Colonel gains PhD at 91

PUBLISHED: 02:01 08 August 2008 | UPDATED: 22:09 15 June 2010

FRIDAY, AUGUST 8: A HONITON church-goer has become the oldest person on record to receive a PhD from Cambridge University. Colonel Michael Cobb, 91, of Plymtree, is a congregation member at St Paul's Church and visits the former parish church of St Michael every Thursday t

A HONITON church-goer has become the oldest person on record to receive a PhD from Cambridge University.Colonel Michael Cobb, 91, of Plymtree, is a congregation member at St Paul's Church and visits the former parish church of St Michael every Thursday to take Communion.He was awarded the PhD in the university's Senate House earlier this month for his magnum opus, The Railways of Great Britain: A Historical Atlas."It was a very great honour," he told the Herald."The most pleasing thing for me is the pleasure it gave my family, in particular my grandchildren."Around 40 of Colonel Cobb's relatives travelled to Cambridge to witness the ceremony, some making the journey from Canada, Spain or America.Born in 1916, he first graduated from Magdalene College in 1938.His atlas of railway stations and lines took more than two decades to get into print."It was a 25-year job," Colonel Cobb said."I spent 18 years working at it, four years to find someone to come up with the money and another three years to get it printed."I got the PhD rather late."The atlas records and maps every station and every line ever built by the railway companies of Great Britain between 1807 and 1994.A life-long train enthusiast, who travelled on all of Great Britain's railway lines between 1950 and 60, Colonel Cobb began work on the atlas in 1978 at the suggestion of renowned publisher Christopher MacLehose.Dr Richard Smith, head of Cambridge's geography department and one of Michael's PhD examiners, said: "The atlas is a remarkable piece of scholarship. I was deeply impressed by the systematic way the cartographic enterprise had been carried out and the attention to detail which enables one to chart the dates of opening of every line and station."It is a definitive record. It is not just of interest to the enthusiast but a vital tool for anyone seriously interested in the economic geography and history of Great Britain. There is nothing like it.

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