Out and about: field survey and surveyors in the UK

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From: Wilson, H.E. Down to earth - one hundred and fifty years of the British Geological Survey. Edinburgh:Scottish Academic Press, 1985.
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X Out and about:field survey and surveyors in the UK. Chapter-head sketch by Robery Geary.
Pen and ink sketches by unknown artists of the best-known Scottish geologists of their generation, Ben Peach and John Horne.
James Flannagan had been fossil collector with the original geological branch of the Ordnance Survey under Portlock and when they were incorporated into the Geological Survey in 1845 he was re-employed in that role till his death in 1859. The artist, Du Noyer, was a geologist who, like Ben Peach in Scotland, decorated his field maps with delightful sketches of the areas worked in.
Scottish field staff about 1885 at Inchnadamph. J Horne, W Hinxman, W Gunn, G Barrow, C T Clough, B N Peach, J R Hill, J R Dakyns.
The Grizzly Bears. An illustration from the first Edinburgh 'Dinner Book'.
The 'Royal Hammerers' coat of arms'.
Edinburgh Geologists' Dinner Menu, 1952. Archie MacGregor had just displaced T H Whitehead as assistant Director, while Whitehead's predecessor, Murray Macgregor, was still working for the National Coal Board. Individual idiosyncracies are indicated Scott Johnstone's photography, John Simpson's botany - while T R M Lawrie, with turban, had just returned from secondment to Hyderabad. The author had just been transferred to Northern Ireland.

X Out and about: field survey and surveyors in the UK[edit]

For its first hundred years the Geological Survey was concerned only with the making of geological maps of the United Kingdom and, even after the advent of the Water Department in 1936, the Survey was, to most of its members, a collection of Field Units. Only in the sixties did the realization gradually dawn that the field survey was slowly but irrevocably becoming only one part of a much larger whole.

Though the concept of cartographic illustration of geological phenomena dates from 1684, when Martin Lister described 'an ingeneous proposal for a new sort of maps of countrys, together with tables of sands and clays, such as chiefly are found in the north part of England', the development of geological maps for the next hundred years was mainly in the illustration of mineral works.

The first useful geological map of Britain was probably William Smith's map of the Bath district, published in 1799, but this and other early maps were on a small scale because of the non-existence of accurate large scale topographical base maps. Not until after the systematic survey of the Country by the Ordnance Survey, starting in 1791, were such maps available in Britain.

When De la Beche started his 'geological colouring' he was working on the earliest Ordnance Survey one-inch to one mile maps and work in England and Wales continued at this scale for many years. In Ireland, from the earliest days of Portlock's Survey, and in Scotland from Ramsay's first mapping in the Lothians in 1854, practically all field survey was on six-inch to one mile (1:10560) base maps. In both countries, therefore, virtually all the basic mapping has been recorded on six-inch maps and revision work has always had the precise locations of earlier observations readily available. In England and Wales, however, 'revision' surveys in the southern half of the country, outside the coalfield areas, were virtually starting from scratch.

In 1882 when Geikie became Director General the emphasis changed from detail and accuracy to speed. He issued instructions that in the primary mapping of the Scottish Highlands and in the draft revision of the South of England nothing should be noted on the six-inch to one-mile maps related to solid geology which would not be relevant to the one-inch map. William Whitaker, then working in Hampshire, disagreed strongly with this instruction. He felt that while covering the country on the six-inch scale it was silly not to put solid geology on field maps, and determined to reverse the instruction.

In 1884-5 the Lord President of the Privy Council, Lord Carlingford, received about fifty 'Memorials' from virtually every town and village in Hampshire, and various educational bodies , all petitioning, in elegant copper-plate, that the Council authorise a six-inch geological survey of the County for the benefit of industry and agriculture. It can only be assumed that this salvo was orchestrated by Whitaker! Certainly Geikie thought so. In the spring — on All Fools Day — he sent to Whitaker the following:

I am desired to express to you the strong disapprobation of your conduct by My Lords. Either you knew you were authorized to use the 6" sheets in mapping the superficial deposits of Hampshire or you did not. If you did not your continued use of them without sanction was a violation of my instructions to you issued in 1884. But more than this, your statement to Mr Shore that you had no instructions to do your work on the 6" scale when you had actually mapped so much of the ground on that scale, was a mere quibble. It was your duty to do all in your power to prevent My Lords being subjected to unnecessary correspondence. So serious does your failure in your obvious duty appear to My Lords that a repetition of such conduct will cause them to take into consideration the propriety of removing you from the service.

As Geikie said in a letter to the Department of Science and Art: '....this incorrigible Whitaker gives more trouble than all the rest of the staff.'

But Geikie's triumph was only temporary and soon in England and in the Scottish highlands, field geologists were buying six-inch maps and using them in the field, in spite of the Director General. In Scotland and Ireland virtually all the primary survey was completed on six-inches to one mile sheets. Only in England and Wales are large areas as yet only covered by one-inch to one mile primary mapping.

The 'heroic' period of field survey in Britain was between 1880 and the outbreak of World war I in 1914, when the workers in the Scottish Highlands, led by the legendary Ben Peach and John Horne, made fundamental advances in understanding the geology of the metamorphic rocks of North Britain. Progress of the survey of the Highlands was, and still is, slow by the standards of lowland areas because of the difficulties of access and terrain, as much as of the geology. Geikie tried to expedite it by mapping on the one-inch scale and forty years later, with several hundred square miles still uncovered, Flett drafted men from English field units to help during the brief Highland field season.

Though the Highland geologists, notably Bailey, greatly resented the influx of 'birds of passage' from Newcastle, Manchester and York, it is worth recording that those involved from England were told, by Flett, that it was unfair to keep them full time on coalfield work, and they welcomed the change. They were sent first to Orkney where the Mason family were told to look after them, (both Flett and Bailey had married Mason sisters), and though Bailey in his history (1952) claimed that it was a 'nightmare' for the District Geologist involved, it seems in retrospect that it was very successful as an exercise in cross-pollination.

Some of those involved, such as Carruthers, made a notable contribution to the understanding of Highland geology and others, like R C B Jones, made a contribution to the local society for, as Secretary to the local Highland Games in Strontian, he would ride up on Saturday afternoon from Manchester on his motorcycle some 340 miles — and back on Sunday!

In the nineteen seventies, as part of an attempt to involve University researchers with the Survey's mapping programmes, several sheets of the revision survey were contracted out to individual university geology departments, in the south-west and the Scottish Highlands. In these projects the field work was done by research students under the joint supervision of their departmental supervisors and the relevant District Geologist. The results of these surveys are now coming to fruition and have been, on the whole, successful.

They were, however, foreshadowed by half a century, by the efforts of Edward Greenly, who worked with Peach and Home in the Highlands from 1889 to 1895. He then resigned because his wife could not stand the separation inevitable with field work in a remote area and, with the private means available to them, decided to map the island of Anglesey. For the next sixteen years he worked there, mapping the island meticulously and finally passed to the Survey his maps and the draft of the Memoir which were accepted and published with the Survey imprint. His autobiography, published in 1938, eleven years after his wife's death, is an astonishing account of difficulties were often traumatic. In 1852 Jukes, writing to Ramsay, referred to his wife; — 'I am almost beginning to feel she will not be able to stand our wandering life for much longer'. Families tried to rent houses, where these were available, and sometimes were able to use shooting lodges and similar part-used places,but accommodation available was often squalid. Kinahan, the District Surveyor in Ireland, writing to his Director in 1876 said, about one of his men, 'It seems to me that Mr Leonard has shown considerable zeal for the public service by locating himself and his family in a miserable hovel with a clay floor, that he might be near his work'.

With this kind of base, working conditions for field men in north and west Britain must have been appalling by modern standards. When we remember that they were in the field all the year round, working in wet tweeds and soaked leather boots for half the time, it is little wonder that 'Congestion of the Brain' and other less dramatic ailments were common. Certainly it is not hard to see why so many of the best men found their way to fresh fields in warmer climes. At least thirteen left between 1850 and 1880, mainly for India and Australia.

In some areas where there was literally nowhere to stay, tents and mobile huts were used. The first of the latter, bought from the Royal Irish Constabulary, was used in Donegal, originally at Malin More his life — he submitted 'Quarterly Returns of Work' to Annie Greenly for the whole sixteen years — and contains very interesting vignettes of his colleagues in the Survey in the eighties. Peach, Horne, Clough, Green and Howell are all described, and he gives a revealing glimpse of Teall.

Accommodation in the field was a problem from the earliest days. In England there were usually inns or lodgings, but in the remoter parts of Scotland, Wales and Ireland these were few and Spartan. Men and their families were, until the end of the century, expected to live 'on their ground' without any extra allowances and the and later at Fintown. It was finally sold to the local postmaster for £8, complete with table, chairs and stove, when the primary six-inch survey was completed in 1886. This hut succeeded a four-man tent bought in 1872 of which Wilkinson complained to the Director in 1876 that he could not be expected to share it with his servant.

In Scotland a movable hut was used in the northern Highlands in the late 1920's. This accommodated not only the Edinburgh-based Highland geologists but the summer influx of English staff. As in Ireland, there were strange reactions to life in such conditions. G V Wilson, not one of the easiest people to get on with at the best of times, was apparently chased round the hut by one of his colleagues with an axe. One version of this story is that the pursuer was a collector, Jim McCall, conscripted to the hutted camp as a cook, who objected to criticism of his culinary products. Another is that Flett was chased around Wilson's room in Edinburgh. The truth is lost in the mists of folk memory!

Feuds between colleagues, though not very common, could be bitter and protracted. In Scotland G V Wilson seems to have been a particular focus; on one occasion during the 1939-45 war he would not allow one of his juniors, Archie MacGregor, into the office for fire-watching duty until he produced his official pass. He was finally allowed to retire after a fist fight with J G C Anderson in the Assistant Director's room.

Wilson was an alcoholic who late in life, probably after his retiral in his late fifties, is said to have married a barmaid who made him sign the pledge!

Similarly in the York office Wray and his District Geologist, Bromehead, were at such loggerheads that Wray refused to appear in an office photograph if Bromehead was present!

The battles between Geikie and Whitaker and between Flett and Bailey have been mentioned earlier, but what must have been the most protracted and venomous has been chronicled recently by Herries Davies (1983). This was between George Henry Kinahan and Edward Hull. Hull was an Ulsterman who had, perhaps because of a distant family link with Murchison, been appointed to the Survey in England in 1850 and had worked in North Wales and Lancashire before being transferred to Scotland as a District Surveyor in 1867. In 1869 J Beete Jukes, the Director in Ireland, died and was succeeded by Hull. Kinahan, recently promoted to District Surveyor in Dublin and the senior man in Ireland, bitterly resented the appointment and for the next twenty years spared no effort to disparage and aggravate his Director. There seems no doubt that Kinahan was somewhat mentally unbalanced but the virulence of his attacks was remarkable and it is astonishing that Ramsay and Geikie failed to support Hull in his long-running battle. For example in 1880 Hull, in his annual staff reports, wrote:

…Mr Kinahan, has taken numerous opportunities during my term of office of expressing his dissatisfaction with his position, nor are his relations with myself of that confidential character which ought to subsist between the head of a branch of the public service and the officer next to him …I look forward to some arrangement being made by which, without detriment to Mr Kinahan's interests, I may be relieved from a source of much irritation!

The list of these 'irritations' is endless: — refusals to obey direct instructions, delaying proofs by objecting to punctuation, claiming that he was unable to colour maps because he had not been supplied with sable brushes, publishing papers without permission — every time Hull spoke in public or produced a paper Kinahan published a rebuttal. As a member of the Royal Irish Academy he even managed to get himself on a Committee appointed to examine the Survey's interpretation of certain stratigraphical problems.

Though after one row with Wynne, the Resident Geologist in Dublin, Geikie told Hull that Kinahan's correspondence was 'insolent and irritating' and that it would be impossible to allow him any authority over his colleagues, nothing was done to remove him from Hull's command and the two protagonists were left to snipe at each other until both retired in 1890.

Less dramatic and protracted than this dispute, but equally infuriating in their way to those involved, were the many quarrels over 'Joining up', the annual exercise when geologists working on adjoining areas try to reconcile the lines which they have drawn up to their boundaries. The districts most noted for such disputations were the Highlands — of course — and the Borders, where Edinburgh geologists worked down to the boundary in the Cheviot Hills using the 'Scottish' Carboniferous succession in their mapping, while the Newcastle surveyors had worked north to the other side of the ditch using the English succession.

Every field man will have some sympathy with the awkward Kinahan's views on the problem: — 'I just draw a hell of a fault along the whole confounded frontier and cut off every blessed line'.

Transport to and from field work in the early days was by train, if available — in remote areas of Scotland trains were, officially or otherwise, arranged to stop to drop and pick up geologists between stations. In Ireland hired horse cars were occasionally sanctioned and horses or ponies were commonly used — though the legend of a daily rate for fodder in the regulations cannot be confirmed. In later years, after the development of the pneumatic tyre, bicycles became the norm and their use was endorsed by a mileage rate for cycles about the turn of the century.

Mapping in Lancashire, Jones used the Darwin-Bolton tram, which crossed the moors between the valleys, to reach his field area. The fare was 3½d going up, 3d coming down, and the London office dutifully queried the halfpenny difference.

The advent of the motor car was slow to affect the field staff, probably because they were relatively expensive in their early years. The first geologist to own a car was Bailey, who had a Model T Ford in the early twenties. He later graduated to an Argyll touring car and used this distinguished vehicle in the Highlands. At this time only bicycle allowance was payable to private transport.

W B Wright fitted out a Ford van as a 'mobile home' when he mapped the raised beaches of Scotland as a vacation study in the late twenties, and R C B Jones, also from the Manchester office, converted a small furniture van into a caravan in 1931, probably the first field man to use what was to become a favoured solution to the problem of accommodation in the sixties and seventies, though S E Hollingworth is said to have used a converted hearse for fieldwork at about the same time.

Even in the late forties, few of the field staff had cars. In the Edinburgh office in 1949 there were only three — a new Austin owned by Willie Manson, the bore-hole examiner; an elderly Austin owned by Archie MacGregor, then Highland DG; and an eccentric BSA sports car run by the author, which earned some notoriety by losing a front wheel in the tram-lines at Tollcross and putting at risk the future careers of two potential Professors of Geology, E H Francis and G Y Craig.

At this time however, the first Official Vehicles appeared — in Edinburgh in the form of two ex-army throw-outs, a Ford 10-cwt van and a massive ex-staff car, variously remembered as a V-8 Ford or a Humber. This latter was notorious for difficult starting in cold weather and one of its recognised accessories was a Primus stove for warming spark-plugs. Members of the Highland Unit remember the arrival of the first four-wheel drive Land Rover, delivered to them in Inverness by Archie MacGregor, with the solemn instruction 'Don't take it anywhere you would not take your own car'.

In the thirty years since then the internal combustion engine has become omnipresent. Apart from private cars the fleet of Survey vehicles has grown to about 100 — troops of Land Rovers, numerous estate cars, specialist vehicles with well-logging, geophysical and drilling equipment, cross-country wide-wheeled equipes which can cross a floating peat bog or climb a Highland hillside. Bailey's aphorism 'Where rushes grow there man can go' might be updated to 'Where man can go, wheels can also'.

In Britain, however, only the geophysicists have taken to the helicopter. Unlike the wider horizons in overseas territories the field survey here still keeps its feet on the ground, or on the accelerator.

Although the Act of Parliament of 1845 which established the Survey gave its officers power 'to enter into and upon the land of any owner for the purpose of making a geological survey' and to …break up the surface of any part of such land for the purpose of ascertaining the rocks, strata, or minerals within or under the same', the precise scope of these provisions has never been tested in law. In particular does the 'breaking up' of the surface cover drilling boreholes or making trial pits? Nevertheless the threat has almost always been sufficient, in the end, to convince landowners that they must allow access. I can recall only one instance where obdurate refusal succeeded, probably because NERC declined to make a test case of it.

The degree of acceptance, however, varies greatly. In the 'Celtic Fringe' of Wales, Scotland and Ireland, farmers and land-owners are, in general, interested and helpful, perhaps on the assumption that the 'man from the ministry' should not be rebuffed, lest some arcane subsidy should disappear. In Scotland, of course, the game-shooting season is a major constraint. The grouse season opens on 12 August — the geological field season ends on the 11th!

In England most difficulty comes from small farmers and even allotment holders, particularly in the north. E G Smith, himself a Yorkshireman, claims that there is nothing to beat a bloody-minded Yorkshire small-holder!

During the spy-scares which were a feature of the early years of World War 1 geologists were often the victims of excess zeal. R L Sherlock, with a Teutonic appearance and odd character was arrested as a spy. The local bobby rang the Director (Strahan) to say he had caught a German who claimed to belong to the Geological Survey. 'Describe him' said Strahan. The constable did — 'bullet head, short cropped hair, etc.' That's Dr Sherlock' said Strahan, 'Release him'.

C B Wedd, working near an Army camp in September 1914, was spotted by the troops, pelted with bread and jam and arested as a German spy. He had to be smuggled out of the local Drill Hall by the back door to keep him from the enraged populace. After this all geologists were issued with large passes which they were advised to have franked by local Chief Constables.

A much later variant on this theme was the case of R A Old, transferred back to England from Belfast in the early 1970's, who returned to his parked car to find it the centre of a full-scale police alert. It had Northern Ireland number plates and he had unwittingly parked it near a military installation.

There were other problems too. In 1930 J E Richey, working on the Mull volcano, had laboriously collected a large suite of samples for petrographical examination. He hired a local man to transport the heavy sack to the pier to put it on the ferry. When Richey arrived at the pier he saw the local vigorously filling the sack from cobbles on the beach. On remonstration the reply was 'Why carry a load of old stones all the way down when I can get as good here?'.


As we have seen, one of the main aims of the Survey in the nineteenth century, and up to the Second World War, was the production of geological maps of the Coalfields of the UK, a process which required regular updating as more data from boreholes and underground workings became available. Notable increases in staff numbers under Murchison in 1867-8, Tea11 in 1902-3 and Flett in 1920-22 were due largely to a succession of Royal Commissions and Parliamentary Committees on the nation's coal resources.

In 1926 The Mining Industry Act gave the Survey the responsibility for examination and recording of all shafts and borings for mineral over 100 ft (30 m) deep, and two Assistants were recruited to carry out this task — Willie Manson in Scotland and Andrew Templeman in England. Templeman was to die on duty in 1945, killed by asphyxiation by carbon dioxide in a trial pit at Seaton, Cumberland. He was examining temporary exposures and descending the pit by fixed ladder found, too late, that the misguided contractor had taken the lowest ten foot ladder away to prevent access. A local blacksmith, Edward McCabe, who tried to save him was also overcome and perished.

Willie Manson, who probably saw more coal sections in Scotland than anyone before or since, was the mentor of the post-war generation of geologists in the Edinburgh office in the 1950s, when the the revision mapping of the coalfields was resumed. He retired with distinction as a Senior Experimental Officer in 1956.

The resumed field mapping programme after World War II had coalfield revision as a major priority — the author went from the fourth revision of the Midlothian Coalfield to the third revision of the Ballycastle Coalfield in 1948-54 — and the greatest part of Survey effort at this time was on coalfield work.

In 1942 all coal in Britain had been vested in a Coal Commission, which in 1946 was replaced under the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act by the National Coal Board. In 1947 the Board recruited, as its Chief Geologist, J K Allen who had been on the field staff in Edinburgh since 1922. At this time the Survey offered all possible assistance to the new organisation as advisers — but not as official consultants — and Survey staff were much involved with Coal Board officials in most of the coalfields. It soon became apparent that the j resources were just not enough to meet the demands of a mining industry struggling to rationalise itself, and in the early 1950s the NCB began to recruit geological staffs for its Divisions. Some of these were Survey people — R H Hoare, D McGraw, R F Goosens, R H Price, R Beveridge, G Armstrong (who succeeded Allen as Chief Geologist) — and for many years liaison between the Survey and the Board's geologists was close, and based on personal friendship.

As time went on, however, the NCB Divisional Geologists built up their own staffs and Survey involvement in day-to-day coalfield problems decreased. Only in catastrophic situations was IGS deeply involved — as in the Aberfan disaster in South Wales in 1966, when Austin Woodland, who had mapped the area, was Geological Adviser to the Treasury Solicitor at the Public Enquiry into a calamitous mud flow from a waste tip on a valley side; or after the Lofthouse mine disaster in 1973 when the field notebook of A H Green, a century old, became a critical item of evidence.

In the last few decades, indeed, the Survey involvement in coal has been mainly overseas, particularly in the Kalimintan area of Indonesia, where an IGS team with Indonesian counterparts carried out over a period of three years, an intensive survey of an area of Tertiary sediments with coal seams.

In Northern Ireland, where the NCB remit does not run, the Survey looked at the small known coalfields in the forties and fifties, but has since undertaken a deep drilling programme to assess the coal and hydrocarbon prospects beneath the Antrim Lava plateau. Recent developments have also induced a fresh investigation of the Tertiary lignite deposits in Co Antrim, first looked at in the 1960's when energy was cheap and no interest was shown in 'brown coal'.

Northern Ireland[edit]

After 1905, when the Geological Survey of Ireland was transferred to the Department of Agriculture and Technical Institution in Dublin, there was no direct connection with the Survey in Great Britain, though there was some interchange of personnel until the setting up of the Irish Free State in 1921, W Wright acting as a kind of peripatetic contact from 1910 to 192'1. There is a story, probably apocryphal, that Wright anxious to remap the Ballycastle coalfield in north Antrim, bought up a whole stock of the original 1888 Memoir, which only cost a few pence each. When it was reported that it was 'Out of print' he was able to persuade the Director to revise the maps of the area.

The Irish Survey continued as a very small organisation, still based in its original Hume Street office where the Irish Director, later reduced to the status of District Geologist, had enjoyed a magnificent Georgian office far more palatial than any available to Directors in Great Britian. After the partition of the country into the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland in 1921 the field maps of the original surveys of the six northern counties, including the excellent drift survey of the Belfast sheet in 1905, were sent to Belfast where they were held by the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland and were available for consultation by local geologists.

During the period from 1921 to 1946 geological activity was at a pretty low ebb in Ulster and such consultancy work as was required was carried out by the small staff of the Geology Dept at Queens University. On four occasions, however, the GSGB was asked for advice. In 1923 W B Wright advised on site conditions and water supply for the proposed Parliament Building at Stormont, Belfast, and in 1935 the Ministry of Finance asked Flett, the Director, about the possibility of setting up a 'bureau' for the collection of geological information, but nothing came of it. In 1937 G H Mitchell reported on the post-glacial diamtomite deposits of the Bann Valley at the request of the Government of NI and in 1940-42 V A Eyles, on behalf of the Ministry of Supply, carried out a great deal of work, including an extensive drilling programme, on the Tertiary bauxites of Co Antrim, which made available a quarter million tons of aluminium ore at a crucial period in World War II. Eyles, in a letter to the Chief Superintendent of the Ordnance survey in 1943, referred to a 1925 Report on the Mineral Resources of Northern Ireland which recommended that a Geological Survey of some sort should be established in Belfast. He indicated that the Edinburgh office, at least, had discussed the possibility of running such a survey from Great Britain.

In 1946 the Ministry of Commerce, in Belfast, concerned mainly about the post-war fuel shortages, commissioned a report on the geological problems of the Province from Dr 0 T Jones, then the eminence gris of British Geology. Jones unequivocally recommended the setting up of a Geological Survey of Northern Ireland and the Ministry asked the Director GSGB for his help.

In February 1947 James Phemister visited Belfast and advised the representatives of the ministries of Commerce and Finance of the requirements of a district office on the lines of the existing Manchester and Newcastle offices. Things moved rapidly thereafter: an office was provided at 20 College Gardens — part of a large Victorian terraced house near the University — and two geologists were earmarked for transfer to Belfast as the nucleus of a full unit there. About the same time Phemister saw J K Charlesworth, Professor of Geology at Queens, to enquire about the possible availability of local graduates and there seems to have been an intent to staff the Belfast office from Great Britain only temporarily till it could stand on its own feet as an independent geological survey. However the initial arrangement was that the office would be staffed by GSGB personnel as an 'Agency Service' with buildings, services and non-scientific staff provided by the Ministry of Commerce.

The two men 'seconded' to the new office were Alex Fowler, who had spent his whole career since 1923 in the Newcastle office under Carruthers, and James Robbie, a Scot who, since his advent in 1935, had worked in the south of England. The first task for the new Geological Survey of Northern Ireland was to examine the two known small coalfields in Tyrone and north Antrim, and only Fowler had any coalfield experience. Although he was promoted to District Geologist on transfer, his attitude to his subordinate (and only) colleague was based on the reception he had received from Carruthers fifteen years earlier — 'You young pups will have to learn for yourselves, I'm not going to nurse you'.

The result was a somewhat unhappy office for several years, though as time went on and younger staff joined (H E Wilson 1951, P I Manning 1954) things became less fraught. The latter pair conducted a furious correspondence with each other in the columns of the Belfast Newsletter though they worked in the same room.

Work started in Northern Ireland on 21 April 1947, and for the first six years was concentrated on the two small coalfields and their possible concealed extensions. Generous financing of a drilling programme by the Ministry of Commerce had one unexpected result. One of the contractors went bankrupt and by some quirk of the contract the Ministry were able to impound the drilling rig and equipment. This outfit, with locally employed drillers, was later used to drill a deep borehole in the Ballycastle coalfield in 1954 and was probably the first drilling rig directly operated by any part of the Survey in the UK.

The role of the Belfast office as a funded service encouraged a great many enquiries from government, industry and the general public and the very large number of enquiries about the sub-surface geology of the city area of Belfast encouraged the production in the early 1970's of an innovative Engineering Geology Map of Belfast using a base map on the scal of 1:21,000 (approx.). This map collated a great deal of site investigation and shallow borehole information about the drift deposits, and their engineering properties, collected over the preceding fifteen years.

From the period 1947-1967 the District Geologist in Belfast reported directly to the Assistant Director Special Services in London and James Phemister, James Stubblefield and Steven Buchan, who successively held that post, visited the Belfast office twice or thrice yearly. With the reorganisation of the IGS hierarchy in 1967 GSNI was transferred to the Scotland and Northern Ireland Field Division, based in Edinburgh. James Robbie, who had succeeded Alex Fowler as DG Northern Ireland in 1959, was promoted to AD Edinburgh at this time and, understanding the problems of the Belfast office, continued the fairly loose rein on which the office had been held. This remote control, used with some benevolence, allowed the Belfast incumbent a good deal of licence and close liaison with the Ministry of Commerce and local industry allowed successive District Geologists to adopt innovative schemes and projects, often without detailed scrutiny by senior officers.

Since 1947 the Director of GSGB had been regarded as Director of Geological Survey in Northern Ireland, and was so described in publications, but the legal status of the Survey was far from clear though it was never queried by any of the land-owners or mineral operators on whom it descended. In 1959, however, the Ministry of Commerce sponsored the Mineral (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (N.I.) which gave the Survey powers of access to land and borehole information. It also gave the Minister power to appoint a Director of Geological Survey, but though successive Directors of GSGB have been so described up to 1980, it is clear that no actual appointments were ever made.

One somewhat unusual part of the Survey's role in Belfast was in assisting the Ministry of Commerce to draft new minerals legislation which aimed to encourage mineral exploration and to clarify the complicated mineral-rights position in the province. The resultant Mineral Development Act (N.I.) 1969 has been described by the mining industry as the most enlightened in Europe. Certainly it is much better than the chaotic situation in the rest of the UK.

Field work in Ireland had its moments. After explaining at some length the purpose of his field-by-field survey to a Co Tyrone farmer, Tony Griffith was told that — 'It was very well for them as had the time and money to do it'. Peter Manning, then working on the Portrush Sheet in 1957, failed to stop at a red light during the short-lived I.R.A. 'offensive' of that period and found a rear tyre of his car deflated by a well aimed shot from a special constable (about 6 inches below his right buttock!) His natural eloquence persuaded the patrol to change the wheel for him, but failed' to convince the Resident Magistrate at Bushmills Petty Sessions who fined him £2 and told him to 'put it down to entertainment and a liberal education'.

No account of the operations in Belfast can avoid mention of the civil disturbances which have affected Northern Ireland since 1968.

In fact the work of the office has only been marginally affected and field work in most parts of the province has continued without any interference. Neither has the College Gardens office been directly affected, though the house two doors away, then occupied by the University Air Squadron, was attacked by the Provisional Irish Republician Army and set on fire in 1971, fortunately without much damage or any loss of life. Members of IGS staff with fire extinguishers helped keep damage to a minimum. Several commercial premises within 500m — banks, garages, hotels — were also bombed, but though shaken no damage was done to the Survey building.

Naturally in these violent circumstances the relaxed atmosphere in the office was somewhat changed. Records were microfilmed and photocopied, the duplicates being sent elsewhere for safe keeping.

The duplicate copies of the old series field maps — these had all been copied and hand coloured in the Dublin office in the early years of the century, though 'standards' or 'clean copies' in the English and Scottish sense were not made — were sent to the Public Records Office, and all visitors were closely scrutinized before admission.

More critically, in 1972 UK Civil Servants who had come from Great Britain were allowed to request transfer to the mainland after three years service in Northern Ireland. This concession was also made to NERC staff and, not unnaturally, this induced a fairly rapid staff turnover in the Belfast office for several years. For those who remained, however, an unexpected and most unusual perk was an annual allowance of a paid visit for family (and car) to the most convenient port in Great Britain.

It is interesting to recall that a century ago similar conditions prevailed in Ireland. In 1865 Jukes, the Director in Dublin, wrote to an officer of the Royal Irish Constabulary about one of his fossil collectors; 'He tells me he is looked upon by the people as a spy on the Fenians and seems in dread of ill-treatment by the peasantry. Why I ask . . . whether in your opinion there really is any danger in his transversing the country alone?'.

Fifteen years later during the Land War, now chiefly remembered in Britain for the persecution of Captain Boycott, Survey geologists were armed. Geikie in his autobiography tells of an excursion with McHenry in Cork in 1884 when, on Geikie remarking on the present quiet state of the country, McHenry smiled as he drew a revolver from under his coat!

Off duty[edit]

In both the London and Edinburgh offices the geologists established dining clubs, known as the Royal Hammerers and the Grizzily Bears respectively. It is probable that in their earlier years these met more often but by the end of the century the tradition of annual 'Geologists Dinners' had been established.

The London outfit was formed soon after the Survey started to recruit staff to augment De la Beche's one man band. The date of the first meeting is uncertain, but there is record of a poem by Baily, delivered at the dinner in 1849, which described the 'coat of arms' which had, by then, been drawn. This consisted of a trilobite shield flanked by two anthropomorphic reptile supporters, one male (Saurian) and one female (Pleisosaur). The shield was embellished with a clinometer, hammers, a compass and a magnifying glass. A riband bears the legend 'Hammer; Heart and Hand'.

This crest was used at the dinners of the 'Royal Hammerers' at least up to 1914, though the name of the Society seems to have been lost much earlier, and the motto had been changed to 'Scientiae et Utilita', while a crest of an arm wielding a hammer had been added.

At these meetings the normal restraints of rank were released and senior men were the subject of ribald comment from their juniors. Many of the early songs and recitations have been preserved, particularly in the records of the Edinburgh meetings, and they give an interesting commentary on some of the people involved.

The first meeting of the Edinburgh Club was in Dejay's Hotel on 16 February 1869, two years after the Edinburgh Office was opened, when nine members met to dine and listen to eleven songs, including three by Archie Geikie, the first Director in Scotland. It is doubtful if he was asked to listen to one given to a dinner in the nineties which clearly expresses the distaste felt for him when he had become Director General. The author of the invective is said to have been E H Cunningham Craig.

Songs of the Survey by a Junior Assistant

No 4 'The D. G.' (with apologies to R K Ford Roberts)

1. There's a sharpnosed little man,

Archie G

Rides the highest horse he can,

Our DG

And his staff devoutly pray

He the penalty will pay

When it throws him, some fine day,

Archie G

Chorus: His official designation is DG

We await his resignation, eagerly

For his title, you must know

Should be written with an O,

Slipped into the middle — so


2.The name his parents called, our DG

Ends appropriately with 'bald', Archie G

Though his father doctored hair

He has little now to spare

As his soul his poll is bare, Archie G

3. He's half weasel and half rat, our DG

But he can't be called a flat, Archie G

He's a genius, taking pains

And celebrity he gains

Sucking other people's brains, Archie G

4. When we ask him for PA, Our DG

He will have a lot to say Our DG

Tells us not to covet pelf

Throws our 'C forms' on the shelf

'Do you never help yourself Archie G

5. We've relied upon your word, Archie G

Till we found that course absurd, Archie G

You have lied and relied too

Ananias if he knew,

Would the kettle yield to you, Archie G"

In the Flett era people from outstations who came to the annual Geologist's Dinner had to pay their own fare. On one occasion Flett found himself in the gent's lavatory with R C B Jones from Manchester and asked 'Have you finished the six-inch maps of the Wigan sheet?'

'Is this official business Sir?'

'All right, you can claim a night's expenses.'

In the post-war era, from 1950 to 1970, the tradition of songs and recitations continued but, while the Edinburgh dinners were irreverent but staid, the London events were much more energetic affairs. They were peripatetic, because restauranteurs were seldom prepared to allow a second visit! There is, for example, the story of R C B Jones swinging on a chandelier and bringing down the ceiling. Sitting among the debris he had the presence of mind to shout for the manager from whom he demanded damages for his ruined suit: 'I was standing here when this damn thing and half the ceiling fell on me'.

Bromehead, a District Geologist, used to do a sword-dance among the cutlery on the tables, and Trotter, an Assistant Director, regularly stood on a chair to conduct the assembly in rendering 'Blaydon Races'.

The tradition of songs and recitations at Geologists Dinners continued until 1970 and senior men accepted the annual liability to be pilloried by their juniors on the principle that they were 'primus inter pares'; but the records show nothing approaching the undisguised venom of 'Our D G'.

The implementation of the Fulton reforms in 1971, with the end of a clear-cut division between Geologists and others, marked the end of this tradition. Rightly or wrongly it was felt that ridicule of the Directorate could not continue when it was no longer possible to restrict these dinners to an elite.

After a few uncertain functions under the new regime the tendency, in keeping with the general change in social habits, has been for purely male functions to disappear and be replaced by events at which all staff, male and female, were encouraged to bring their wives and lovers. These were particularly successful in the first few years of the Keyworth office where the facilities of the old Training College were still available, but like any other 'office party', they are historically unremarkable.

There are copies in the archives of a number of the songs presented to the 'Royal Hammerers' during the second half of the nineteenth century but they are pretty dull, comprising mainly parodies of popular songs and all expressive of very noble sentiments. Much more complete and interesting are the Edinburgh

'Dinner Books' in which there is a record of much that followed the first dinner in Dejays Hotel in 1869. One significant item in the 'Club Rules', unfortunately undated, is that the 'Director of the Survey shall not be eligible for membership'.

Perhaps the most fruitful period for this versifying came in Scotland in the inter-war years (1920-40), during most of which Murray Macgregor was in charge of the Edinburgh office. Murray ('the wee Macgregor') and Archie MacGregor were both determined poets and some of their products are given in the appendix at the end of the book.

Another feature of the Edinburgh dinners, and later of those held at Leeds, was the annual production by the Drawing Office of comical menus usually based, in the post-war years, on humorous sketches with the characters represented by photographic cut-outs. One of these is reproduced as a plate. , In London, on the other hand, the annual dinners were recorded by panoramic photographs taken for several decades by the same commercial photographer, Mr Horne of Pentonville Road.

Another Edinburgh office tradition over the first half of the twentieth century was the production of very elaborate and beautiful 'Illuminated Addresses' for retiring senior officers. These artistic tours de force, illustrating facets of the officer's career, must have taken many hours of the time of the talented draughtsmen who prepared them and with the advent of 'costing' in the 1960s their production ceased. They were, however, a remarkable expression of calligraphic talent and, it might be supposed, offered a challenge to junior Drawing Office staff.

Apart from the annual castigation of the senior people at the geologists dinners there was a good deal of leg-pulling, along the lines of the traditional despatch of apprentices for a 'pot of striped paint' or a left-handed hammer'. A new office messenger in Edinburgh, on revealing that he had been an army bandsman, was despatched to Musselburgh to join Skipsey's Marine Band and it is rumoured that people from Grange Terrace were the hoax correspondents in the Scotsman, purporting to be serious ornithologists, about 'blue tits on Gullane beach' which continued to discuss the effects of the weather and the invasion of 'great fits', till the Editor realised he had been conned!

In London the arrival of the post-war bunch of irreverent ex-service men led to practical jokes in profusion. One victim, a member of the Territorial Army, was telephoned by an authoritative voice from the War Office' to bring a selection of geological maps, in complete secrecy, to a high level meeting. He spent a lot of time and taxi fares trying to find the non-existent rendezvous. Another senior geologist received a very convincing letter inviting him to come to France to receive a medal from the Geological Societie du Nord. He was intercepted only at Victoria Station, about to buy his ticket!

Apart from occasional spoof 'Office Notices' this tradition of 'undergraduate humour' seems to have expired.