Events / History / News

Sir David Attenborough launches the year of William Smith

William Smith 2015 FINAL02







Monday 23rd was the birthday of William Smith – ‘father of English Geology’ and creator of the world’s first nationwide geological map.

It was also a special day at the Geological Society – the launch of the year long celebrations of the 200th anniversary of Smith’s 1815 geological map of England and Wales.

Sir David Attenborough with the newly unveiled Green Plaque at 15 Buckingham Street

Sir David Attenborough with the newly unveiled Green Plaque at 15 Buckingham Street

We were thrilled to be joined by Sir David Attenborough to mark the occasion, beginning with the unveiling of a Green Plaque at 15 Buckingham Street, where William Smith lived between 1804 and 1819.

It was during that time that Smith carried out much of his work on his famous map, publishing the first copies in 1815.

‘I truly believe that William Smith is one of the great thinkers of the nineteenth century, and he deserves celebration’ said Sir David as he unveiled the plaque.

I managed to catch up with him before the unveiling to ask about what William Smith and geology means to him.

Following the unveiling, we held an evening event at the Geological Society, at which the first viewings of our newly discovered, rare first edition copy of William Smith’s map were held.

Tom Sharpe

Tom Sharpe talks visitors through the map

News of the discovery was widely reported by the BBC and other news sites.

The new copy of the map was discovered during an audit of the Society’s archives, by then Archive Assistant Victoria Woodcock.

‘The map was found among completely unrelated material, so at first I didn’t realise the significance of what I’d uncovered’ she says. ‘Once we had worked out that it was an early copy of one of the earliest geological maps ever made, I was astonished. It’s the kind of thing that anyone working in archives dreams of, and definitely the highlight of my career so far!’


The event also featured a demonstration of by Peter Wigley. The website, the largest online collection of Smith maps, allows users to view the maps in 3D, compare editions and as overlays with modern geological maps.

The William Smith Bicentennial celebrations are continuing all year, with a range of events, exhibitions and meetings. Including….

  • Michael McKimm reading from 'Map'

    Michael McKimm reading from ‘Map’

    On 9 April, the Society is hosting the launch of ‘Map’, an anthology of poems inspired by William Smith and his work, edited by Michael McKimm, who works in the Society’s library.

    The collection includes poems by former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Penelope Shuttle and Helen Mort. Audiences on Monday had a preview when Michael gave a reading from the collection.

  • The Society’s History of Geology Group is organising two flagship William Smith meetings this year. The first, on 23-24 April, is on ‘200 Years of Smith’s Map’. Registration is still open, with Fellows and non Fellows both welcome.
  • The second William Smith meeting will be held on 5 November, focusing on the future of geological mapping.

For more information and archive materials related to William Smith, visit our online exhibition.

A copy of William Smith’s famous map hangs in our entrance hall, beside the Society’s own 1819 map – members of the public are welcome to drop in to have a look during opening hours. The newly discovered map won’t be making too many public appearances, to preserve its amazing original colours, but there are opportunities to view it during the April William Smith meeting, and at a public event to be announced in the summer.

Many thanks to Sir David and everyone who helped us to launch the celebrations on Monday!

Sir David Attenborough and Victoria Woodcock with the newly discovered map

Sir David Attenborough and Victoria Woodcock with the newly discovered map



One thought on “Sir David Attenborough launches the year of William Smith

  1. Pingback: Door twenty four | Geological Society of London blog

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