William Smith Commemorative Events

In 1815 surveyor and geologist William Smith published the first edition of his Geological Map of England and Wales. Little did he know about the pivotal contribution he was to make to the scientific and economic development of Britain. 

The School of Earth Sciences held a series of public lectures and events in Autumn 2015 to celebrate the relatively unsung achievements of this 18th century Englishman. Commemorations explored Smith's legacy and the wider context of geological mapping, from scientific and cultural representations of landscapes to modern geological mapping techniques. For future event updates and news follow @UoBEarthSciences

Hydrock William Smith Lecture 2017

  • In October 2017 Prof. Jerry X. Mitrovica of Harvard University gave a fascinating public talk on 'The Fingerprints of Sea Level Change in a Warming World'. Over 900 visitors attended the event but for those who missed the lecture there is a recording available here.


William Smith Bicentenary Lectures 2015

Audio recordings from the 2015 Public Lecture series from

  • Prof. Iain Stewart - Underground Britain: the story of what's under our feet, and why it matters.
  • Simon Winchester - William Smith and his Map that Change the World
  • Prof. John Grotzinger - Mars Science Laboratory: Geological Mapping of Mars with Orbiters and the Curiosity Rover
  • Prof. Richard Fortey - William Smith, fossils and the British landscape.
are available here.


  • The School of Earth Sciences is home to its very own original William Smith map. This public display can be found in the entry foyer of the School,  in the iconic Wills Memorial Building.

Art Project

  • Bristol based artist Rodney Harris was in residence in the School of Earth Sciences in 2015 for a creative collaboration between himself and staff and students in the School. The artist in residence project explored the potential for using geological materials as artistic media to create a contemporary interpretation of Smith's original geological map. His rendition of the William Smith map using crushed rock from each strata is on display in the School common room, and well worth a view.

A homage to the William Smith map using crushed rock, clay and mud from type localities of the major strata by Rodney Harris is on display in the School of Earth Sciences common room.

Smith Bicentenary Online Field Trip

English geologist and surveyor William Smith published the first edition of his Geological Map of England and Wales in 1815. 200 years later, we celebrate the bicentenary of this incredible work, which revolutionised our scientific understanding of the rocks beneath us, and contributed enormously to the economic development of Britain.‌

Smith self potrait

The Somersetshire Coal Canal was built between 1795 and 1805, to enable ease of transit of the coal mined from Somerset collieries into the rest of Britain. Before the canal, the only available transport was by cart – far less efficient, especially given the disorganisation of rural country roads at the time.

The effect of the coal canal was huge on the county, and for the south west in general. The availability of Somerset coal in industrial centres like London greatly increased, thereby bringing huge amounts of money into the area and allowing the Somerset collieries to compete economically with other strong mining regions such as Wales.

Smith’s work on his map began here in Somerset – whilst he worked for the canal, he found and named a huge number of rock types, like the Cornbrash. Not only did his work here feed directly into the progress and success of the coal canal, but also into his personal work. This included a large-scale geological map of the area in 1799, and of course his 1815 masterpiece.

The field trip follows a route from west to east, generally following the collieries of the Paulton branch of the canal. This path winds through many places of interest, including places of residence and work for Smith, and key portions of the canal. It is our hope that you find the trip fascinating, for the history it presents and for the insight into the life of William Smith.


Help us raise funds to preserve one of Smith’s original geology maps, which changed how we look at the ground beneath our feet, and to continue to host talks devoted to geological history. Any donations welcome. 

Public lecture series

The School of Earth Sciences will be hosting an annual William Smith lecture, next occurring in fall 2016. Past lectures can be found here. The lecture series is kindly sponsored by Hydrock.


The School of Earth Sciences has put its very own original William Smith map in a publicly accessible area of the Wills Memorial Building from October 2015.

Artist in residence

Bristol based artist Rodney Harris joined the School of Earth Sciences in 2015 for a creative collaboration that explored contemporary interpretations of Smith's geological map. The residency was funded by a Leverhulme Trust Artist in Residence Grant.

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