Rev Dowse gained his first in 1935

Ex-vicar, 93, breaks PhD record

A 93-year-old former vicar and train enthusiast has become the oldest person in the world to gain a PhD.

Reverend Edgar Dowse, who does not own a computer and dictated his thesis, already has six other degrees.

The father-of-two became a record-breaker after spending four years researching his work 'The Soul in Relationship to God'.

Rev Dowse, from Isleworth, west London, got the doctorate from the London School of Theology in Middlesex.

The official record is held by American Elizabeth Eichelbaum, who was 90 when she gained a PhD from the University of Tennessee in 2000, according to the Guinness Book of Records.

A spokesman for the book urged the university and Dr Dowse to "get in touch" so the entry could be revised.

Rev Dowse was inspired to start academic work again after his wife Ivy died in 1999.

"I felt the need for intense study," he said.

When he is not indulging his avid interest in trains and railways, of which he has an extensive collection of models and videos, Rev Dowse enjoys reading Hebrew, Aramaic and the New Testament in Greek.

He gained his first degree from Durham University in 1935, aged 22, and was awarded his sixth in 1991. All have been in Biblical Studies or Theology.

Remarkable achievement

One, a BA from Cambridge, took him 31 years to complete. He began it in 1941 but a severe cash shortage meant it was not until 1972 that he finally got his First Class degree.

London School of Theology principal Reverend Dr Derek Tidball said: "To gain a PhD at any age is a great achievement. To gain it at the age of 93 is remarkable."

Professor Steve Hodkinson, pro-vice-chancellor of Brunel University, which validates the School of Theology's degrees, said: "Commitment, hard work and talent transcend age, but when you get examples like this you really do believe it."

The car-less nonagenarian became a familiar sight waiting at the bus stop outside the college.

Rev Dowse, who will officially receive his doctorate in June, is looking forward to a rest after his intellectual exertions.

"I may just put my feet up now," he said.

Copyright © BBC News - Friday 27 February 2004