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Arrowsmith's Geological Map of England

A striking example of Arrowsmith's geological map of England and Wales, based on George Bellas Greenough's map of the United Kingdom, completed in 1820. The map focuses not only on geology, but also shows extensive detail so typical of Arrowsmith's maps. Many rivers, railroads, cities, peaks, mail-coach roads, and more are all shown and labeled. Rivers and canals have extensive symbols attached, showing the extent of the tides, navigation, and more. The map appeared in Arrowsmith's London Atlas, one of the most popular English atlases of the mid-19th century.

Four interesting cross-sections on the map show some of the most important watercourses through the island, along with their topography. This includes the Clyde Canal, the route from the Mersey to the Thames, and the route from the Severn to the Thames. These rivers and canals were vital to the economy and industry of 19th century Britain. A note states that navigable canals stretch 2,511 through England and Wales, while railroads only cover 800 miles.

George Bellas Greenough's geological map of Great Britain was published just five years after William Smith's seminal map. Greenough copies the use of fossil strata from William Smith, but had a great deal more information available, thus allowing for a significantly more accurate map. Several myths surround Greenough's relation with Smith, suggesting that they feuded and that Greenough deliberately undercut Smith's price to land him in debtor's jail. None of these appear substantiated.

The geology on the map is highly detailed. Twenty-nine principal units are mapped, alongside three quaternary features. Each unit has a specific color or pattern, any local names are mentioned, and type localities are given. Arrowsmith also categorizes the principle beds in each unit, giving a brief lithological description. A legend also shows mines and deposits of copper, gold, gypsum, tin, lead, and twelve other rocks and minerals found throughout the region.

The units shown on the map are described in the "order in which, when parallel, they are generally found to succeed one another." This means that the oldest rocks are labeled with letters at the end of the alphabet and that relative ages can be guessed at from the map. For the most part, these relative ages appear to be correct, with the youngest rocks in the southeast and the oldest in the north and west. 

John Arrowsmith Biography

The Arrowsmiths were a cartographic dynasty which operated from the late-eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth. The family business was founded by Aaron Arrowsmith (1750-1823), who was renowned for carefully prepared and meticulously updated maps, globes, and charts. He created many maps that covered multiple sheets and which were massive in total size. His spare yet exacting style was recognized around the world and mapmakers from other countries, especially the young country of the United States, sought his maps and charts as exemplars for their own work.

Aaron Arrowsmith was born in County Durham in 1750. He came to London for work around 1770, where he found employment as a surveyor for the city’s mapmakers. By 1790, he had set up his own shop which specialized in general charts. Arrowsmith had five premises in his career, most of which were located on or near Soho Square, a neighborhood the led him to rub shoulders with the likes of Joseph Banks, the naturalist, and Matthew Flinders, the hydrographer.

Through his business ties and employment at the Hydrographic Office, Arrowsmith made other important relationships with Alexander Dalrymple, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and others entities. In 1810 he became Hydrographer to the Prince of Wales and, in 1820, Hydrographer to the King.

Aaron Arrowsmith died in 1823, whereby the business and title of Hydrographer to the King passed to his sons, Aaron and Samuel, and, later, his nephew, John. Aaron Jr. (1802-1854) was a founder member of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) and left the family business in 1832; instead, he enrolled at Oxford to study to become a minister. Samuel (1805-1839) joined Aaron as a partner in the business and they traded together until Aaron left for the ministry. Samuel died at age 34 in 1839; his brother presided over his funeral. The remaining stock and copper plates were bought at auction by John Arrowsmith, their cousin.

John (1790-1873) operated his own independent business after his uncle, Aaron Arrowsmith Sr., died. After 1839, John moved into the Soho premises of his uncle and cousins. John enjoyed considerable recognition in the geography and exploration community. Like Aaron Jr., John was a founder member of the RGS and would serve as its unofficial cartographer for 43 years. Several geographical features in Australia and Canada are named after him. He carried the title Hydrographer to Queen Victoria. He died in 1873 and the majority of his stock was eventually bought by Edward Stanford, who co-founded Stanford’s map shop, which is still open in Covent Garden, London today.