Systematic mapping

William Smith's 1820 map of England and Wales

The forerunner of the Geological Survey

The main focus of Smith's work was to apply his observations and ideas to the everyday needs of the canal builders, quarry- and mine-owners, landowners and agriculturists who were underpinning the Industrial Revolution.

He talked at meetings about geology and its economic value. The titles of his map of 1815 — the first ever large-scale geological map of a country—and the subsequent 1820 edition, demonstrate the commercial nature of the mapping.

The County maps (1819–24) represent a first attempt at systematic sheet mapping of England and Wales. These can be seen as the predecessors of the Geological Survey's systematic series of maps, which began production in the late 1830s.

Mapping for the 21st Century

Two hundred years after the publication in 1801 of Smith's first map of England and Wales, the BGS announced another major advance in geological mapping for the UK.

October 2001 saw the first release in digital vector format of all the 1:50 000 scale geological map data that were available for Great Britain BGS Geology 50k — covering over 95% of the landmass.

Since 2001, BGS Geology 50k has been continually revised and is now on version 6. Other datasets at scales from 1:10 000 to 1:625 000 are also available. From the BGS Geology database, maps for any area can be produced and the data used in geographical information systems. Since 2009 BGS Geology 50k has been accessible for free on smartphones and other mobile devices via our iGeology app.

As more attributes are added by the BGS to the BGS Geology data, William Smith's conviction that geological mapping is of vital importance at many levels and in many areas of the nation's society, science, and industry is as true today as it was two centuries ago, when he conceived his original geological map.

The methods involved in map production have developed and, especially with BGS Geology, the method of map delivery has altered radically, but the fundamental importance of providing accurate geological map data to today's industries is as vital now as it was in Smith's time.

Learn more about Works by William Smith