In a world where many seem rather quick to suggest their map is ‘the first to show…’ it’s refreshing to be able to show actual firsts from the world of cartography that exhibit good design. English geologist William Smith is credited as the first to have created a nationwide geological map. Smith’s legacy is in the first ever map to collate a full geological record of a whole country into a single map.
Smith’s map is perhaps also an early marker for that most current trend in digital map-making – the mashup of third-party basemaps and some sort of overlay. He uses conventional symbols to show urban and rural areas, roads, tramways and collieries and mines. The geology itself is applied over the top and all hand-drawn using a range of colours to denote the different rock types. One of Smith’s approaches was to use the fossil record as a way of establishing the strata as opposed to simply rock composition. His map was more accurate as a result. Indeed, the map Smith created is not far off the modern geological map of England and Wales at this scale illustrating just how accurate he had managed to make his map.
The map was made in a range of formats: on sheets, or canvas or mounted on rollers. In total the map measures approximately 8 feet tall by 6 feet wide. He oversaw the hand-colouring of each of ~400 maps and each is numbered and signed.
It’s possible Smith could also claim to have made a map with one of the longest titles. The full title is: A delineation of the strata of England and Wales with part of Scotland: exhibiting the collieries and mines, the marshes and fen lands originally overflowed by the sea, and the varieties of soil according to the variations in the substrata, illustrated by the most descriptive names.
A fantastic cartographic first in both the quality of the surveying and the accuracy of the resulting work, but also for the beauty and richness of the cartographic depiction. In all ways, this map underpins much of what has subsequently been made regarding geological cartography.