Was this the first Royal geology field trip?

Selley 1

Dick Selley gives the Earl of Wessex a safety briefing before entering the caves. © Royston Williamson.

Dick Selley (of this parish) has taken HRH Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, on a geology field trip to study the Folkestone Beds of the Cretaceous Lower Greensand.  When a trip to Dorking was being arranged for HRH, the EoW said that he wanted to ‘do something ‘quirky’’.   Thus, an expedition to study the Lower Greensand in Dorking’s famous South Street caves was suggested and enacted.

After the obligatory Health and Safety briefing, Prince Edward entered the caves. The party included the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Surrey, the Prince’s Lady-in-Waiting, and his security detail.  Dick took the Prince and his entourage along the various galleries, once used for storing local and foreign wines, and descended 20 metres to the ‘Mystery Chamber’. Here Dick pontificated on the cross-bedding and the ferruginous flood mark with shows the depth to which the chamber was flooded by a temporary rise in the water table. This event can be dated on external evidence as occurring between the late 17th– early 18th Century.

Ferruginous veneer

The ‘Mystery Chamber’ showing cross-bedding and the ferruginous veneer which, terminating a few centimetres above the bench, marking the depth to which the chamber was flooded in the late 17th – Early 18th © Royston Williamson

HRH is now up to speed on the geotechnical properties of ‘locked sands’, the palaeo-hydrology of the River Mole catchment, the formation of cross-bedding, the significance of carstone as witch repellent, and the diagnostic features of tidal sand waves.

We believe that this is the first time that a member of the Royal family has been on a geology field trip.  HRH Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, despite being admitted to Fellowship on 30 May 1849, is thought never to have ventured into the field or raised a hammer in anger.  (That is to say there is no known record of such an event – we would be delighted to be corrected.).  We admit that it is also possible that HRH Princess Anne may once have been exposed to some geology on field trips, as part of her ‘O’ Level Geography course.


  • Selley, RC 2006. Dorking Caves Guide. Petravin Press. Dorking. 13pp.
  • Selley RC (In Press) Dorking Caves: History: Mystery and Geology. Dorking Museum.

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