William Smith Bicentenary Field Trip

Save this PDF as:

Size: px
Start display at page:

Download "William Smith Bicentenary Field Trip"


1 William Smith Bicentenary Celebrations 2015 School of Earth Sciences William Smith Bicentenary Field Trip Print-safe Field Guide The masterpiece - First geological map produced by William Smith in 1815 William Smith s Field Guide Mearns Paulton Rugbourne House Midford Aqueduct Tucking Mill Somerset Coal Canal

2 William Smith Bicentenary Celebrations 2015 Acknowledgement Warmest gratitude is hereby extended to the following who contributed in this field guide: Prof Jon Blundy, Ms Claudia Hildebrandt and Dr Lisa Hill, the supervisors, for the unwavering guidance and support; Mr Rodney Harris, the local artist, for the shared illustrative materials and maps; Joseph Larkin and Chee Hee Chia, for their combined efforts on compiling information, web design, public communication and promoting Smith Bicentenary via public lectures, posters and a field guide to Smith s life and work within the cradle of geology School of Earth Sciences University of Bristol Any queries please contact us at 2

3 Contents Acknowledgement 3 Introduction 4 Setting the scene 5 Rugbourne House 6 Mearns 7 Paulton Colliery 8 Midford Aqueduct 9 Tucking Mill 10 Somerset Coal Canal & Dundas Aqueduct 11 3

4 Introduction English geologist and surveyor William Smith published the first edition of his Geological Map of England and Wales in years later, we celebrate the bicentenary of this incredible work, which revolutionised our scientific understanding of the rocks beneath us, and contributed enormously to the economic development of Britain. William Smith by Thomas Anthony Dean, published 1837 The Somersetshire Coal Canal was built between 1795 and 1805, to enable ease of transit of the coal mined from Somerset collieries into the rest of Britain. Before the canal, the only available transport was by cart far less efficient, especially given the disorganisation of rural country roads at the time. The effect of the coal canal was huge on the county, and for the south west in general. The availability of Somerset coal in industrial centres like London greatly increased, thereby bringing huge amounts of money into the area and allowing the Somerset collieries to compete economically with other strong mining regions such as Wales. Smith s work on his map began here in Somerset whilst he worked for the canal, he found and named a huge number of rock types, like the Cornbrash. Not only did his work here feed directly into the progress and success of the coal canal, but also into his personal work. This included a large-scale geological map of the area in 1799, and of course his 1815 masterpiece. The field trip follows a route from west to east, generally following the collieries of the Paulton branch of the canal. This path winds through many places of interest, including places of residence and work for Smith, and key portions of the canal. It is our hope that you find the trip fascinating, for the history it presents and for the insight into the life of William Smith. 4

5 Setting the Scene This field guide is going to visit six main locations of interest of the life and work of William Smith within the cradle of geology i.e. the Somerset-Bath region. We observed the birth of modern geology as an applied science over his stay at Mearns, Rugbourne Farm, Paulton Colliery and Tucking Mill; ultimately espoused the knowledge in the construction of Midford Aqueduct and Somerset Coal Canal which caused a spark in the coalmining history. Smith, referred to as the Father of English Geology, came to Somerset in October 1791 at the age of twenty two. He had been recruited to begin a ground survey of an estate near High Littleton and underground surveys at Mearns Colliery. He was the first person to observe the significance of organised fossils in uniformly dipping strata and presented them in a stratigraphic table. His discoveries led to the systematic exploration of Somerset Coal between 1793 and Henceforth, his work helped us better understand the formations of strata and also revolutionized the ways we explore natural resources. Brownish grey mudstone, fissile found at the old tip. Radstock Group of Upper Coal Measures. This guide is ideal for a trip of maximum 8 people by car or up to 10 cyclists. The whole trip may consume about half a day with complete guide on the directions. 5

6 Rugbourne House (ST ) Follow the A37 south out of Bristol, travelling through Pensford. South of Pensford is a roundabout leading onto the A368 to the east, take this turning and then the next right along a country lane. Follow this, taking the next left onto King Lane. Follow King Lane east, continuing along it as it turns into Flatts Lane. Take a right onto the A39. Follow the A39 south through High Littleton High Street. Take a left onto Timsbury Road. Follow this for around 300m, until you reach Bungay s Hill on your left, a small parking area next to a children s play area. This is a good place to leave your car. Walk down to the road and carefully follow along the verge. On the left, buried in the hedgerow, is a sign pointing to Rugbourne Farm, where Smith lived. At the age of eighteen, Smith entered the office of Edward Webb as an assistant, who was a land surveyor and a civil engineer of Stow-on-the- Wold. Smith was instructed to conduct a survey about a month later by Lady Elizabeth Jones, who had inherited the ladyship of High Littleton upon the death of Mary Jones on 13th September which included 396 acres of land and property. One such property was formerly known as Rugbourne Manor. It still stands today on Rugbourne Farm, a seventeenth century house built on the Upper Coal Series with nearby Trias and Lias clays. Smith lodged at Rugbourne with Cornelius Harris, a tenant farmer working at Lady Jones estate, from In a manuscript diary quoted by Cox (1941) Smith recorded that he resided in part of the large old manor house belonging to Lady Jones, called Rugburn. It was when occupied by a farmer who lodged and boarded me for half a guinea a week and kept my horse for half a crown a week. During these years, he first recognised the fundamental truths of stratigraphy. His habit of observing the position and succession of strata lead to the discoveries which now are taken for granted in the science of geology. If Somerset and Bath are the cradle of geology, Rugbourne is its birthplace. 1 6

7 Mearns (ST ) The map that changed the world - the very first piece of puzzle perhaps began here at Mearns two centuries ago. 2 Subsequently Smith made a detailed survey of In May 1783, eight partners, including Jacob Mogg, John Crang, William Savage, Mary Jones of Stowey, were leased by Lady Jones, to set a shaft in Mearns for coal mining. In October 1791, at the age of 22, Smith came to Somerset. As an assistant to Edward Webb, he was entrusted with the task of surveying Lady Elizabeth Jones estate whom was Webb s client. Mearns Colliery and a map of the tithing of High Littleton, in 1792 and 1793, respectively. Mearns Pit was considered modest in relation to coal production over the extent of its workings, with a daily output reckoned at only about 20 tons. The pit became unsustainable and eventually closed in Follow the red path from Rugbourne House (A) in the south. Keep to the dirt track until you reach the northernmost field, where you must keep to the verge. Smith was particularly interested in recording dip directions of coals using two types of compass dials. He found that the coal seams at Mearns of Radstock group dipped east wit a bearing of N21 E. A herd of cattle make their home here, often keeping a wary eye on avid geologists investigating the colliery pit. Along with abundant slag, you may find pieces of fossilised plant matter with distinct woody textures. In the northern-most portion of this field on the right is a turn style, leading into the field containing the Mearns Colliery pit (B). 7

8 Paulton Colliery (ST ) Old tip From the Bungay Hill parking spot, follow the road along east to past Rugbourne house, turning right onto Broom Hill Lane. Follow Broom Hill Lane until you can turn left onto Goosard Lane. Immediately on your left is a convenient place to park, next to a fenced field. Follow Goosard Lane along on foot, taking care of traffic, until you reach the Paulton Sewage Treatment Works. The path leading into the treatment works will lead you, on your left, to a path leading into the wooded area and along the Cam Brook. Note the signpost which details some of the importance of the site as a historical colliery. Yellow line represents Cam Brook, green path is the recommended route at this site. Route will lead past many disused effluent pipes feeding into the brook, a bridged dated back to the colliery, and an old pit home to many interesting geological specimens. Paulton colliery is an important archaeological site - it is the site of Paulton Foundry, the only major foundry in the coalfield. Here stood the terminal basin of the northern arm of the Somersetshire Coal Canal, with Paulton Engine Colliery as the earliest pit after Mearns in this part of the coalfield. The colliery was working in 1791, when Smith arrived at Rugbourne. Paulton Engine, reputedly the first Newcomen steam pumping engine in Somerset was erected here in 1750, with one of two shafts capable of lifting water from 609 feet below ground surface. The Lower Engine Colliery was subsequently repurposed as a council tip and lies buried within the grounds of a private house. Whilst a modern sewage plant stands today on the Upper Engine Colliery, with a large spoil heap lies at the foot of the valley. In his surveys, he observed the various strata from chalk to coal always occurred in a predictable order of succession. His discovery earned him a fine reputation as a civil engineer and geological surveyor, as well as overhauling the exploration of coal. 3 8

9 Midford Aqueduct (ST ) The Hope and Anchor pub presents a great opportunity for a break in the field trip. It s well situated and their car park is one of the few places nearby where you can leave your vehicle whilst you explore Midford. Head east and south along Goosard Lane as it turns into Bristol Road. Follow this south into Paulton and take a left onto Bath Road. Follow this road east. It will become Weekesley Lane once you ve passed through Radford, and Tunley Hill once you ve passed through Camerton. Through Tunley, follow Tunley Road, which changes into Roman Road as you follow the road north east. Once into Odd Down, take a left onto Frome Road, which should be followed until you can take a right on the roundabout onto Midford Road, on the B3110. Follow Midford Road until you reach Midford, best identified by the Hope and Anchor pub, which has a car park behind it. From the Hope and Anchor car park, cross the road and just to the east of the viaduct is a footpath leading below road level. Follow this along for around 150m until you reach a field, which contains the Midford Aqueduct. It is very difficult to reach the aqueduct without climbing over a barbed wire fence. Also take note of the electrified fences containing the ponies in the western field. Midford aqueduct, a three arch aqueduct is referred to as the most significant architectural structure on the Somerset Coal Canal. It served a transit for coal transport connecting the canal with tramways from other mines. Constructed in a Palladian style from Bath stone ashlar, the Midford aqueduct was opened in It carried the Radstock branch of the canal across Cam Brook, arriving at the junction between Radstock and Paulton branches. 4 The Radstock branch of the canal was never fully completed and a tramway was used instead to transport coal from Radstock mines to a tram shipment point by the Midford Aqueduct. 9

10 Tucking Mill (ST ) Tucking Mill House was home to William Smith between 1798 and During this time, he contributed a great deal to the Somerset Coal Canal. Follow Midford Road back west, taking the first right onto Tucking Hill Lane. Follow this along until you pass a white house with a plaque on the outer wall. Parking nearby may be challenging in larger groups, but it should be possible to pull up to the roadside and still allow traffic past. Tucking Mill earned its name from the mill which was once sited there; tucking, or fulling, cloth is the process by which it is thickened. Fuller s Earth, a local clay-rich rock, was used extensively in this process also, hence its namesake. Smith purchased the site in 1798, long after the mill was no longer in use. The mill was repurposed to cut stone slabs for selling in the London marketplace but Smith s money-making plan failed and he was sent to debtor s prison for 10 weeks, after which time he sold the cottage and had to leave the site. This site is misleading the house which has the famous Here Lived William Smith plaque is now believed to be in the wrong location. A little further up the road on the same side is another house, built of Bath Stone, which is suspected to be the true Smith residence. Just beyond this house is a footpath leading into Tucking Mill Wood. This is a pleasant walk, which follows the route of the tramway constructed by Smith during his time here. This tramway carried stone from the Kingham Wood quarry to his mill. There is also a large pond used for fishing this was built by Smith as well during his time at the site. 5 10

11 Somerset Coal Canal & Dundas Aqueduct (ST ) Just east of Monkton Combe is the Bath and Dundas Canal Company, which today is a bath and bicycle rental business which uses the relict canals to berth canal boats. 200 years ago this canal would have been a bustling hub of coal canal boats travelling from west, from the Paulton collieries, to east, across the Dundas Aqueduct. Once connected to the Kennet and Avon canal, the Somerset coal would begin its journey across the country to supply an industrialising England with fundamental resources. 6 It is about 7 mins drive from Tucking Mill head northeast on Tucking Mill Lane. Take the right exit onto Church Lane. Follow this along you will pass Monkton Combe School, and about 200 m ahead, turn right onto Brassknocker Hill. Once it comes to a junction, turn right onto Warminster Road (A36) towards Limpley Stoke. After the turn, follow the left exit in the immediate 10 m ahead, onto Lower Limpley Stoke. You will now see a signage of the Canal Visitor Centre & Dundas Aqueduct, pointing left. Through this, you may park your vehicle safe in a public carpark. William Smith played an enormous role in the growth and completion of the Somerset Coal Canal. In many ways this connection between the Somerset and Kennet and Avon canals represents the culmination of Smith s work, which redefined the economic landscape of south west England. A walk along the canal from the Angelfish café to the Dundas Aqueduct showcases the beauty of the area, as well as the incredible and long-lived architecture. A multitude of moored canal boats one of which doubles as an ice cream shop sit by its edge, and the area is also well known for its wildlife, including herons, kingfishers, ducks and swans. The Angelfish café is also home to a small visitors centre, which is certainly worth a visit. The Dundas Aqueduct itself was finished in 1801 and opened in It was named after Charles Dundas, the first chairman of the Kennet and Avon Canal Company. It was closed in 1954 due to developing leaks and damage, but in 1984 was reopened after being relined and restored. It is also famously home to a colony of bats, which reside beneath its arch. 11