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William Smith Meeting 2015 (Part 1): 200 years of Smith's map

This meeting was the first part of two Geological Society Flagship William Smith Meetings in 2015. The meetings celebrate publication of the first geological map of a nation 200 years ago.  The meeting was convened by the History of Geology Group (HOGG).

William Smith (1769 – 1839) was an English geologist who created the first nationwide geological map. In 1794, working as a surveyor on the construction for the Somerset Coal Canal, Smith recognised that each stratigraphic horizon contained a unique assemblage of fossils. This enabled him to work out the order of strata from the fossils they contained. From 1799 he mapped local strata, eventually creating the first geological map of England and Wales, published in 1815. In the interim, his ideas were widely disseminated throughout the geological community.  Like many new theories they took time to become accepted. In 1831 the Geological Society of London awarded Smith the first Wollaston Medal and the President, Adam Sedgwick, referred to him as ‘the Father of English Geology’.

This two-day conference featured Keynote Lectures from Professor Hugh Torrens and Professor Simon Knell and 18 talks by experts on William Smith’s maps, his careers, and his contemporaries in England and Europe. 

This bicentenary meeting addressed:

  • Smith’s achievements and his impact on the state of geology in his time
  • His fossil collection
  • His contemporaries
  • His relationship with the Geological Society of London
  • His various careers including canal builder, land drainer, mineral surveyor and lecturer
  • Smith’s map, ‘Delineating the Strata of England and Wales with Part of Scotland
  • Contemporary concepts of geological survey and map design
  • Past and present research into surviving Smith maps, sections and documents.

The William Smith Lecture 2015: The coming of the Father was given by Simon Knell (University of Leicester) on 24 April 2015 at 4.00pm.

Information about Extra Activities that took place

Behind the scenes tour of the Natural History Museum


When: Wednesday, 22 April 2015;

Where: Natural History Museum, South Kensington

For more information:

Visitors were shown original William Smith geological maps & sections and his collection of fossils and rocks. This was a private, behind the scenes tour in small groups of 25. There were two tours lasting 40 minutes, starting at 1.00pm and 3.00pm. 

Conference Dinner

When: Thursday, 23 April 2015

Where: Geological Society, Burlington House, London

The conference dinner was held in the Lower Library of Burlington House.

Field Trip

When: Saturday, 25 April 2015

Where: Smith Archive at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and Smith’s birthplace and the Smith Heritage Centre in Churchill village.

For more information:, 

Meeting arrangements

The hire coach travelled west along the A40, A44 and minor roads to the village of Churchill, famous as the birthplace of William Smith (1769-1839). It was in Churchill that Smith’s interest in fossils, the land and drawing was noted by his Uncle William, who encouraged him to translate his aptitudes into surveying. It was the surveying by Edward Webb of the common land of Churchill for enclosure, that provided the opportunity of an apprenticeship.

In Churchill they visited the site of the house in which Smith was born, the Smith monument erected by the Earl of Ducie in 1891 with its controversial (?) commemoration to ‘The Father of British Geology’, and the Smith display in the Heritage Centre (the former old church chancel).


  • Cherry Lewis (University of Bristol)
  • John Henry (Chair of HOGG)

Event Details

Date: 23 - 24 April 2015
Venue: The Geological Society, Burlington House, London



Jess Aries

The Geological Society
Burlington House
Piccadilly, London
United Kingdom
Tel: 020 7432 0981
Fax: 020 7494 0579
Email: [email protected]

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