The number of groundwater specialists working in the UK or from a UK base is now estimated to significantly exceed 1000. This is at least a 60-fold increase over the 60 year period since the enactment of the legislation, in the form of the 1945 Water Act, that initiated a quantitative approach to groundwater management in the UK. Jack Ineson was the key initial influence in that process. Although the science that has been developed and the schemes and activities that have been undertaken over the period have been well documented, there has been no analysis in organizational and professional terms since the early 1990s. This review addresses that gap and attempts to assess critically, in the context of contemporary groundwater issues, what has been achieved by the profession in this period of rapid growth and how well it is equipped to deal with future challenges. Over the period not only has hydrogeology become a mainstream branch of the geosciences but groundwater studies have become recognized as a key component in the understanding and management of the natural environment. Many complementary disciplines in physical, biological and social science are now engaged in work on groundwater. The subject is much better understood both among policy makers and the general public, and its profile looks set to be raised with the heightened pressures from climate change on interactions between land and water.