William Smith (geologist)

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William 'Strata' Smith (23 March 1769 – 28 August 1839) was an English geologist, credited with creating the first nationwide geological map. He is known as the "Father of English Geology" for collating the geological history of England and Wales into a single record, although recognition was very slow in coming. At the time his map was first published he was overlooked by the scientific community; his relatively humble education and family connections preventing him from mixing easily in learned society. Consequently his work was plagiarised, he was financially ruined, and he spent time in debtors' prison. It was only much later in his life that Smith received recognition for his accomplishments.

Contents

Early life

Smith was born in the village of Churchill, Oxfordshire, the son of blacksmith John Smith, himself scion of a respectable farming family. His father died when Smith was just eight years old, and he was then raised by his uncle. In 1787, he found work as an assistant for Edward Webb of Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire, a surveyor. He was quick to learn, and soon became proficient at the trade. In 1791, he traveled to Somerset to make a valuation survey of the Sutton Court estate, and building on earlier work in the same area by John Strachey.[1] He stayed there for the next eight years, working first for Webb and later for the Somersetshire Coal Canal Company.

Below is an extract from his writings in which he describes his experiences when living in High Littleton & Bath Somerset.

I resided from 1791-1795 in a part of the large old manor house belonging to Lady JONES called Rugburn in High Littleton. It was then occupied by a farmer [Cornelius HARRIS], who lodged and boarded me for half a guinea a week and kept my horse for half a crown a week. I have often said that in one respect my residence was the most singular, it being nearer to three cities than any other place in Britain: it is 10 miles from Bath, 10 from Bristol and 12 from Wells. What is called the lower road from Bath to Wells goes through High Littleton but Rugburn old house is a quarter of a mile east of the village and about half way between it and Mearns coal pit. It is a large quadrangular house, I believe with a double M roof; several of the windows used to be darkened [filled up]. There was a square walled court in front with entrance gates between brick pillars on top of a flight of stone steps and on each side of the gates facing the south was a niche in the wall, where I used to sit and study. On the one side of the court was a row of lime trees, which screened it from the farmyard and the east wind, and on the other side was a large walled garden, and over the road of approach there was an avenue of fine elms all across a large piece of pasture. This had been the coach road when the house was occupied, as I understand, by a Major [Capt. John] BRITTON, who, according to the account of the old farmer, was said to have ruined himself by working the coal upon his own estate [BRITTON's half brother, William JONES of Stowey, baled him out with a loan of £1,200, in return for which BRITTON left JONES his High Littleton estates and lordship of the manor on his death in 1742]. I collected much information from the old colliers respecting the coal, ancient collieries, faults re which I must herein omit; but I must be rather particular in describing the house, through it's [sic] relation to the now extensively known science of geology; for, as some of my pupils and friends have called the vicinity of Bath the cradle of geology. I now inform them that RUGBURN WAS IT'S [sic] BIRTHPLACE.[2]

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