William Smith's Geological Map of England and Wales

‘A Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales, with part of Scotland; exhibiting the collieries and mines, the marshes and fen lands originally overflowed by the sea, and the varieties of soil according to the variations in the substrata, illustrated by the most descriptive names’

A first edition copy of one of the most significant maps in the history of science has been rediscovered in time for an important anniversary.

Tucked away in a leather sleeve case, the mislaid artefact was last seen roughly 40 or 50 years ago. Smith spent the better part of 15 years collecting the information needed to compile the map. It is said he covered about 10,000 miles a year on foot, on horse and in carriage, cataloguing the locations of all the formations that make up the geology of the three home nations.

The roughly 1.8m by 2.5m map is made up of 15 sheets.

The outline of the geography and the strata were printed from copper plate engravings, but the detail was finished by hand with watercolours.

The lower edge of a formation is saturated and then the paint is made to fade back to the high edge. It is this colouring technique, combined with the tendency of many of England’s rocks to dip to the south or southeast, that gives Smith’s map its iconic look.

Further information

See also

Craft and creativity

Seminal William ‘Strata’ Smith geology map rediscovered

“This map, produced by William Smith, is acknowledged as the first geological map of a country ever produced. Although there were ‘geological’ maps in existence before this, these invariably only identified rocks by types and are therefore more accurately described as ‘mineralogical’ maps. Smith’s innovation was to attempt to classify rocks according to age and manner of deposition – that is stratigraphically.”

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