The historical background to Murchison's massive work of synthesis of 1839, The Silurian System, is considered with special reference to Shropshire, one of its most critical areas of investigation. The question of why there has always seemed to be such a great chronological gap between the onsets of industrialization and of geological investigations (subjects often thought to be intricately linked) is posed. Evidence is given for the considerable amount of pre-Murchisonian investigation of the geology in the area. It proves to be often of a notable quality, particularly after 1810 with new focus on the ordering of stratigraphical sequences. It becomes clear that Murchison was often unwilling to acknowledge properly his debts, whether factual or conceptual, to those who had gone before him. Murchison's work as a 'Silurian' historian proves of noticeably lower quality than his work as a stratigrapher.