Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has bought a geological strata map of England, stretching from near Southport on the West Coast to near Doncaster on the East. The engraved map shows the different strata in hand painted colours e.g limestone, coal, gritstone etc. The central section shows the strata across the High Peak Hundred of Derbyshire. It was produced by Elias Hall, and published in sections by William Phillips in 1824 and 1834.
Elias Hall (1764 – 1853) was a mineral surveyor, collector and geologist who James Croston writing in ‘On foot through the peak’ (1876) describes as being the ‘father of geology in Derbyshire’. Croston praises Hall for directing his attention to the subject of geology ‘at a time when geology, as a science, had made but little progress, and in this country was comparatively unknown’.
On visiting Castleton, Croston went to see Hall’s grave and describes him as an example ‘of genius in the humbler walks of life’. Croston goes on to explain that Hall was a self taught man who at an early age ‘imbibed a taste for natural science’.
‘As a practical geologist he attained to a considerable degree of eminence, and was favourably known as the author of several productions having reference to the structure of the earth. His most important work, and that on which perhaps more than any other his reputation is founded, is a geological and mineralogical map of the great coal-field of Lancashire, with parts of the neighbouring counties of Derbyshire, Cheshire, and Yorkshire, coloured stratigraphically.’
The map publicises Hall’s work which was available to buy from his house in Castelton. He produced geological models and relief maps and sold mineral specimens ‘whose precise Localities’ he had ascertained.
According to Croston the British Museum – on Joseph Bank’s insistence – bought two models for their collection. I have done a quick search of the British Museum’s collections but couldn’t find any reference to them. A google search brought up a newsletter from the Geological Curators Group (no. 9, April 1977) which shows that in the 1970s they were looking for the models too, but had drawn a blank. I plan to try and find out whether they tracked them down and if the British Museum still have them.
I like to think that the 25 year old William Day might have met the 25 year old Elias Hall when he visited Castleton in 1789. Judy Egerton’s Connoisseur article on William Day (Vol 174, 1970) states that Day’s interests were Geology, Minerology and Painting – in that order. He also ‘formed one of the earliest private collections of minerals in England; and always took on his sketching tours a bag for specimens as well as a box of watercolours’.
Castleton watercolour by William Day, 1789
Could one of these buildings have been Elias Hall’s house?
Day’s mineral collections ended up in Hampstead Central Library where it was destroyed during the blitz, so we can only guess what Derbyshire specimens he might have collected. 18th century Castleton was a small place so I feel that it is in the realms of possibility that Day and Hall might have met and talked geology over an ale or two – although sadly I have no evidence to support this!
Dec 2013 update on Elias Hall part two.