|Normally, the map remains hidden from view, to keep it shielded from the light. The blue velvet curtains remain pulled firmly shut. The hundreds who pass by each day seldom glance up at it and even if they do, few of them ever ask to see it, and fewer still ever stop to wonder who created it, and why, and exactly how.|
We wanted to stop, ask and wonder.
Curiously, none of the 27 guidebooks of London at Waterstones mentioned William Smith, geology or the Geological Society. But we had a lead.
Around the corner, we retreated to the Sherlock Holmes Pub to plan our next step. (I have since realized that this location is not far from one of William Smiths residences, at 16 Charing Cross.) Yes, they had a phone book behind the bar, but it only covered the yellow pages. The Geological Society wasnt in the yellow pages, but the British Geological Survey was. The barkeep wasnt very helpful in the use of the pay phone (Im from New Zealand. I only use my mobile.), but I plugged my 20 p (pence) into the phone and dialed.
The recording said that the office would be closed for another week, but that callers could try one of two other numbers for more information.
One of the numbers rang for a long time before I gave up. When the other was answered, I explained that I was looking for William Smiths geological map. The person at the other end said she didnt think she could help. I needed to talk with someone else, who wasnt available at the moment. Could we call you back? she asked.
No, I said, as I put 20 p more into the phone and imagined the barkeep letting me use the pubs phone for this project.
She asked me to call back again in five to 10 minutes, gave me a number and told me to ask for Joan.
So, 10 minutes later, I called from another pay phone in Leicester Square:
I want to see William Smiths map of England and Wales, I
(A note in my own defense: Yes, I started out with a phone number for the Geological
and Simon Winchester said that the map was with the Geological
Society. But when I discovered I was talking to a map librarian who had custody
of the map, I assumed that the sequence of phone numbers had somehow referred
me to the society.)
So, I called the new number (I was running low on 20 p at this point) and got a recording telling me that the number had changed. A real person answered the new number:
Yes, this is the Geological Society. Yes, we do have the William Smith 1815 map of Britain and Wales. Yes, there is a viewing today but you should have called 10 minutes ago, because the viewing has just started and its too late to see it today. There should be a viewing tomorrow. Could you call again in the morning and check whether there will be a viewing tomorrow?
We were in London just this one day, and wed be on a plane to the States tomorrow afternoon. The heat I felt about the wasted time, chasing an unavailable version of the map in Nottingham rather than pursuing the closer one in London, was hotter than this summers European heat wave. (The temperature in London didnt reach an all-time high of 100.22 degrees Fahrenheit for another week. I deny all responsibility.)
So heres my point. If you find yourself in London and want to see The Map, call the Geological Society of London in the morning and ask whether the map will be available for viewing that day. I probably just saved you several pounds (20 p at a time) and an hour or two of your energies.
Just be sure you get directions to the Geological Society of London. I never got that far.
More on the Map
I am very sorry to hear about Lisa Rossbacher's frustrating experience on her visit to London, when she tried so gamely and failed so miserably to see the William Smith 1815 geological map of Britain "The map that changed the world." As Simon Winchester's book states, it is to be seen at the Geological Society of London (not the Geological Survey of Great Britain) at Burlington House in Piccadilly. We at GSL have been welcoming people on visits most weekdays at 3:00 p.m., ever since the book was published in 2001. We are delighted by the new public interest in this unique treasure, and that so many people from all over the world take the trouble to come to Piccadilly often their first stop after landing at Heathrow and look us up.
All information about how to visit the map can be found on the Geological Society of London's Web site. At the moment, there is a "hotlink" to the appropriate page on our front page in the "Update" box. You can also go straight there. This has links to maps and travel directions, as well as instructions about how to make sure that you come on a day when there is either a viewing or a full 40-minute guided tour by the "functionary," who remains.
Editor of the Geological Society of London Web site
I have read with interest Lisa Rossbacher's column "Searching for The Map." As a fellow of the Geological Society of London who lives in the United States, I have for many years visited the society, commonly once a year, for participation in society meetings, and studies of busts and pictures of society founders.
Gerald Friedman stabds with William Smith's 1815 "map that changed the world."
The Geological Society's "Map that Changed the World" is not a unique copy. At Imperial College, within walking distance of the Geological Society, is another copy of this same map, once again signed by William Smith and likewise dated Aug. 15, 1815. A curtain does not protect this map, and students see this real map as they arrive and depart from classes. However, you do not have to travel to England to view this map. Last year, Simon Winchester came to Troy, N.Y., for a lecture at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Two copies of the original map were on display: (1) a copy that Union College owns, and (2) a copy that belongs to the Northeastern Science Foundation, associated with the City University of New York. The latter copy was formerly owned by the president of the Royal Society, but like others found their way to American geological collections.