Elias Hall – Part two

Elias Hall strata map

Last week John Henry, chair of The History of Geology Group came to look at some of the maps we have in our collection. The highlight of his visit was seeing the horizontal section showing the geological strata which we bought back in 2012. The map was produced by Elias Hall and published in two sections by William Phillips in 1824 and 1834. John kindly pointed us towards an article on Elias Hall that was published by the Mercian Geologist Journal in 2011.

Elias Hall strata map

The article written by Hugh S. Torrens and Trevor D. Ford gives a lot of detail about the life and pioneering works of Elias Hall. Included are discussions on the geological models which Hall created, first carved from wood and later cast in plaster. The article contains a description by John Farey of Hall showing a model to the Geological Society. Unfortunately the models didn’t meet with the best reaction being criticised for their ‘injudicious use of rather too glaring colours’ and that they called to the mind ‘a tray of Guts and Garbage in a Fishmonger’s or Poulterer’s Shop’. I am not sure how similar the colours on the models are to our strata map, but ironically we’ve chosen the colours from the map as our palette for the Collections in the Landscape project.

Collections in the Landscape logo

Hall came under further criticism being described as ‘a queer-looking old man, with white hair and lame, and has no notion of lecturing, and he likewise speaks very broad High Peak’. What’s wrong with speaking in broad High Peak, I hear you exclaim?

Sadly the article confirmed that, as far as anyone knows, none of Hall’s models have survived. Go check your attics people!

You can read the full article here.

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Elias Hall – A vertical stretch of the Strata across the High Peak Hundred of Derbyshire

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.

Strata Derbyshire map - Elias Hall

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’.

Section of the Strata of Lancashire Coalfields

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

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.