William Smith: The Father of English Geology
William Smith was born in Churchill on March 23rd, 1787. His father died when he was only seven years old. His mother remarried – his stepfather was the landlord of The Chequers village pub. In spite of the fact that he had received only an elementary education, William enlarged his knowledge by reading and study. He developed an interest in fossils found in the fields around his native Churchill.
In 1791 he went to Somerset and obtained employment in coal mining. He was commissioned to superintend the construction of a canal linking the mining area of Somerset to the Kennet and Avon Canal. His travels took him over much of England and he began to realise that various strata ran across the country in layers. He then set out to create a geological map of the country.
Two of his early maps are preserved in the Oxford University Museum and a third is in the possession of the London Geological Society. His portrait still hangs behind the presidential chair of the Society.
In 1891 a memorial to William Smith, ‘The Father of English Geology’, was erected in the village by the Earl of Ducie, using stones found in Sarsgrove Wood east of the village. The memorial stands at the top of Hastings Hill. For further information refer to Simon Winchester’s “The Map That Changed the World”.
On March 22nd 2015 the Churchill and Sarsden Heritage Centre, to commemorate the bicentenary of the publication of William Smith’s map of the geology of Great Britain, organised the unveiling of a memorial plaque marking his birthplace in the village . The ceremony was conducted by Hugh Torrens, Emeritus Professor at Keele University.