Museum lecture celebrates achievements of a man who mapped the geology of Britain

A section of William Smith's Geological map detailing the Dorset's geology

A section of William Smith’s Geological map detailing the Dorset’s geology

In 1815, William Smith, a land drainer and mineral surveyor born at Churchill in Oxfordshire published the first true geological map of any country.

Smith’s attractive, large, hand-coloured map, A Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales with part of Scotland, was a monumental work (it measures 8 1/2 by 6 feet) which took him fourteen years to complete and on which he worked single-handedly. His aim was to give landowners an indication of where coal was likely to be found, and Smith was careful to include many estates and country seats on his topographical base map. The 410 subscribers to his map included 2 dukes, 5 marquesses, 13 earls, 2 viscounts, 14 lords and 21 baronets as well as at least 32 Members of Parliament, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the course his work, Smith developed the fundamental principles of stratigraphy and recognised the value of fossils in identifying strata. Following the publication of his map, Smith went on to publish a series of cross sections and county geological maps. But his success was to be short-lived. Within five years, Smith’s pioneering geological map was eclipsed by a more detailed map, a collaborative effort by the many members of the Geological Society of London, established in 1807. The similarities between the Geological Society’s map and that of Smith’s did not go unnoticed by Smith’s friends

Tom Sharpe a geologist who spent over thirty five years as a curator in the Department of Geology at the National Museum of Wales where he looked after the world’s largest collection of William Smith’s maps. Will be giving a lecture at the Dorset County Museum at 7.00pm on the 11th March, discussing his research in the history and development of this iconic geological map, which this year marks its bicentenary of publication.

Tom Sharpe is also involved in the planning of events around the country including the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival in May, to mark this year’s bicentenary of William Smith’s map.

Tom Sharpe talk takes place at 6.30pm for 7.00pm on Wednesday 11th March. The event is FREE of charge but a donation of £3.00 is encouraged to cover costs.

For more information phone 01305 756827 or visit


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