Mapping England and Wales

William Smith's 1824 map of Durham

By 1799, Smith was using both his skills as a surveyor and the knowledge gained from his observations in the field to draw up a geological map. This first map was circular in form, covered the area around Bath, and was exhibited at the Bath Agricultural Society.

At the same time, Smith continued to plan the publication of a treatise describing his discoveries, but financial support proved difficult to find. In 1801, Smith produced a small geological map of England and Wales which illustrated the outcrops of seven geological formations.

Other maps were produced for exhibition at various meeting, but it was not until 1815 that, with input from the enterprising map publisher John Cary, Smith's first major map "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", actually appeared.

Based on Cary's new topographical map at the scale of five miles to the inch, the map showed the outcrops of some twenty formations. Other publications on stratigraphy followed: Strata Identified by Fossils, in 1816, and Stratigraphical System of Organized Fossils, in 1817.

William Smith — the applied geologist

The next major mapping publication was Smith's Geological Atlas, again based on Cary's topographical maps, comprising the maps of 21 counties which were published between 1819 and 1824.

Despite the importance of his ideas and publications, Smith continued to find recognition elusive and it was not until 1831, when the Geological Society awarded him the first Wollaston Medal, that his status was finally confirmed.

Adam Sedgwick in his citation referred to Smith as the 'Founder of English Geology'. From time to time Smith's expertise continued to be drawn upon for major projects. In 1838 he was commissioned to accompany Henry De la Beche and Sir Charles Barry on a tour of the principal stone quarries to recommend the stone to be used in the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament, which had been destroyed by fire in 1835.

The practical nature of the commission provides a link between Smith's work and that of De la Beche and his newly founded Geological Survey.