Product has been added to the basket

A true amateur

Holborn Viaduct, London - one of Haywood's more respectable projects

Geoscientist 18.7 July 2008

Nina Morgan writes: The Geologists Association (GA) – which aims to act as a forum for all geologists and Earth scientists, professional or amateur - celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. But, as Eric Freeman noted in the Association's Proceedings, the GA has been "somewhat careless with our Founding Fathers". Until the 1990s, all that was recorded about the 30 original founders of the Association (who included doctors, lawyers, local government officers, tradesmen, and gentlemen of independent means) were their surnames and initials.

However, it is known that the idea for the GA originated in a letter headed Proposition for an Association of Amateur Geologists, published in August 1858 in The Geologist -- a magazine dedicated to making geology "an object of popular enquiry". The signatory was W J (William) Haywood (1821–94), engineer and surveyor to the Commissioners of Sewers of the City of London. Haywood's acknowledged achievements include projects ranging from the Holborn Viaduct, to the introduction in London of amenities such as fire hydrants, a refuse incinerator, Manor Park cemetery, and various underground public lavatories.

But mysteriously, having started the GA ball rolling, Haywood seems to have disappeared from the picture, and played no further part in its development. As it turns out, there may have been a very good reason for this. Research published in 1992 reveals that Haywood, writing under the pen name 'Walter', was the author of My Secret Life, perhaps the most famous Victorian example of autobiographical – and explicit – pornography. This certainly sheds a whole new light on Haywood, a most amorous amateur.


Thanks to Hugh Torrens for alerting me to this story. The sources for this vignette include: The founders of the Geologists' Association I: in search of W.J. Haywood, by Eric Freeman, Proc Geol. Assoc. v. 105, pp. 161-166; Notes on 'The Amateur' in the Development of British Geology by H.S. Torrens, Proc. Geol. Assoc., v. 117, pp. 1-8; The man who was Walter, by John Patrick Pattinson, in Victorian Literature and Culture, Cambridge University Press, 2002, ISSN 1060-1503/02, pp. 19-40.

If the past is the key to your present interests, visit the History of Geology Group (HOGG) website at: