1935 Bernard Smith, 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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1935 Bernard Smith, Director[edit]

Bernard Smith was appointed Director in Flett's place, October, 1935. Dewey at the same time became Assistant Director for England and Wales, while Macgregor remained Assistant Director for Scotland. The officers of District Geologist rank were as follows:-

In England and Wales: Carruthers (Northumberland and Durham) ; Wright (Lancashire); T. H. Whitehead, promoted to replace Bromehead (Yorkshire) ; Eastwood (Cumberland and Forest of Dean) ; Din-ham (West Midlands and Cambridge); Bromehead, transferred to replace Dewey (Southern England).

In Scotland: Richey (Renfrew and Mallaig) ; Wilson (East Fife and Skye).

Petrographer, Phemister ; Palceontologist, Pringle ; Curator, McLintock.

As we have already seen, Edmunds, slightly before Flett retired, had been entrusted with preliminary work connected with the Inland Water-Survey Committee. Smith put Edmunds' duties on a permanent basis, thus establishing a very modest Water Unit. Edmunds ranked as Senior Geologist, and had an excellent Assistant assigned to his care in 1936.

A difficult time is likely to follow any great effort in war or peace. Flett's first task had been to bring back the Survey from fighting and advising to mapping and describing ; and at the same time to complete Strahan's Special Reports on Mineral Resources. Similarly Smith had to begin by returning to their normal duties fieldsmen who had been in large measure absorbed in the preparation of the New Museum ; and concurrently he had to finish Flett's Regional Handbooks, most of which had not as yet appeared in print.

Smith was admirably suited for his task. Like Ramsay, Geikie and Strahan, he had been a fieldsman during the whole of his career, starting at the bottom and working his way by stages to the top. He further resembled Strahan in having made a decisive mark in the economic field—in his case among the coal and hematite of Cumberland and in problems of underground water. His heart was in his work, and he told me in answer to congratulations that he had attained the ambition of his life—a good augury for the future.

There was, of course, no question of neglecting the Museum, which in its fresh glory was attracting twelve times as many visitors as had its predecessor in the days of its decrepitude. Attendance in 1936 passed the 255,00o mark. Obviously an increase in its proper staff was required. There was already an Assistant Librarian of Geologist rank. Now two additional Geologists were recruited for curatorial duties; and these were soon supplemented by an extremely valuable Guide Lecturer. This busy officer had all too little time and space to meet public demands. For instance, he found it difficult to cater for the needs of children without sacrificing those of other seekers after truth. A solution of this particular trouble was found through discussion with a liaison officer of the London County Council. Henceforward the Lecturer conducted parties of school masters and left to them the responsibility of dealing with the children.

The main new result of the 1935 field season came from Mallaig on the west coast of Inverness-shire, where Richey and Simpson found that current-bedding allows of the establishment of a time sequence through an immense thickness of Moine Schists—a most encouraging discovery. The investigation of the largest landslip in Britain, in Trotternish, Skye, is also worth recalling. As regards coal, Smith was able to report that by the close of 1935 work on the six-inch scale had at least been started in all the ,coalfields of Britain, except in the minor, very complicated area of Bristol and Somerset. Not only so, but in the great majority of these fields six-inch mapping had been carried to temporary completion on more than one occasion. In keeping with this, next year, 1936, saw a second revision undertaken of the six-inch mapping of the Mid-Lothian coalfield in Scotland.

A new and very useful publication was begun in 1935 with an issue of Economic Maps on the scale of i: 1,000,000. The first two examples were entitled the Coalfields and the Iron Ores of England and Wales. The scale, 1: 1,000,000, had already been adopted by the Ordnance Survey, on a basis of international agreement, for some of their own special maps ; so that the Geological Survey contributions fitted happily into an existing series. It was intended to follow with others on the same scale (Limestones appeared in 1937), and to include among them a geological map of England and Wales. An independent scheme was at the same time developed for an 'official geological map of Scotland on the scale of one inch to ten miles, or 1: 633,600. As we shall presently see, these plans underwent modification before they were carried very far.

Underground water[edit]

In regard to Underground Water an important change was made in consequence of association with the Inland Water Survey Committee. Hitherto the Geological Survey records had been filed (and the corresponding Water Supply memoirs written) with reference to counties. The choice had certain advantages for County and Rural District Councils and for County Officers of Health. It was also in keeping with the practice of the Ordnance Survey, only recently abandoned, of publishing their six-inch maps on a county basis—with independent setting of meridians and with blank paper outside the particular county boundary I As, however, the counties interlock in intricate fashion, there are many aspects of underground water resources which are sadly muddled by presentation within a county frame. Accordingly R. G. Hetherington, of the Ministry of Health, adopting a national outlook, urged the Geological Survey to discard their old system ; and this was willingly agreed. Two possibilities were thus opened up. Classification might in future be based on catchment areas or else upon Geological Survey maps.

In the country as a whole, surface waters are much more important than underground waters, and strong pressure was brought to bear on the Geological Survey to tabulate and present all water data in terms of catchment areas defined by surface form. Such a procedure is, of course, convenient for surface waters, since it agrees fairly closely with what may be called Nature's own habits. On the other hand, it has only a comparatively vague correspondence with the realities of underground sources, and Smith and Edmunds did yeoman service in refusing to be trapped once more in areas with intricate boundaries. Thus it was eventually admitted that the Geological Survey should tabulate and publish their underground data with reference to their straight-margined Geological Survey one-inch maps '(or quarter-inch maps for memoir purposes). At the same time, for the convenience of the statutory authorities known as Catchment Boards (one of which may be in charge of a group of natural catchment areas), the boundaries of officially defined catchment areas (simple or compound) have since been inserted on maps that accompany. Geological Survey water publications.


The value of the Geological Survey as an occasional source of trained personnel, even for extra-British studies, was once more demonstrated early in 1936. On this occasion the Royal Society, in collaboration with the Colonial Office, organised an expedition to Montserrat in the West Indies, to investigate a disquieting recrudescence of earthquakes and soufrieres. A. G. MacGregor, with wide experience of Scotland's extinct volcanoes, was selected as geologist, and C. F. Powell, not a Survey man, as seismologist.

Montserrat is a volcanic island on the same great arc as St. Vincent and Martinique, though 150 miles to the north of the latter. It has staged no eruption, other than solfataric, since its discovery by Columbus; but it was clear to MacGregor that it had once been the site of a devastating nuées ardente, accompanied by dome or spine extrusion of typical Pelean character. MacGregor noted marked porosity as characteristic of fragments in the nuées ardente deposits, especially pronounced in the case of certain cognate xenoliths enclosed in those fragments. His studies of this porosity led him to accept Anderson and Flett's conclusion that nuées ardentes generate fresh supplies of gas during their riotous travel—a vital element in the avalanche theory. On the other hand, from a letter in Nature, 1946, it is clear that he follows Lacroix in accepting co-operation of laterally directed blast in the production of the 1902 disaster of Mt. Pelee.

The end[edit]

Smith sat with Flett on the Royal Society Committee which originated the Montserrat expedition. He also, in the early summer of 1936, made himself familiar with the field work proceeding at home as far north as Mallaig. Then to the consternation of his friends he was quickly carried off by cancer of the stomach, dying on the 19th of August, 1936.