Home is where you hang your hat: locations where the Survey has been based
|From: Wilson, H.E. Down to earth - one hundred and fifty years of the British Geological Survey. Edinburgh:Scottish Academic Press, 1985.|
|The text is derived from an 'orphan' work. BGS are committed to respecting the intellectual property rights of others. After extensive effort we are unable to trace the copyright holder of this work. Despite this, we would like to make this very important work on the history of BGS, written by a former member of staff of the Survey, available for researchers. If you are a rights holder and are concerned that you have found this work for which you have not granted permission please contact us with proof you are the rights holder.|
VI Home is where you hang your hat: locations where the Survey has been based
Though for his first few months as a salaried member of the Ordnance Survey De la Beche was presumably in the field in Devon, he lost no time in starting negotiations for a London base for his collections. Mr John Thackray has established that as early as July 1835 he was requesting that rooms be set aside for a 'museum' and on 10 August he was told that the Treasury had agreed that a collection should be formed under the aegis of the Board of Works. By 20 August T W Phillipps, another member of the Geological Society who was acting as his representative in London, was able to tell him that 'a house in Craig's Court is available and I have prepared for the receipt of packages'. By January 1836 he wrote to tell De la Beche that 'Craig's Court is safe under lock and key'. A month later De la Beche reported to Lord Duncannon that many specimens had been received and catalogued. Craig's Court is a cul-de-sac on the south side of Whitehall, about 100yds from Trafalgar Square. Whether No 6 still exists is doubtful but two little Georgian houses still stand among more modern buildings.
The new museum was greatly enhanced after 1838 by the acquisition of a large collection of building stones from all over Britain, collected by the Commissioners appointed to find the most suitable stone for the new Houses of Parliament. The story of this investigation — conducted by, among others, De la Beche, William Smith and the architect, Charles Barry, — makes it remarkable that Parliament continued to pay for the new Geological Survey. The stone chosen, from near Bolsover in Derbyshire, proved to be unavailable in sufficient quantity and the alternative suggested, from Anston near Mansfield, was so variable — and so badly quarried and inadequately inspected — that in 1861 yet another Commission was appointed to consider the 'decay of the stone of the new Palace of Westminster'. But the sharp practice of the quarry-masters of Anston did not deter De la Beche when, in 1849, he used Anston dolomite for his new museum in Jermyn Street with, one supposes, a good deal more quality control.
The Craig's Court Museum was opened to the public in 1841 with Richard Phillips as Curator. He was primarily a chemist appointed to make analyses of rocks and minerals, but under his aegis the museum grew rapidly and such was the public interest in it that a well-known publisher — John Murray — produced in 1843 An Account of the Museum of Economic Geology by Thomas Sopwith, a civil engineer and mining surveyor. This makes it clear that the museum was indeed practical — the main collection was of building stones, supplemented by exhibits of cements, tiles, pottery and other manufactured products, and by specimens of veins, lodes and other mineral deposits including a varied collection of ores from the Imperial Mining Institute of Russia.
In 1839, following a disastrous pit-flooding from old workings in Co. Durham, the government placed De la Beche in charge of the preservation of plans of abandoned mines and a Mining Records Office was established beside the Museum. This continued to be a part of the Director's responsibilities until 1883 when it was transferred to the Mines Department of the Home Office. After a decade the premises in Craig's Court were becoming hopelessly crowded and De la Beche who, through his influential contacts in the Geological Society of London, had access to the highest in the land, prepared a scheme for a new and larger museum on a site between Jermyn Street and Piccadilly, a few yards east of St James's Church. That a new and, at that time, tiny organisation could so rapidly establish itself in a prime location in central London is a measure of the times.
The middle years of the nineteenth century were a stimulating period for science in Britain. Under the aegis of Albert, the Prince Consort, the advancement of scientific knowledge and the dissemination of the results of research were regarded as of prime importance and the Prince, already planning the Great Exhibition of 1851, was an enthusiastic supporter of all plans to further these objectives.
Furthermore, the Geological Society of London consisted largely of men of influence — noblemen, landed gentry, members of Parliament, clergymen — for geology was a fashionable hobby at the time and, according to Flett, Sir Robert Peel, who was Prime Minister in the mid-1840s, was one of the strongest supporters of De la Beche's programmes. With this support, and the evident effectiveness of his organisation which had published twenty four one-inch geological maps in its first ten years, De la Beche got his new building started in 1848 and all was ready for the opening in 1851, by the Prince Consort, of The Museum of Practical Geology.
The grand ceremony on 12 May was described by Flett and Bailey as a 'brilliant' gathering, but a contribution to a subsequent gathering of the 'Royal Hammerers', the Survey geologists' dining club, gives a slightly different picture:
- …I sing the first night's opening of the Jermyn Street Museum
- The first night is a ticklish one and things won't go off straight,
- But having done the best one can we leave the rest to fate,
- And then no doubt in course of time, in months, perhaps in weeks
- We'll have such crowded houses as will warm the heart of Reeks
- We've long expected that we should, some time, become a night house
- But hardly thought cold science's halls would be a gay and light house
- They turned the gas on very strong — no stint or prohibition
- And made us, as I'm sure you'll own, a ghastly exhibition.
- We'd three policemen but of guests, I'm sad to say but few
- Not more than always will be found when there is something new
- We should have had great numbers more, of this I feel sure — very
- If you'd held out that they'd get — cold chicken and some sherry
- They walked about the galleries, saw fossils and some stone
- Then looked at gems and other things — and wished they'd stayed at home,
- Then came downstairs into the Hall where Hercules now seen is
- With all he's got — stout muscles — and — a rather smallish penis.
Trenham Reeks, mentioned in the first verse, was the Curator who had succeeded to that post only the previous day on the death of the first Curator, R Phillips. Of Hercules, more anon.
The Jermyn Street site, which corresponded to the present (1983) Simpson store, was long and narrow. Though it extended through to Piccadilly the main entrance to the Museum was, for some reason, in Jermyn Street. The frontage, according to a drawing in the Illustrated London News of 1 May 1851, was a severe Palladian building with a central door and two flanking windows and five windows on the first floor. The picture in Flett (1937) is of the Piccadilly frontage, with six first floor windows and six Normanesque arches at street level. A heavy overhanging cornice allowed plentiful carving of the controversial Anston stone.
Inside the entrance hall was a rather gloomy pillared expanse with a surprising number of busts and statues, including Hercules lurking on the left, and a few showcases. A flight of stairs on the right led to two galleries where most of the specimens on exhibition were located. The building also housed a new School of Mines and the Mining Record Office, as well as the home base for the Geological Survey — though at that time surveyors spent virtually all their time at their field stations. For the School of Mines, quarters were provided for Professors of Mining, Metallurgy, Geology, Chemistry and Natural History and, later, of Mechanical Science, who not only instructed students but lectured to working men in the evenings.
Though now no-one remembers the lecture-room, which apparently could, and did,hold audiences of six hundred, it appears to have been a steeply-tiered theatre in the middle of the building taking in the crypt and the 'map room' of later days. Flett records (p. 152) that it was converted into two rooms by the insertion of a floor in the early years of the twentieth century.
But the 'penny lectures' lasted from 1851 until the end of the century at least; an article in the Daily Mail of 1897 described them as popular — six lectures for sixpence — and referred to 'pennyworths of Science'. Some enrollment lists still exist, showing a wide range of occupations — numerous tailors, carmen, gilders, carvers, bag makers — and a total enrollment in one year of over eighteen hundred! The syllabus for 1851-2 read as follows:
|Why fossils are collected||Prof J W Jukes|
|The utility of geological maps||A C Ramsay|
|Mode of occurrence of metals in Nature||W W Smyth|
|On iron||J Percy|
|Photography||Prof R Hunt|
Apart from the penny lectures, admission to the Museum was usually free, but a verse in an otherwise unremarkable 'Royal Hammerers' song by Whitaker read 'It was not a Friday so admission was free', suggesting that Friday was reserved for the affluent.
As the staff numbers of the Survey increased, the available office , and laboratory space in Jermyn Street became very restrictive and adjoining houses were rented to provide more room. Reeks quotes a letter from Percy in the Mining Journal of 3 January 1880 which states that 'The Metallurgical Laboratory of the School is contiguous to the Museum on the east and includes the basement of a house …the upper part of which is devoted to the palaeontological staff of the Geological Survey'. Flett refers to a house on the west side of the Museum occupied by staff engaged in colouring and checking maps and, in the winter, by field staff. Later (p.152) he refers to the expiration of the lease of, presumably, this house and the building of a restaurant and business premises in the block between the Museum and St James's Church. 'Fortunately, it proved possible to secure the top flat of a portion of the new building for working rooms for Survey officers'. In this 'flat' not only Field staff but the Petrographer and the Chemical laboratory were installed.
From the 1860s pressure on the School of Mines to move to the new Science park, being developed on a green-field site at Exhibition Road, South Kensington with the proceeds of the Great Exhibition of 1851, increased and though Murchison with his enormous prestige was able to hold back the tide, the inevitable move to new and spacious accommodation began after his death. In 1872 the Departments of Chemistry, Physics and Natural History moved to South Kensington and in 1877, Geology: later in 1880 Metallurgy was moved too, in spite of the strong objections of Percy, the Professor concerned, who resigned rather than shift. The Professor of Mining, Sir Warington Smyth, continued to lecture in Jermyn Street until he died in 1890, when the connection between the Museum of Practical Geology and the School of Mines was finally severed.
An episode curiously unrecorded in the earlier histories is the apparent attempt by a Select Committee of the House of Commons to do away with the Museum in 1898. The events are recorded in the magazine The Builder and we are indebted to Mr R W Elliot for recalling them. A first news item in May refers to the proposal of the Committee to move the Museum to South Kensington and advocates stout resistance to this attempt to transfer it to the wilderness. 'The museum is admirably placed, it is central and accessible. The mania for sending everything to South Kensington is absurd'. Shades of the objections to a far further move 85 years later!
A month later a long article considered the whole problem and severely castigated the Museum authorities for the neglect of their remit to illustrate the practical applications of geology. The magazine suggested that the fossil collections should be sent to the Natural History Museum but that the collections of building stones and other economic minerals should be expanded in the Jermyn Street Museum and that the Survey be compelled to devote more energy to their documentation.
In the end nothing appears to have happened about the recommendations of the Select Committee or the advice of The Builder, and the subject is not referred to in the reports of the Wharton Committee, three years later.
The first office outside London was that in Dublin where the Irish branch of the Survey was established in 1845. The first location for the Dublin base was in the Museum of Economic Geology in St Stephens Green East, where there was continual friction between theSurvey and the head of the Museum, Sir Robert Kane, a distinguished Irish chemist. The Survey moved to an independent office at No. 14 Hume Street in 1870 where it remained, unchanged for 114 years, visitors being admitted to the handsome Georgian hall by an aged custodian. It was moved to new offices at Ballsbridge in 1984.
In Scotland the geologists were, in theory, based in London till 1867, though in fact they rarely visited headquarters. There was a temporary store for maps and specimens in the Industrial Museum Scotland — later renamed the Museum of Science and Art — in Edinburgh. In 1867.the Geological Survey in Scotland was given a separate identity and a headquarters was established in the Museum, in Argyle Square. That Museum was demolished in 1869 and the Survey moved to No. 1 India Buildings, Victoria Street where it remained until 1879 when it moved to the Sheriff Court Building across the road.
In 1906 the Sheriff Court was abandoned for a building at 33 George Square, a large house built for a merchant of the East India Company with a studio in the garden erected by a subsequent owner, Sir Noel Paton, a celebrated Scottish artist, but in the early 1920s some staff returned to the Sheriff Court. People who worked in George Square spoke nostalgically about what must have been a very happy office. The Sheriff Court, however, had only gas lighting and open fires. Microscope work was done with a special air-cooled gas lamp, which must have been a remarkable sight.
The increase in staff after World War 1 — and the advent of Flett as Director — meant a search for new headquarters. Jermyn Street, although now all allocated to Survey staff, could not accommodate all the field staff during the winter and Flett saw advantages in setting up district offices in the coalfield areas which were being mapped. In 1921 the offices at Newcastle, Whitehaven and Manchester were acquired and district units were deployed — much against the wishes of the staff, who passed resolutions against permanent transfer to provincial centres! In most cases the reluctance to move was inspired by wives who did not want to leave London, a circumstance common to staff from the eighteen seventies to much later in our history!
The Whitehaven office was closed in 1927 after six years, during which the Cumberland coalfield mapping had been completed, but both the others survived the second World War. In 1929 an office was opened in York, at first in rooms over the 'Labour Exchange' at 14A Parliament Street and moving in 1935 to St Marys, a terrace house where one of the staff, Edwards, inhabited the old basement kitchen. The Newcastle office was from its inception in a similar terrace house at 33 Eskdale Terrace, close to the University. The Manchester office had three homes — initially at 21 Albion Street, Gaythorne, over the Customs and Excise Office, it moved first to 250 Oxford Road and finally to 102 High Street.
The Jermyn Street Museum had been closed during the latter years of the war, from 1916-19, and when re-opened was so decrepit that the Office of Works were asked to refurbish it. When this work started it was found that several of the cast-iron beams which supported the glass roof were cracked. As a result the place was closed to the public — but not to the staff — as dangerous and timber shoring was installed inside the main hall to hold up the roof, which was replaced by wood and felt in order to reduce weight. As Flett recorded: 'These measures required more than a year for execution and when they were finished the Museum was again opened to the public. The interior now presented a spectacle such as no other museum in the world could furnish'! To allow access to the library at the north end of the building during these operations, a doorway was opened in the Piccadilly frontage. After the reopening of the museum this door remained but was kept locked.
In the early 1930s the timber scaffolding provided an overnight refuge for a man who was believed to have been connected with the theft of gemstones from the Museum and was convicted at the Old Bailey for the offence of 'breaking out'.
Members of staff who remember the scene — the forest of scaffolding; the winch and basket to raise books from the Library to the top floor; the Map Room, with a large model of London of which parts lifted up on turning a handle to reveal vertical sections of the underlying geology; the Palaeontology lab with a window still showing the diamond-scratched signature of Lyon Playfair — recall the paucity of visitors. The top-floor office in the new block to the West was over a very superior Lyons Popular cafe where Sir James Stubblefield remembers being told off for lowering the tone of the place by his smoking a pipe!
In July 1927 a Royal Commission was appointed to consider the organisation of national museums and galleries and after taking evidence from Flett — and, presumably, viewing the timber labyrinths of Jermyn Street — recommended that the Geological Museum should be transferred to a site in Exhibition Road as soon as finances permitted. The site, near the British Museum (Natural History), had been earmarked for the Geological Museum as far back as 1912 — the move was first recommended by a Government Committee in 1898! The finance for the new building was, surprisingly for a time of financial crisis, forthcoming — largely because the prime site in Piccadilly was readily let and the Exhibition Road site was owned by the Government. The Office of Works, which had recently designed the adjacent Science Museum, was commissioned to design and construct the new building, with a substantial office block behind it for Survey staff.
In Edinburgh the George Square office, even with its out-offices a quarter mile away in the Sheriff Court, was now too small, but the incentive to move here came from the University, which owned the building and needed it for a student hostel. In 1928 all the Edinburgh staff moved to a new headquarters at Southpark, Grange Terrace, a large Victorian mansion near Blackford Hill in the south of the city. Three years later two large annexes were added on the west side of the old house to house the Petrological and Palaeontological collections and this complex held the Edinburgh complement for the next quarter century.
The new Exhibition Road Museum was scheduled to be ready for occupation in 1933, though in fact the Survey ingress was postponed for a year because the new and unoccupied building was requisitioned by the Goverment for an International Monetary and Economic Conference and was hastily converted into conference halls, committee rooms, buffets, lounges and all the other paraphenalia of a League of Nations. By the autumn, however, the building was handed back to the Office of Works to be prepared for the Museum.
The next two years were a period when the whole resources of the Survey appear to have been devoted to the move from Jermyn Street and the preparation of the new museum. As Flett records, over a million specimens — most filthy with the grime of a coal-fired London — 35,000 books and 20,000 maps had to be transferred.
The new museum was planned on four levels. On the main floor a general introduction to the more spectacular geological phenomena — volcanoes, glaciers, earthquakes — surrounded a collection of precious and semi-precious stones. The first gallery had a series of 'Regional Bays' illustrating the geology of eighteen regions into which Great Britain was divided — the result of the perspicaceous suggestion by C P Chatwin that British visitors would be most interested in their own areas. The second gallery contained economic mineral exhibits and the topmost — not visible from the main museum area — contained the choicest Survey mineral, rock and fossil collections, accessible only to research workers, and henceforth known as the 'Reserve and Study' gallery. The basement was assigned, as Flett put it, to workshops, store rooms and a 'large apartment' to hold half a million specimens, later known as 'The Tank' which, it was hoped, would serve as an archive for many years.
A feature of the ground floor was a series of sixteen coloured 'dioramas' — showcases containing plaster models perspectively merged into a painted background illustrating various geologically interesting localities, such as The Needles and Fingals Cave, and reconstructions of prehistoric scenes. The figure in 'Early Man in the Thames Valley' was alleged to be modelled on Flett!
The office block behind the museum had six floors above the basement and was built around a light-well open to the west, with two wings and a connecting link which formed the back of the museum.
The library included a basement store and the ground and first floors of the north wing, the main room having a gallery at first floor level. A smaller Staff Library occupied the ground floor of the south wing and a lecture theatre formed the cross-link and was accessible from the ground floor of the museum.
The first floor, apart from the Library, was occupied by the Curator and his staff, while the second was devoted to the Directorate, conference room and general office.
The third floor housed the Petrographer and his staff and the chemical laboratory, staffed by the Government Chemist, while the fourth had large offices, on what would now be called 'Open Plan', for two field units, the London Room in the south wing and the York Room in the north. The fifth and topmost floor had the Cumberland Room in the north wing while the rest of the floor was used by the Chief Palaeontologist and his minions.
In the pre-war era there was one telephone on each floor — used only with a District Geologist's permission.
After the war a sixth floor was added, used at first by the Atomic Energy Division and later by the 'Water Cart'.
A bridge on two levels linked the Geological and Science Museums until the latter arbitarily closed it to increase their display area. The bridge was subsequently used for office accommodation. After the Museum was opened to the public Flett expressed his regret that he had not specified a public restaurant in the basement to attract visitors!
The new Museum of Practical Geology was opened on 3 July 1935 by the Duke of York — later King George VI — in the presence of 1200 guests, many representative of foreign and Empire surveys. A dias had been erected at the west end of the building for the platform party, under the lurking surveillance of Hercules who stood beneath the clock, and the area on the left of the entrance hall, later occupied by the book stall, was converted into a retiring room for the Royal party. Junior scientific staff, as one of them recalls, were employed as ushers and had to buy their own morning dress for the occasion.
On the following day there was a celebration of the centenary of the Survey in the hall of the Royal Geographical Society, followed by a dinner for overseas guests in the Rembrandt Hotel, paid for by GSM staff and the Geological Society Club, and a Government Reception in Lancaster House. Flett's son, Martin, then a Treasury official, recalled that the Treasury were prepared to pay for a Government banquet but D.S.I.R. would not have it, for some reason. He had subsequently to authorise payment for the cheaper Reception — to which he was not invited.
When Bailey succeeded Smith as Director in 1937 he found the organisation he had left eight years earlier operating from five offices — Exhibition Road, 'Southpark' in Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester and York. Bailey disliked the idea of small 'District' offices, largely because he felt that junior staff were isolated and limited in their variety of experience, and in his review of the organisation suggested the closure of York and Manchester. The former was closed in 1938 but in Manchester a remarkable campaign was mounted to retain the Survey presence in the north-west. Industry and trade associations submitted petitions, the press was concerned — W B Wright, the District Geologist, was quoted in the Manchester Guardian as saying 'We think we make the Manchester office pay' — and questions were asked in Parliament. This campaign may well have been orchestrated from Oxford Road, though there is no more evidence of this than of Whitaker's part in the 50 memorials from Hampshire, half a century earlier, but it was successful and Bailey had to abandon his closure plans. The Manchester office remained for another twenty-two years.
The war years 1939-45 saw the Museum closed to the public, though the library remained available to serious enquirers. The display areas on the ground floor and the first two galleries were cleared of exhibits and handed over to the London Civil Defence Region as Headquarters. The galleries were sheeted and divided up into a warren of offices and Survey presence was confined to the basement and the office block at the back — though here Bailey insisted that the Civil Defence heads, Sir Ernest Gowers and Admiral Evans of the Broke, take over the Director's suite on the second floor. A massive concrete 'bunker' under the areas now covered by the Natural History Museum extension, entered by a ramp from the Museum basement, was the Control Room from which the civil defence of London was handled during air raids. A much-used badminton court was marked out on the ground floor of the museum.
Most of the exhibition material was stored at first in the basement, but after the heavy bombing of 1940-41 it was transferred to the basement of the Victoria and Albert Museum or, if irreplaceable, to the Pritchard-Jones Hall of the University College at Bangor, North Wales. In the event the only damage to the building was superficial. A bomb struck the north west corner of the i office block at 4th floor level, bounced off and exploded in the courtyard, demolishing a watchman's hut and breaking a great deal of glass. Another exploded on the pavement just south of the building, ripping the facade with splinters — the marks are still visible — and breaking the rest of the glass. It also fractured a gas main with a spectacular fire resulting.
The Deputy Director, McLintock, a canny Scot, was justly apprehensive of the progressively decreasing accommodation left to GSM staff in the office block. He appointed one of his Assistant Curators, C F Davidson, as the building's Air Raid Precautions Officer and himself took up night residence for the duration in the basement. (After the war when he was Director it is said that he continued this troglodyte existence).The night-duty rosters for fire-watching, First Aid or Home Guard duties brought GSM staff to join London Civil Defence staff in sleeping in the building. As Austin Woodland remembers, 'There were beds everywhere'. When invasion seemed likely in 1940 and the Local Defence Volunteers, later renamed the Home Guard, were raised as a back-up for the regular army, a Platoon was formed from Survey, Civil Defence, D.S.I.R. and British Museum (Natural History) staff. Bailey was in command as a Lieutenant, and WCC Rose was a 2nd Lt. The Company Sergeant Major was Hepple, the rock-cutter, and Crask, a Cleaner, was one of the Corporals. Some of the senior people were taken aback by the very earthy analogies used by the Regular Army instructors who introduced them to the description of, and care of, firearms. The unit's activities in training fortunately they were never called to action — were marked by the belligerent attitude of the Platoon Commander who managed to impale himself on a bayonet during one exercise — and who, whenever an Air Raid Warning sounded, would parade the topmost gallery or roof with a drawn revolver, for hours if necessary. What he hoped to achieve was never explained, though one account says that he fired impotently at German aircraft.
At the end of the war in Europe in early 1945 the Civil Defence headquarters disappeared very rapidly and a start was made on the refurbishing of the Museum. The first section was reopened to the public in September 1946 and after this, it was known as the Geological Museum. The last reference to the 'Museum of Practical Geology' was in the Report of the Geological Survey Board for 1945.
After the end of hostilities the first new office to be opened was at Belfast, where part of a Victorian terrace house near the University was provide by the Ministry of Commerce for Northern Ireland. The building was shared for some years with other small departments of the Ministry — Forensic Science & Fuel Efficiency — and with a consultant Civil Engineer, but by 1951 practically all the house was in the hands of the Survey and, with some structural alterations, has met the needs of the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland until the present. Apart from Grange Terrace, this building is now the longest-occupied Survey office.
There was no further expansion until, with the Exhibition Road building bursting at the seams with the post-war increase in staff, a disused Post Office in Young Street, Kensington was rented in 1956 to house the Atomic Energy Division. By 1959 further room was needed and it was decided to group the three field units then covering the north of England at a central 'regional' office, with a nucleus of palaeontological, petrological and photographic staff to service them. A war-time office building, designed for possible use as an emergency hospital, was leased at Halton, some six miles from the centre of Leeds, and in the autumn of 1959 the Manchester and Newcastle offices were closed and the staff of the Yorkshire and East Midlands field unit, and some palaeontologists, moved from London. The Halton office consisted of a group of single-storey 'temporary' buildings radiating from a common L-shaped corridor. When first seen by Survey people it was in a state of dereliction and it took two years to make habitable. Shared with a GPO sorting office and with seemingly kilometres of corridor it had some disadvantages but proved to be popular with those who worked in it. A further 'finger' of offices was added in 1963 to accommodate the new North Wales Field Unit and at its maximum about 140 staff were based in Halton. With the development of Keyworth, staff from Leeds were gradually moved and the Leeds office was formally closed in June 1984.
With the amalgamation of GSGB and Overseas Geological Surveys in 1966 the new laboratory block in Grays Inn Road came into the IGS orbit and after a great deal of reconstruction the Geochemical Division from Young Street moved there over the period 1968-71, when the latter building was relinquished.
In 1967 pressure on the office space in the Museum once again forced the acquisition of more space and a building was leased atNo. 5 Princes Gate, part of a block of luxury flats overlooking Hyde Park which had been converted to offices during the war and had recently housed the Malaria Research Unit. This building, which was used till 1981, held the London-based field units, the Drawing Office, the Geophysics Unit and, for a time, the Overseas Division. The space in the Museum block vacated by these units was rapidly filled by the ever-expanding 'Water Cart' and the new Mineral Resources Division. Extra offices were even provided in a number of prefabricated Portacabins' located on the roof of the Museum.
In 1971 the proposed extension of the Natural History Museum building, by the construction of a new block parallel to the South side of the Geological Museum, suggested the development of an education complex in a link block between the buildings. This was agreed and the new building was completed in 1976. It included a new lecture theatre seating 200 and a demonstration room with some ancillary laboratory space on a lower floor. The new theatre, named after the Director when the Museum was planned forty-five years earlier, was opened by his son, Sir Martin Flett, on 3 November 1976.
A new district office at Exeter was established in 1968 in a building owned by the University at Hoopern House, Pennsylvania Road, and subsequently (1979) in another house at 30 Pennsylvania Road. Both offered spacious and pleasant accommodation for the South-western Field Unit. By 1970 the burgeoning Mineral Assessment Unit, which had started in Princes Gate but had rapidly outgrown available space there, was installed in a conventional office block at 199 Knightsbridge, opposite the Cavalry Barracks, where it remained until moved to Keyworth in 1976.
In Edinburgh the same situation had arisen with the assimilation of the Geomagnetism Unit and Global Seismology Unit and the build up of the Continental Shelf Unit. Grange Terrace, even with prefabricated offices growing like fungi around it, could not contain the rising numbers and in 1968 Geomagnetism was relocated in temporary offices at 6 St Oswald Road and the following year the Continental Shelf Unit went to a building at the Government Training centre at Granton. In Edinburgh, however, plans for a new office were well advanced. In 1967 Dunham had negotiated a site for a new building on the King's Buildings campus of the University of Edinburgh and by 1971 the Treasury gave permission for work to start. It was 1975 before the first occupants moved into Murchison House and in the interim the Marine Geophysics Unit had also moved to Edinburgh and been accommodated in 13 Braefoot Terrace and 9 South St Davids Street. In 1973-5 therefore no fewer than five locations in Edinburgh were occupied by IGS staff — plus some Computer Unit staff in the Edinburgh Regional Computing Centre and the store which had been acquired at Newbattle Abbey.
In London the situation was equally absurd. By 1973 the Geochemical Division had outgrown the Grays Inn Road building and had expanded into a converted warehouse at 154 Clerkenwell Road, where it was joined by Overseas Division in 1974 so there were five offices and two stores/workshops locations — at Gorst Road and Bashley Road in Acton — in the London area. Gorst Road was acquired because the development of the Engineering Geology Unit had forced the evacuation of 'The Tank' in 1969 to make way for laboratories — the 'many years' of archive space hoped for by Flett in 1935 proved to be about thirty. As in Edinburgh, however, relief was at hand — though not imminent!
Move from London
In the early 1960s the increasing concentration of population and of office employment in south-east England led the Cabinet Committee on Population and Employment to appoint a committee, in 1962, under a senior Civil Servant to consider how government departments could set an example of 'dispersal'. Departments were asked to suggest what parts of their organisations could be moved and in 1963 the Treasury proposed that OGS and GSGB should be moved from London. This was partly accepted in the Flemming report which suggested that seventy geological field and HQ staff should leave London. The Director, Stubblefield, was interviewed at the Treasury and objected strongly to the concept of total dispersion. In March 1965 DES proposed to the Treasury Dispersal Committee that the Museum and Reference Collections should stay in Exhibition Road but that the remaining IGS staff, now 165 in number, should be moved to the Reading area. In August of the same year the Dispersal Committee recommended that the whole of the now combined Geological Surveys staff (265) should be moved and the Ministers concerned agreed, though not on who should pay!
For the next year a search was made by NERC and the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works for sites in the Oxford-ReadingNewbury triangle. The London-based staff viewed these moves with some concern and conducted a local staff-side referendum in which, with strong pressure from some individuals, the 'triangle' was turned down and a location in the Bath-Bristol area was sought. Whether this opinion was considered by NERC is not clear, but the official record is that two possible sites in the triangle had been abandoned because of objections from the Ministry of Technology and local authorities. In November 1966 unofficial approaches were made to estate agents in the Bath area about accommodation suitable for a 'research organisation' but these were abandoned within a month or so, perhaps because NERC had learnt of them.
When Dunham became Director he suggested that the search for a new location should be extended to University sites in the Midlands and enquiries were made of the Universities of Birmingham, Loughborough, Nottingham and Warwick. The University of Leicester was ruled out because it is a high-density site and could not be expected to have land available. All four replied enthusiastically and for the rest of 1967 Dunham corresponded with Vice-Chancellors and, with his directorate and staff representatives, visited the universities and inspected possible sites.
The staff at Leeds, who had hitherto thought themselves immune, as dispersal only affected London, were greatly upset by this development and in June a staff referendum there reported twenty-nine against a move from Leeds, thirteen reluctant and only one in favour of a new location. Objections cited included greater distance from field areas, loss of local support staff and the value of Leeds as a centre for northern geology, including the proximity of the National Lending Library at Boston Spa. Suggestions were made about suitable alternative accommodation in the Leeds area the 'temporary' buildings at Halton were obviously not going to last for ever — and the two-centre concept was vigorously propounded, with one centre in Leeds/Harrogate and the other in the south-west. Though this might have been the best solution, the idea came too late — a more enthusiastic staff response in 1965-6 to the 'triangle' plan might have ensured its success, but under Dunham the concept of a single centre of excellence had superseded it.
In mid 1967 there was a leak from one of the universities concerned to the local press about the possible move; the local authority at Melton Mowbray also offered a site, which was refused because of the absence of a university. In October Warwick and Loughborough had been ruled out because of the absence of earth-sciences departments in their organisation. Birmingham, after long negotiations, was rejected because of the need to acquire built-up land around the Edgbaston site and the lack of senior common-room facilities, and Nottingham became the favoured location.
A poll of England-based staff at this time gave a two-third majority in favour of a central office on a university campus. Almost half favoured Nottingham, 39% Warwick, with Birmingham and Loughborough nowhere. Leeds staff preferred Nottingham, London favoured Warwick. Both seemingly hoped to be able to commute without moving house!
In December 1967 Sutton, Chairman of NERC, wrote to Dainton, Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham University, asking formally for negotiation about a site on the campus. The Treasury Dispersal Committee was not too pleased by this, considering that Nottingham was too far south, but finally agreed after being assured that the developments proposed for Edinburgh would include projects with a nation-wide application.
Nottingham University offered three sites — those at the west and north-east of the campus were ruled out as too small and in May 1968 NERC wrote to the University saying that a 7 acre site south of the University Boulevard would meet the needs of an IGS office; agreement to this was received from the Treasury Dispersal Committee in June of this year.
For the next five years things moved slowly. IGS produced a series of schedules of requirements, starting with 125,000 square feet for 292 staff at an estimated cost of £770,000 in 1968, and moving through a second schedule (1970) to include OGS, Geophysics, IMAU, etc., for 450 staff at £1.1m to a Department of the Environment scheme for 160,000 square feet of offices and 45,000 square feet of garages and workshops, at £1.8m. Throughout all this time the Dept of Education and Science would not allow any meaningful negotiations with the University authorities who were, not unreasonably, getting impatient. Finally, in July 1973, they proposed to reduce the area available to 4.2 acres to allow the UK Chemical Information Service to establish themselves on the site.
Though this made the project very doubtful, as car parking space would have been inadequate, desultory discussion between NERC, DES and the University continued for another two years before the University were told that the site was too small, because the planning authority would not allow multi-storey development.
As it seemed unlikely that finance from within the Science budget would be available, NERC approached a number of new town development authorities with a view to having a building financed from their resources. Telford, Warrington, Runcorn, Skelmersdale and Milton Keynes were among those whose proposals were considered and the last was chosen as an 'advantageous proposal'. Before any firm negotiations took place with Milton Keynes, however, Dunham, apparently while reading The Times on a transatlantic flight, saw that the Mary Ward Teacher Training College, at Keyworth, near Nottingham, had come on the market one of the first of the post-war expansion of such institutions to fall victim to the falling birthrate. A deputation of senior staff and staff-side people was despatched to Keyworth, with a remit to report on whether the College could be used as a Headquarters and on 9th June 1975 the Dept of Education and Science was told of IGS interest. It still took the Department six months to decide whether to sell from Education to Science but in January 1976 a formal offer to buy the college site for £2.3m was made. After thirteen years a decision had been taken.
Sitting on a level site of 23 acres the Mary Ward College had had an active life of less than eight years. Designed for a teaching order (the Order of Loretto) of the Roman Catholic church to train mainly female students, it consisted of three elements — a 'front' of a Chapel, gymnasium and assembly hall with some administrative offices and a refectory area; an academic block of lecture rooms and laboratories; and six 'residential' blocks, each containing from 30 to 40 study bedrooms. First estimates suggested that conversion to IGS use would cost about the same as the purchase price!
The prospect of a move to Keyworth caused a great deal of apprehension to many staff in London and, more particularly, Leeds and in 1977 the Staff Side of the NERC Whitley Council — the official Civil Service-type negotiating body — recorded its opposition to centralisation of IGS at Keyworth. This was followed by a meeting between the official side, headed by the Secretary of NERC, and the staff side in February 1978 at which the depth of feeling took the official side by surprise and they agreed to set up a working party to 'identify and assess the scientific and organisational considerations for and against the centralisation of IGS staff in England and Wales'. This consisted of three staff side representatives (Worssam, Allen, Haslem) and three officials (Calver, Evans, Wilson) with a NERC secretary (Kelk). This group visited all IGS offices and units and produced a report offering three options, taking into account the fact that Keyworth had been bought and had to be used. These were
- Centralisation of the whole organisation at Keyworth, with the retention of the Museum at Exhibition Road and the Regional Office at Edinburgh.
- Two Regional Offices — Keyworth and one in the south west with specialist services divided between them and Exhibition Road, plus Edinburgh.
- Centralization of specialist units at Keyworth with some field staff dispersed in three or four district offices.
The staff side voted overwhelmingly for the third option and NERC agreed to pursue this line, so a further working party was convened to determine the best way of implementing it and after a great deal of discussion and the circulation of a questionnaire to all members of the field staff, it was agreed that the interests of the geological survey would be best met by district offices in Aberystwyth, Newcastle or Durham, and Exeter, the remaining field units being based in Keyworth.
This conclusion was accepted by NERC and steps were taken to find suitable accommodation for the two new district offices. In the north-east the University of Newcastle proved most helpful and offered a large house a few hundred yards from the main campus at Windsor Court, which proved very suitable. In Aberystwyth accommodation in the University area was difficult to find but, fortuitously, a large mansion a couple of miles from the town became available. Bryn Eithen, which had been used as a folk museum, stands in its own grounds off a (very) minor road and offers the most palatial ambit of any district office. Its only drawback is in times of heavy snowfall — which happen in west Wales only very rarely. Both Newcastle and Aberystwyth offices became operational in the autumn of 1981.
In Edinburgh: the new building at Murchison House was finally completed in 1976 and all the staff working in Scotland moved into it, with the exception of people working on contract to the Department of Energy. This activity, concerned with hydrocarbons exploration in the North Sea, had expanded so much in the five years since the building was planned that Murchison House was too small before it was completed. The old office at Southpark was therefore refurbished in some style — 1950s denizens who remember the brown linoleum floors and acid green walls were staggered by the elegant decor — and remains an IGS office housing the 'Hydrocarbons Unit' — which is substantially larger than the total staff in Scotland in 1950.
Murchison House was formally opened by Sir Frederick Stewart, Regius Professor of Geology at Edinburgh University and Chairman of the Advisory Board for Research Councils, in 1977. It is an architecturally adventurous building featuring an abundance of green glass disposed in cantilevered tiers which earned it the local soubriquet of 'The Greenhouse'. After a few years of complaints about draughts on a spectacular scale, extensive double glazing has made it a pleasant place to work. It seems likely, however, to be a costly property to maintain.
The first IGS staff to move to Keyworth were those of the Industrial Minerals Assessment Unit, who had been occupying expensive accommodation in an office block in Knightsbridge. The run-down of the college from summer 1976 allowed IGS occupation of two of the residential blocks on 4 October 1976 and IMAU moved into occupation while the rest of the buildings were still used by the trainee teachers and their instructors. At least two students are said to have abandoned the prospects of teaching for connubial bliss with a geologist! In 1978 IMAU were joined by the Deep Geology Unit and the Head of the Special Surveys Division. The build-up of the nucleus of Drawing Office staff, who had moved from Leeds with the northern section of IMAU, started, with recruitment of local trainee draughtsmen. By the following year the Overseas Division, Metalliferous Minerals and Applied Geochemistry Unit and the first Field Unit, Central and South Midlands, had arrived and total numbers on the campus had reached 160.
To allow a rolling programme of alterations and development this was the optimum level of occupation for three years, during which the inhabitants had to live in the middle of a building site. Staff occupied whatever accommodation was available but, as the contractors progressed, most of those on site had to move at frequent intervals.
One illustration of the kind of musical chairs involved is the saga of the Applied Geophysics Unit. The completion of the Overseas Division block in 1981 freed the uppermost floor of the north `Academic' block and allowed this Unit to move from Princes Gate, though some of them had to be accommodated in one of the residential blocks. As that block was needed by the contractors before the permanent accommodation for AGU was ready, these unfortunates had to move a second time into a 'converted' residential block for some months before a third move to their final destination. The conversion of the six residential blocks was finally complete early in 1983 and this was followed by perhaps the most disruptive phase of the whole conversion, when the academic block and the 'front' came into the builders hands and the approach to the whole campus became a labyrinth of scaffolding and rubble.
It was late in 1984 before the work on the administrative areas was, more or less, complete and 1985 before the new 'Core Store' was ready. At this time, with the 'campus' taking on a mature appearance, and almost half of the Survey based in Keyworth, the advantage of a centralized headquarters are starting to become apparent.
The refurbishment of the Geological Museum in Exhibition Road in the late forties was only a replacement of the pre-war arrangements and, though admired by delegates to the Eighteenth Session of the International Geological Congress in 1948, by the sixties they were beginning to look tired and dated.
In 1968 Fred Dunning, then Assistant Curator, prepared a brief for new kind of exhibition to replace some of the elderly displays on the ground floor. This was offered to design consultants for comment and one of these, James Gardner, produced the plan for 'The Story of the Earth', a permanent and spectacular exhibit which, in its final form, occupied the whole south side of the ground floor gallery. At the time this was probably the largest and most sophisticated earth science display in the world and, indeed, it is still very effective after fourteen years.
'The Story of the Earth' was opened by H M The Queen in 1972 and immediately produced a large and sustained increase in the numbers of visitors to the museum, It has been followed by similar modern displays 'Britain Before Man' in 1977 and 'British Fossils' in 1980, while a fourth major exhibit on 'Treasures of the Earth' devoted to economic minerals, and ore deposits, will open in 1985 and complete the modernisation of the ground floor of the museum. where the gemstone exhibits are now the focal area of the displays.
The next stage should be the updating of the first-floor Regional Bays, starting with a new display on the Cicolop, of Ireland, planned to be produced in duplicate with the second set exhibited in Dublin in conjunction with the Geological Survey of Ireland.
This unhappily. will be outside the British Geological Survey ambit because in April 1985 the Geological Museum passed from the British Geological Survey to the control of the Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History ).Concurrently the library and the fossil and rock collections will be transferred to Kevworth. in spite of the public complaints of mans, academic and industrial users.
From the viewpoint of the Museum this may, be, at least in the short term, advantageous, as the Natural Environment Research Council financial stranglehold will be replaced by the. one hopes. more sympathetic rein of the Trustees. From the Surrey side, however, it can only be regretted as the loss. not only of its main shop-window, hut of what has been an integral part of the organisation for the whole of its existence. Though the Director, or his nominee, will remain on the governing body, links with the Survey will wither and there will no longer be a colourful presence in the capital, for the first time since 1841.
- The extensive use of small incendiary bombs, dropped from aircraft in large numbers but which could be fairly readily extinguished if attacked before the building fabric caught fire, led to the practice throughout Britain of some staff being detailed to spend the night in buildings and to take immediate action if incendiaries struck.