1914 Strahan promoted Director - Geological Survey of Great Britain (by E.B. Bailey)

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From: Bailey, Sir Edward. Geological Survey of Great Britain. London: Thomas Murby, 1952.
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Figure 32 Composition of bauxitic and ordinary fireclays. (Quoted from Wilson, Ayrshire Bauxitic Clay Mem., 1922, p. 7.)

1914 Strahan promoted Director[edit]

Aubrey Strahan followed Teall on the 6th of January, 1914. His record of fieldwork, administration and publication furnished a fitting guarantee of competence. Lamplugh succeeded him as Assistant Director for England and Wales, with Gibson, Barrow and Cantrill (promoted to fill Lamplugh's place) as Director Geologists. Flett remained Assistant Director for Scotland, with Clough and Hinxman as District Geologists.

Pollard had retired as Chemist (ranking geologist) in 1913. It was necessary for the Survey to have at least one chemist at work all the time in its own laboratories on its own specialised problems ; and yet it was difficult to offer such a one proper prospects of pecuniary advancement. The dilemma was circumvented in 1914 by the seconding of a chemist from the Government Laboratory, an organisation concerned with chemical work and analyses required by Government Departments. The procedure proved satisfactory ; and, ever since, the Survey laboratories have been manned by one or two chemists drawn from this source. Such collaboration became all the more interesting in after years, when the newly formed Department of Scientific and Industrial Research absorbed the Geological Survey, but not the Government Laboratory, whose normal function involves comparatively little research.

First War Directorate[edit]

At the start of Strahan's term of office it seemed as if he would have little more to do than persevere on the lines laid down by his predecessor, painfully conscious that with the limited staff available the completion of the primary six-inch survey of Britain lay far below his horizon. Outbreak of war on the 4th August, 1914, sank the accomplishment of this primary six-inch survey still further out of sight.

The 1914 War was a comparatively happy one for juniors on the staff, with very little talk of reserved occupations. By the end of 1914 six Geologists had been allowed to join the army, with corresponding numbers from Assistants, Draughtsmen and other ranks. Before long these six Geologists were increased to fourteen, of whom four presently came to be employed on geological tasks, such as water supply, on the Western and Gallipoli Fronts. Among them, W. B. R. King, today Sedgwick Professor at Cambridge, was attached to the Engineer-in-Chief at General Headquarters in the West. He was so well remembered by brother officers that the Second War brought an immediate call for a renewal of his association. So now he can look back on two tours of duty as Geologist to the Army during his country's recent major struggles for existence.

The 1914 War was less expected than that of 1939. The Survey did not have war plans laid in advance, and had to discover by experience what was required of it. There was no paper famine, so that Annual Reports and Summaries of Progress appeared much as in peace-time ; and we can follow in them to some extent the course of events. A few normal sheet memoirs already in hand were published ; but they had to appear without the maps which they purported to describe —the Ordnance Survey was far too busy to supply the deficiency. Thus Teall's rule of simultaneous appearance of memoir and map was temporarily broken, under circumstances never contemplated by its author. Two County Water Supply memoirs were also produced. One of them, on Nottinghamshire, was prepared by Lamplugh and Bernard Smith. Nottinghamshire, like Kent, drinks from underground. It does so, however, not because of the rarity of its streams, but because of their prevailing dirtiness. The other water memoir covered Essex, and was written by Whitaker and J. C. Thresh, the latter for many years County Medical Officer of Health.

Special war publications[edit]

The first war-inspired publication of the Survey appeared in 1914, a useful twopenny pamphlet entitled: Sources of remporary Water Supply in the South of England and the Neighbouring Parts of the Continent. It followed naturally on unpublished Notes furnished to the Army telling how to obtain drinking water at short notice from the Chalk and Tertiary strata of the Western Front. Another early war publication, put through under Survey guidance, was a geological map of Belgium, on the scale of 1:160,000—based, of course, on official Belgian sources.

Many inquiries were coming in at the time in regard to minerals. These were at the start especially concerned with localities for sand suitable for glass manufacture, since delivery of glass sand from the Continent had been immediately upset. Thus the Survey's attention came to be restricted more and more to economic subjects, with the coasts of Britain as the usual geographical limit. In spite of this a certain amount of mapping and description of districts already in hand at the declaration of war did linger on, largely to minimise loss of unpublished pre-war results in case authors did not return after doing their bit. Strangely enough this precaution proved unnecessary. There were no fatal casualties, though six out of the fourteen Geologists, turned soldiers, were wounded in action. In one direction the war of course made little difference. It was still necessary, so far as possible, to watch deep bores put down in search of minerals, water and, presently, oil.

In 1915, with Barrow's retirement at the age of 62, the London and South-Eastern district was definitely suspended, and a series of Special Reports on the Mineral Resources of Great Britain was commenced. These Reports soon made subject, rather than locality, the guide to Survey war-time organisation. Thus the Summary of Progress for 1916 is essentially given over to refractories; and that for 1917, to reserves of iron ore.

The Special Reports constitute Strahan's outstanding achievement as Director. They are a modern Domesday Book dealing with the country's resources of minerals, other than coal. They were published as volumes numbered according to order of issue. In 1915 the first three appeared: 1, Tungsten and Manganese Ores; 2, Barytes and Witherite ; and 3, Gypsum and Anhyrite. By 1918 seven had materialised, and for five of these second editions had been issued. Their preparation was continued after peace returned, and in the 1936 List of Memoirs, etc., of the Geological Survey the Special Reports total thirty-one, with, in nine cases, second or third editions.

All remaining members of staff, supplemented by temporary recruits from the Universities, threw themselves wholeheartedly into the preparation of the Special Reports. The incentive, as Strahan tells us, was not only the 'shortage of some materials as a result of the War,' but also an expectation of ' fuller utilisation of home-sources after the War.' Compilation was in many cases rushed, and authors had sometimes to be content with a much lower standard of inquiry than that to which they were accustomed ; but all in all the series is infinitely preferable to the scattered literature with yawning gaps that previously existed. Moreover, the Reports were drawn up by geologists who visited the localities at a time when many temporary wartime excavations were still available for inspection, or regarding which it was at least possible to gather first-hand information that would otherwise have been lost. Apart altogether from this last consideration, it is probably right to say that the production of these Special Reports would have constituted a justifiable short-term deviation from the Survey's normal objective, even if it had been undertaken in peace time.

Here it seems apposite to notice in passing two entirely new economic developments of the war period that arose out of Survey discoveries:—

(i) Raasay Ironstone.—A Liassic ironstone had been discovered by Woodward in 1893 in the course of routine geological survey in the Hebrides. As a result its economic possibilities had been investigated by a Scottish iron-master, Wallace Thorneycroft, starting in 1909. During the war the ore was extensively wrought by German prisoners and

(2) Ayrshire Bauxitic Clay.—A specially valuable refractory of lateritic origin occurs at the weathered top of a series of basalt lavas of Millstone Grit age in Ayrshire. E. M. Anderson first established its importance in 1915, when he had a sample analysed which contained 47.6 per cent. alumina. G. V. Wilson soon succeeded in interesting industrialists ; and exploitation was started in 1917, to be continued ever since.

Following quick upon the initiation of the Special Reports came another experiment in presentation, entitled The Economic Geology of the Central Coalfield of Scotland. The first of nine areal parts was issued in 1916, and has provided a pattern for all subsequent Scottish coalfield publication. The unit selected for description in each part is not a whole coalfield or a one-inch map, but a group of adjacent six-inch maps. Attention throughout is focused upon economic subjects, viewed, of course, in relation to their geological setting. This treatment has proved extremely convenient.

Oil in Britain[edit]

A novel geological exploration of Britain was started in 1918 as a result of perilously low reserves of oil held by the navy at certain critical stages of the War. On the i5th October the first drilling ever undertaken in this country in search of free oil was begun under the provisions of the Defence of the Realm Act.

Lord Cowdray, head of an oil company called Messrs. Pearson and Sons, Ltd., had previously offered to place his geological staff at the Government's disposal, free of all charge ; but the venture was eventually financed by a grant of ZI,000,000 voted by Parliament. Lord Cowdray's firm was appointed Petroleum Development Managers acting for a newly constituted Mineral Oil Production Department of the Ministry of Munitions. (In May, 1919, this department was handed over to H.M. Petroleum Executive, later called the Petroleum Department of the Board of Trade.)

The first Petroleum (Production) Act was passed in November, 1918, and provided for compulsory notification to the Director of the Geological Survey of intention to sink a shaft or bore-hole for petroleum, and for free access for officers of the Geological Survey to the site of any such shaft or bore during operation, and to specimens and journals relating thereto.

The Geological Survey did not undertake the responsibility of search ; but its published maps and memoirs and unpublished records, together with assistance in such matters as the determination of fossils, have been cordially ael4nowledged by the companies concerned. After the exhaustion of the first million pounds activity waited for the passing of a second Petroleum (Production) Act, 1934, which nationalised any oil that might be discovered, thus immensely simplifying the legal position. Under it companies with approved resources can secure from the Petroleum Department exploration rights, coupled with duties, covering some specified area.

The prospect of finding oil in Britain, in amount that would repay costs, has always seemed to Survey geologists remote, or at best highly speculative. It is in the day's work for a powerful oil company to include in its exploration programme a certain proportion of highly speculative areas in the expectation that profit on one or other will more than recompense loss on the remainder. The shareholders in the companies which have tried their luck in Britain have no cause for complaint, even though altogether only one field of minor importance— Eakring in Nottinghamshire, very welcome in the Second World War—has been discovered. If the taxpayers of Britain had had to foot the bill, they might have felt distinctly worried.

Finally, it must be realised that exploration for oil is not only very expensive, but is also dependent—apart from wild cat gambling—upon a combination of extremely high technical skills. Geology and geophysics are very important, and so also are engineering, chemistry and the handling of labour. The efficiency of the companies concerned has won universal admiration ; and the deep bores put down in many parts of the country have vastly extended our knowledge of the underground geology of Britain. It is possible that this extension of knowledge, which comes as a windfall to the State, may eventually repay the monetary cost incurred—though the benefit is not likely to accrue to the companies concerned.

Geophysics has been mentioned above. Oil companies, especially, have utilised various developments of this science, which enable a prospector to test the properties of what lies out of sight beneath his feet through the aid of magnetism, electricity, gravity or artificial earthquakes. The findings are often very hard and uncertain to interpret ; but they do sometimes furnish suggestions even where geology, unaided, has frankly to admit incompetence. The recognised procedure is to couple geophysical exploration with boring, so that suggestions can be tested at once if they seem to point in a favourable direction. The Geological Survey took a first short wartime step towards use of geophysics in 1917. It cooperated with an Iron Ore Committee of the Conjoint Scientific Societies in an investigation of magnetic anomalies, known since 189o, near Melton Mowbray and Irthlingborough further south. The result was inconclusive. A. H. Cox temporarily attached to the Survey, suggested that the anomalies were due to basic dykes or sills such as are known in the Leicestershire coalfields ; but, as we shall presently see, the matter was reinvestigated during Flett's directorate and a somewhat different interpretation advanced.

Various items[edit]

From March, 1916, the Museum at Jermyn Street was closed to the general public on account of danger from air raids. It remained shut until the 1st April, 1919, though meanwhile it functioned continuously as part of the inquiry service maintained by the Survey. Among the many problems attacked, one of the most interesting fell to H. H. Thomas. It concerned the quality of quartz employed on account of its piedzo-electric properties in submarine detectors.

Strahan, at the conclusion of hostilities on the nth November, 1918, published in his Summary of Progress for the year a list of over seventy important services rendered to other Government Departments arising out of the War. It makes interesting and instructive reading, though definitely of a modest character.

It will be readily understood that during the war years pure science made little appeal, except as regards its emergency applications. Many, however, remember how the intensive working of a glass sand of Cretaceous age near Leighton Buzzard in Hertfordshire helped to fan the embers of an important, though unnecessarily heated, controversy beitlyeen two Survey colleagues. The affair was not confined to the Strahan period (1914 to 1920). In fact it had its origin as far back in 1903 and continues today. It was started by a paper of Lamplugh's describing a small patch of fossiliferous limestone exposed in one of the Leighton Buzzard pits. The fauna of this limestone and of adjacent beds suggested to Kitchin that the succession had been tampered with by glacial disturbance. This interpretation he publicly announced in 1920. Lamplugh, however, disagreed, and said so plainly and at great length in 1922. At the time most onlookers sided with Kitchin ; but fresh fossil finds, after the death of both protagonists, have produced a strong reaction. When fully published the story should prove of great educational value to geologists.

Clough killed[edit]

In retrospect one event in the Survey's First War Directorate stands out for me beyond all others. In 1916, in the days of the Somme carnage, Clough, while undertaking official work along a Scottish railway line, was caught unaware by a shunting wagon. It passed across his legs above the knees. When friends rushed to his assistance he was able to do little more than assure them that it was not the engine driver's fault. Thus passed one of the greatest, and at the same time least assuming, of Survey men.

The vacancies left by Barrow's retirement and Clough's death were not filled till 1919, when, with Hinxman also gone on the score of his 64 years, E. B. Bailey, R. G. Carruthers and M. Macgregor were promoted District Geologists. The two former were among the returned combatants. Macgregor, much to his sorrow, had failed repeatedly on medical grounds when he offered himself for service in the Army. He had spent his time at home to good purpose, and by now had established himself as the leading authority on the Scottish coalfields. Carruthers went to London ; the other two remained in Scotland.

Strahan retires[edit]

Sir Aubrey Strahan, as he had become in 1919, retired on the 20th July, 1920. All acknowledge that he had met the abnormal conditions of his term in high office with conspicuous success. In spite of greatly reduced staff he had supplied the fighting forces, industry and commerce with a . wonderful amount of information in acceptable form. He had thus greatly widened the contacts of the Survey in the world of practical affairs. He was able in after years to see this valuable relationship maintained and extended. He died in 1928.

Department of Scientific and Industrial Research[edit]

In May, 1915, the President of the Board of Education presented to Parliament a scheme for official organisation and development of scientific and industrial research in fields other than medicine and agriculture. A Committee of the Privy Council was established in July of the same year, together with an Advisory Council composed of leading scientists and industrialists, particularly those prominently concerned with industrial research. By December, 1916, a new Department of State had been instituted, entitled the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. A Fuel Research Board was appointed in 1917, and an experimental Station was established at Greenwich to investigate the fuel characteristics of coal and oil of all descriptions. Thus at last it became possible to develop on a becoming scale and with every promise of continuity the coal-quality researches which had been initiated by the Geological Survey under De la Beche and revived under Teall.

A further important stage was reached on the 1st April, 1918, when the National Physical Laboratory was transferred to the care of D.S.I.R. It was considered that the activities of this Laboratory were of a type unlikely to be undertaken by any combination of interests of lower denomination than the State.

Meanwhile arrangements were made to encourage the start and maintenance of other specialised bodies known as Cooperative Research Associations. These are self-governing bodies formed to serve the needs of various industries on a national basis. They are financed mainly by the industries thae;nselves, but receive grants from the Department, related in amount to the money thus raised. In addition, D.S.I.R. support was to be given to individual workers engaged on approved objectives, and towards the training as research-workers of post-graduate students.

Fuel Research and the National Physical Laboratory were soon joined by other research institutes which, unlike the Research Associations just mentioned, were directly responsible to D.S.I.R. These in all cases but one were, like Fuel Research, special creations. The exception was the veteran Geological Survey, which on the 1st November, 1919, was handed over to D.S.I.R., thus severing a connection with the Board of Education that dated back to 1856 in Murchison's regime.

From all this it will be seen that the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research soon came very near to being a resurrection of De la Beche's comprehensive Geological Survey, except that its funds were vastly bigger and its educacational functions much more severely canalised. It had of course assumed another name ; and thus it escaped from De la Beche's impossible conception that the best co-ordinator of such a body would always be found in the person of a geologist. D.S.I.R. may not yet have recaptured the scientific prestige which the Geological Survey enjoyed in the days, say, of Huxley and Hooker, Stokes and Murchison ; but there is no reason to despair.

The transfer of the Geological Survey to D.S.I.R. was made in conformity with recommendations of two committees of the Ministry of Reconstruction. One of these committees dealt with Coal Conservation ; and it advanced two additional suggestions affecting the Survey:

  1. Completion of the primary six-inch survey of all coalfields.
  2. Compulsory notification and right of examination of all bores and sinkings expected to reach a depth of 100ft. or more.

To implement, as quickly as possible, the first of these two proposals and to facilitate continuous contact with mining operations for subjects other than coal, the Geological Survey Board (appointed by the Lord President) asked for and obtained a substantial increase of staff for the Survey—of which we shall speak more fully in the sequel. As regards rights in relation to bores and sinkings, these were, as we have already seen, established for oil in 1918. In 1926 they were extended to cover minerals; and in 1945-46, water.

It is pleasant to acknowledge that the Geological Survey has received kind treatment from its youthful step-mother. Between the Survey and the Advisory Council there stands the Geological Survey Board, mentioned above, which with its specialist understanding has proved consistently helpful and never dictatorial. The Chairmen of this important body have been Sir Francis Grant Ogilvie, 1920-30 ; Sir Franklin Sibly, 1930-40; and Sir Arthur E. Trueman, 1940- .

Naturally enough the skies have not always remained entirely unclouded. While the Geological Survey readily agrees that economic areas should enjoy preferential treatment, it also realises that, like the Ordnance Survey, it has a national and international duty to produce and keep up to date a map of the country as a whole. Moreover, its science is much more observational and less experimental than those of other research institutes under D.S.I.R. Perhaps on this account it alone as yet has realised the value of maintaining a specialist museum. Some day perhaps a visitor to Building Research or Water Pollution may find inspiration in exhibits illustrative of past and present achievements, not to mention future aspirations.

The most serious difficulty that has attended the assimilation of the Geological Survey into the ranks of D.S.I.R. concerns the fixing of a limit beyond which expenses must be charged in return for services rendered—though, so far as I am aware, it only came to a head in the early years of the Second World War. It is clear, for instance, that the National Physical Laboratory must charge a fee if it undertakes to test the watches or thermometers of some manufacturing firm. The Geological Survey, however, is rather differently situated. It has depended for its success in large measure upon the active co-operation of the public. The greater part of the economic information which it co-ordinates in its maps and memoirs has been gratuitously supplied by mining corporations, industrialists, landlords, county and town councils, mining and water engineers, not to mention countless private individuals. It has also received many of its most valuable museum specimens on the same generous terms. In keeping with this, for over a hundred years, it has endeavoured to place its non-confidential information freely at the disposal of inquirers who ask for more than appears in its published (and priced) maps and memoirs. A reply to a question may in some cases amount to little more than a reference to, or an explanation of, an available publication ; but there is behind the Survey's maps and memoirs a wealth of accumulated data, which it would be absurd to attempt to print. Admittedly any inquiry takes time to answer, and many which reach the office concern trivialities—but even these latter often educate the staff as to what sort of information is wanted by the public. The more serious inquiries in peace time usually concern coal or water, and have come from professionals, frequently consultants. The Director holds himself responsible for encouraging this side of Survey activity, but always within limits. He cannot forget that his staff is, and ever will be, greatly in arrears in its routine attempt to cover the whole country with what can be accepted as satisfactory maps and memoirs.

Though anxious to be as little hampered as possible by ' repayment' practice, the Geological Survey recognises the value of such procedure in particular cases. For instance, it felt that it had gained when, in 1920, the pfinting of its maps by the Ordnance Survey came to be ranked as a ' repayment service.' The innovation, theoretically at any rate, simplified the planning of future publication, since there is still some truth in the old adage that he who pays the piper calls the tune.

In conclusion, it may be pointed out that, while the Geological Survey shares in the interests of all its comrades gathered under the D.S.I.R. banner, its closest contacts within the period covered by this booklet have been with those dedicated to the investigation of fuel, roads, building and water-pollution. Co-operation has been arranged. For instance, appropriate Geological Survey officers sit on the Coal Survey Committees of the Fuel Research Board set up in the various coalfields, while petrographical reports are furnished on road metal.