newly opened Aberdare Boys’ School.
He spent the rest of his career at the school and retired in 1997.
Dr. Robert Hillier, on the left in the photo, a pupil in 1979-86 was from Hirwaun, he was undoubtedly one of Geoff’s best students.
Robert decided to dedicate his thesis to Geoff as a tribute to his inspiring teaching. Many photos were taken at the time and the whole story found its way into The Leader and The South Wales Echo.
Geoff and Robert discuss some of the geological mapping that formed part of the Ph.D. thesis.
They are pictured in the Geology Lab where Geoff did much of his teaching and where Robert was taught.
← In this more recent photo, August 2005, taken looking west towards Cwmdare, the massive size of the fossil is apparent.
on the opposite side, looking east, it is clear that the tapered top of the specimen is missing; compare this photo to the first photo on this page. The reconstruction of the specimen is also apparent from the mortar in the joints between the segments.