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The water-related work of William Smith (1769–1839)

H. S. Torrens
H. S. Torrens
Lower Mill Cottage, Furnace Lane, Madeley, Crewe CW3 9EU, UKUniversity of Keele ST5 5BG, UK
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January 01, 2004


In 1797 Smith recorded his first known ‘Order of Strata’. This was based on his work as a land, colliery and canal surveyor around Bath, Somerset. It already shows a clear awareness of the occurrence of spring lines (especially in the Fuller’s Earth, soon to cause such problems in the construction of the Somerset Coal Canal). In his better known June 1799 version, Smith much extended this, with a new third column showing springs, now tabulated for five of his 23 strata. Smith thus had a keen awareness of both the importance of, and the problems raised by, how water was, or was not, retained in rocks and how it was released at stratigraphically controlled spring lines. This paper briefly reviews five of his involvements with ‘water-related’ geology. The first was as canal engineer. Here one of the two branches of his first canal later had to be abandoned because it could not be made to retain water where it passed over the Dolomitic Conglomerate. The second was as a land drainer. This he first attempted at Camerton in about 1796. This skill brought him most of his early employments after his dismissal from canal work in June 1799. Third, Smith was next a significant exponent of the art of creating water meadows, particularly in Bedfordshire and Norfolk. Smith was active next in a fourth field, erecting sea defences along the east coast of England. Finally he was often consulted on how to find or control new water supplies, as at Swindon or Scarborough. It was this last work which used his stratigraphic skills to their fullest extent.

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Geological Society, London, Special Publications

200 Years of British Hydrogeology

J. D. Mather
J. D. Mather
University of London, UK
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Geological Society of London
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Publication date:
January 01, 2004




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