The First Geological Map of the Country

The collections of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery have a long and distinguished history dating back to its founding in 1823 as the Bristol Institution. On 15th March 1823 James Heaven, a local merchant, donated to the newly founded Institution the gift of a very special map, as recorded in the first 'Annual Proceedings'. It was a copy of the first geological map to be produced depicting the whole of England and Wales and part of Scotland. Its full title is:

"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".

The map was created by William Smith (1769-1839) in 1815. Smith was an engineer and geologist and is now known as 'The Father of English Geology'. Smith was very important in establishing geology as a scientific discipline.

The map is significant as it is the first time such a huge area had been mapped to show the differing rock types that occur across the country and was the culmination of years of work. The map itself is huge at approximately 9' x 3' and was produced in fifteen individual panels hand painted in watercolour. Only a few copies now survive making it even more special. The map was recently digitised.

images: above, William Smith's map, 1815, [Ci273]; below, the map undergoing conservation