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William Smith

Father of English Geology

William Smith: The Family Man
There will still be one cabinet devoted to this 2016 exhibition.
With thanks to Oxford University Museum of Natural History who are curating this exhibition,
and to Nina Morgan, author of The Geology of Oxford Gravestones, for her help and advice.

William Smith was born in 1769 in Churchill, where his father was a blacksmith. He attended the village school.
Legend has it that his interest in the landscape and geological enquiry was sparked by the echinoid fossils ('poundstones') that he found in local fields.
Later, while surveying the Somerset Coal Canal in the 1790s, Smith noticed 'regularity in the direction and dip of the various strata in the hills...' 
Observing that rock layers occurred in a predictable pattern, he also noted that fossil assemblages could be used to order strata in terms of relative age. 
This was his Principle of Faunal Succession. 
In 1815 Smith published his hand-coloured geological map of England, Wales and part of Scotland, famously establishing the chronological order of rock layers in the United Kingdom.
2015 was the bicentenary of this famous geological map

But it did not stop there.  After his sister’s death, William Smith brought up her children and instilled in them his love of geology.  The eldest son, John Phillips, eventually became Professor of Geology, Oxford University, President of the Geological Society and the first keeper of OUMNH, and Anne, the only daughter, provided her brother with valuable scientific back-up as well as essential domestic and emotional support during their 33 years together.  These family connections were the focus of our 2016 exhibition William Smith: The Family Man.

Full details of William Smith's life and achievements: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Smith

The Rotunda Museum in Scarborough was partly designed and established by William Smith in 1829 and has a wonderful collection of his fossils. http://rotundamuseum.org.uk/

In March 2014, the Natural History Museum in Oxford launched William Smith Online with digital images from their William Smith Collection, his biography, a William Smith blog and more. http://www.williamsmithonline.com/

There are several sites in Churchill village that are connected to his life and a William Smith village map and trail is available by post (£2.00 +p&p). Local Publications
Geological societies are always particularly interested to visit the village of Churchill and see where William Smith's love of landscape and fossils began. http://www.ogg.uk.com

From Our Guest Book

  • "Great building, well restored. Charming!"

  • "What a lovely treat to stumble upon. Thank you for preserving a part of our Heritage"

  • "Congratulations to all on this initiative.  So well-organised and user-friendly."

  • "Excellent to have this centre as a focus for Churchill's history - especially in relation to William Smith."

  • "A fine chance discovery"

  • "Beautiful restoration, very nicely done! Unexpected hive of information."

  • "Such a wonderful enterprise. The locality should be proud of it."

  • "A little gem I didn't know existed."

  • "Very good new interactive displays, very comprehensive."

  • "Lovely spot, so grateful this part of the old church was saved."

  • "A fascinating visit. William Smith was a wonderful man! "

  • "Fantastic, absolutely first class. Most interesting and informative."

  • "A fascinating display in a very beautiful setting."

  • "Beautiful setting, very peaceful & informative"

  • "Why haven't we been here earlier? We shall certainly return!"