Our past

The British Geological Survey (BGS) celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2010. More about BGS175 Anniversary Science Symposium

The Survey has changed its name several times through its history which is explained in brief below or for further information see also the BGS archives.


Bust of Henry Thomas De la Beche

Sir Edmund Teale receiving a haircut whilst on expedition in Africa

Women working in Mica processing during WWII

Ben N Peach

William Smith geological map

1832 — The Ordnance Geological Survey

Thomas F Colby, Superintendent of the Ordnance Survey, recognised the practical value of a geological examination of the country and supported Henry Thomas De la Beche, Vice-President of the Geological Society, to undertake a geological survey of Devon. The success of this work led to establishment of the Ordnance Geological Survey in 1835 under the Board of Ordnance; De la Beche became its first Director.

1835 — The Museum of Economic Geology

In August 1835, De la Beche obtained funding from the Board of Works to establish a museum at Craig's Court, Whitehall, London; the Museum of Economic Geology was opened in 1841. One of its most important acquisitions was some building stones proposed for the new Houses of Parliament.

1839 — The Mining Record Office

By 1839, the Survey included a new Mining Record Office that collected and stored abandoned mine plans, which was set up in response to a mining disaster. From about 1847 the Survey also started collecting and publishing mineral production statistics and then international trade statistics; an activity which still happens today.

1845 — The Geological Survey Act

The Geological Survey Act of 1845 provided the Survey with a legal framework designed 'to facilitate the completion of a geological survey of Great Britain and Ireland.' Responsibility for the Survey, which now incorporated the geological department in Ireland, passed from the Board of Ordnance to the Office of Woods, Forests, Land Revenues, Works and Buildings. This transition meant that field officers of the Survey were no longer required to wear the military-style uniform of blue serge with brass buttons and a top hat!

In 1853 the Survey passed from the First Commissioner of Woods and Forests to the Department of Science and Art.

On 1 April 1905, The Geological Survey of Ireland was transferred to the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland.

1919 — The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research

On 1 November 1919 the Geological Survey and Museum was transferred to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR). Subsequently, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research Act of 1956 amended aspects of the management of research functions and placed the DSIR under the charge of a Council for Scientific and Industrial Research; the forerunner of the current Research Councils.

1965 — The Science and Technology Act

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)—our parent body— was confirmed by Royal Charter as a result of the 1965 Act. The Geological Survey and Museum was combined with the Overseas Geological Surveys (OGS) in the following year and renamed the Institute of Geological Sciences (IGS).

1984 — The British Geological Survey

On 1 January 1984 we were renamed the British Geological Survey. The next year our headquarters were established at Keyworth, near Nottingham and our offices at the Geological Museum at South Kensington were relinquished to the Natural History Museum, which now form the Earth Galleries.

References and further reading


For more information on the history of the British Geological Survey, former Overseas Geological Surveys and related organisations, see the following published works:

Portlock, J E. 1843. Report on the geology of Londonderry, and of parts of Tyrone and Fermanagh. (Dublin: HMSO), Preface pp. iii-xi, for an account of the origins of the geological department of the Ordnance Survey of Ireland.

Flett, Sir John S. 1937. The first hundred years of the Geological Survey of Great Britain. (London: HMSO)

Bailey, Sir Edward. 1952. Geological Survey of Great Britain. (London: Thomas Murby)

Dixey, F. 1957. Colonial Geological Surveys, 1947-56: a review of progress during the past ten years. Colonial Geology and Mineral Resources, Supplement Series no. 2.

Seymour, W A. (ed.) 1980. A history of the Ordnance Survey. (Folkestone: Dawson)

Wilson, H E. 1985. Down to earth: one hundred and fifty years of the British Geological Survey. (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press) (Including the activities of the former Overseas Geological Surveys)

Cook, P J, and Allen, P M. 1994. The example of the British Geological Survey: past, present and future. In: National Geological Surveys in the 21st century. Geological Survey of Canada Miscellaneous Report 55, 15–23.

Cook, P J. 1998. A history of the British Geological Survey, 1990-1997. British Geological Survey Technical Report WQ/98/1.

Hackett, D. 1999. Our corporate history: key events affecting the British Geological Survey, 1967-1998. British Geological Survey Technical Report WQ/99/1.

Allen, P M. 2003. A geological survey in transition. (Keyworth: British Geological Survey). [available to buy online]