From under the Surface to the London Underground: In Last Month's Geographical, Nicholas Crane Described Four of the Groundbreaking Maps That Feature in Mapman, the Eight-Part BBC2 Series That Looks at the Way Maps Changed the Shape of Britain. in This Issue, He Discusses the Four Modern Masterpieces That Complete the Series
Crane, Nicholas, Geographical
Hidden away in a wood to the east of Bruton in Somerset are a crater-shaped depression and a gentle mound. Today, this is a peaceful spot, quiet but for birdsong and the whisper of wind in the foliage overhead. But in the early 1800s, it was an anthill of frenzied activity as teams of grimy miners toiled to push a shaft deep into the floor of the wood.
The Brewham Intended Colliery was one of many speculative quests for 'black gold', the fuel of the Industrial Revolution, and the wood outside Bruton had been selected because its soils looked similar to those found in coal-rich Shropshire and Staffordshire. By the end of March 1805, the miners had dug down to 36 metres.
Around the 24th of that month, the site received a visit from a man who claimed to be a practitioner in the 'new art of mineral surveying'. The visitor examined the fossils emerging from the pit and told the miners that they were looking in the wrong place. They continued digging to a depth of 199 metres and then, on Christmas Day 1807, the pit flooded and was abandoned. The man who told them they wouldn't find coal went on to publish the world's first geological map.
William Smith was the eldest son of an Oxfordshire blacksmith who died when the boy was only eight. Young William was indomitable and solitary. He was also fascinated by the curiously patterned stones strewn across the local fields. This early interest in fossils and the landscape found a practical outlet when, still in his teens, Smith took work with a visiting surveyor named Edward Webb. By the time Smith came across the prospectors of Brewham he'd spent almost 20 years travelling the country as a surveyor of canals and coal mines, and as a land-drainage consultant.
In the course of tramping England's hills and vales, Smith had stumbled across the key to mineral surveying: that particular kinds of fossils are unique to particular strata, and that these strata recur in the same order wherever you look. It was this "wonderful order and regularity" that enabled him to chart the strata in chronological sequence and to develop a picture of underground Britain.
Just three years before he visited the fated hole at Brewham, Smith had completed a prototype map based on John Cary's …
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Publication information: Article title: From under the Surface to the London Underground: In Last Month's Geographical, Nicholas Crane Described Four of the Groundbreaking Maps That Feature in Mapman, the Eight-Part BBC2 Series That Looks at the Way Maps Changed the Shape of Britain. in This Issue, He Discusses the Four Modern Masterpieces That Complete the Series. Contributors: Crane, Nicholas - Author. Magazine title: Geographical. Volume: 76. Issue: 11 Publication date: November 2004. Page number: 66+. © 2008 Circle Publishing Ltd. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
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