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Records of the Geological Society of London

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 378 GSL
Held at: Geological Society of London
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Full title: Records of the Geological Society of London
Date(s): 1807-
Level of description: Fonds (collection)
Extent: [c.150 shelves]
Name of creator(s): Geological Society of London | 1807-


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Society has its origins in a series of meetings convened at the beginning of 1807 by four amateur mineral enthusiasts - physician William Babington, pharmaceutical chemist William Allen and the Quaker brothers William and Richard Phillips - to organise the publication of Jacques-Louis, Comte de Bournon's monograph on mineralogy. Meeting in Babington's house the group, along with ten other friends who were also active in London's flourishing scientific scene, resolved to each contribute the sum of 50 pounds to cover the cost of the monograph's publication. (Published in the three volumes as 'Traite complet de la Chaux Carbonatee et de l'Arragonite', in 1808.)

Having enjoyed the meetings so much, many of the group continued to hold mineralogical discussions at Babington's house in Aldermanbury, London, usually at 7am before the physician began his rounds at Guy's Hospital. Other interested parties also joined the meetings and on the 13 November 1807, the new society was inaugurated at a dinner at the Freemasons Tavern, Great Queen Street, Covent Garden (the meetings being moved from breakfast to dinner time at the suggestion of Humphry Davy).

The minutes of the meeting record that there were thirteen founder members: Arthur Aikin (1773-1854), William Allen (1770-1843), William Babington (1756-1833), Humphry Davy (1778-1829), Comte Jacques-Louis de Bournon (1751-1825), James Franck (1768-1843), George Bellas Greenough (1778-1855), Richard Knight (1768-1844), James Laird (1779-1841), James Parkinson (1755-1824), William Hasledine Pepys (1775-1856), Richard Phillips (1778-1851) and William Phillips (1773-1828). The meeting resolved 'That there be forthwith instituted a Geological Society for the purpose of making geologists acquainted with each other, of stimulating their zeal, of inducing them to adopt one nomenclature, of facilitating the communications of new facts and of ascertaining what is known in their science and what remains to be discovered.' These aims were incorporated in the first constitution of the Society, formally adopted at a meeting on 1 January 1808.

Soon after its foundation the Society began to accumulate a library and a collection of minerals, rocks and fossils. In 1809 the Society moved into rented premises at 4 Garden Court, Temple, and in 1810 to 3 Lincoln's Inn Fields, where it shared larger premises with the Medical and Chirurgical Society, another society which Babington co-founded.

On 1 June 1810 the Society's first Trustees were appointed and later in the same month, 14 June, the first meeting of the Council took place. The Council resolved that the most important communications made to the Society should be published. Accordingly the first volume of the 'Transactions of the Geological Society' was issued in 1811.

With the increase in membership and activities of the Society it was found necessary to appoint the first permanent officer, Thomas Webster, in 1812. Although only part time, his duties included care of the Society's Library and Museum collections as well as those of draughtsman and secretary to the Council and Committees. The continual growth in the membership and of the collections of maps, sections and mineral specimens necessitated a further move in 1816 to 20 Bedford Street, Covent Garden.

In 1824 the Council decided to apply for a Royal Charter in order to allow it to bestow fellowships of the Society. The charter was granted on 23 April 1825 and the Rev William Buckland, Arthur Aikin, John Bostock MD, George Bellas Greenough and Henry Warburton were nominated as the first Fellows. At the following meeting of Council, the other 367 Society members were also granted Fellow status. Ironically many of these new Fellows, such as Greenough, held republican views hence why 'Royal' was never adopted into the Society's name.

The Society continued to meet at 20 Bedford Street until 1828 when it moved to apartments in Somerset House, Strand, which had recently been rebuilt by the Government for use as public offices and to house the Royal Academy and the Royal Society. The Society's apartments, including the two rooms of the museum, were fitted out to designs of Decimus Burton, architect of the Temperate House at Kew Gardens and Fellow of the Geological Society. The first meeting at Somerset House was held on 7 November 1828, and the Society remained there until removal to the present apartments at Burlington House in 1874.

The care of the Society's large mineral and fossil collections was always problematic. The Museum's first Keeper, Thomas Webster, was unhappy with the work load and also unpopular with the other Fellows. He was replaced in 1827 by the first official Curator, William Lonsdale, whose health broke down from overwork in 1836. During the following nine years there were another five curators who all resigned. In 1869, it was decided to abandon attempts to form a comprehensive collection, instead specimens should directly relate to papers read at the Society. Although the move to Burlington House meant that the collection was thoroughly weeded and catalogued again, after 1876 (after another resignation) the collection received only cursory attention. A Special General Meeting was called by a group of palaeontologists in 1901 to try and force the Council to take better care of the Museum. However their plan backfired and instead a motion was carried that the Museum should be disposed of. The contents were divided in 1911 between what we now know as the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Practical Geology (part of the Geological Survey) in Jermyn Street. The British Museum (now Natural History Museum) received the foreign specimens, while the domestic collection was given to the other institution.

The Society officially started its existence as a dining club but with the steady increase in the number of members (341 in 1815 to 400 in 1818), this aspect of its activities soon fell into abeyance. It was revived in 1824 with the foundation of the Geological Society Club which continues to hold dinners to the present day.

Today, the Geological Society of London is the UK national professional body for geoscientists. It provides a wide range of professional and scientific support to its c 9500 Fellows, about 2000 of whom live overseas. As well as boasting one of the most important geological libraries in the world, the Geological Society is a global leader in Earth science publishing, and is renowned for its cutting edge science meetings. It is a vital forum in which Earth scientists from a broad spectrum of disciplines and environments can exchange ideas, and is an important communicator of geoscience to government, media, those in education and the broader public.


Scope and content/abstract:

Records of the Geological Society of London, 1807-current, notably comprising:

Minutes and papers of Annual General Meetings, 1840-current; minutes, correspondence and papers relating to meetings of the Council, 1810-current; minutes and papers of Ordinary Meetings, 1807-1998; minutes and papers of Special General Meetings; 1834-2001; Minutes and papers of Standing and Ad Hoc committees of Council, [1810-current] [section is currently undergoing revision]; Charter and Bye-laws, 1810-1993;

Correspondence and other administrative papers relating to the running of the Geological Society, including: Presidents' Papers, 1977-1997; Elected Officers' papers, 1956-1995; Executive Secretary's papers, 1950-2013; Financial records, including bequests, trust funds, 1820-2011; Letterbooks of the Assistant Secretary and other Officers, [1807]-1960;

Administrative records of departments, including: Membership, 1807-current; Conferences and scientific meetings, 1932-2006; Library, 1835-current; Archives and conservation, 1971-2004; Education Department, 1993-1998; Society's Museum, 1808-1911; Publications, 1906-2009;

Portraits and photographs of Fellows, 1792-2011; Images of the interior and exterior of Burlington House, 1873-[1995]; Plans of the Society's apartments at Somerset House and Burlington House, 1828-[1982]; Obituaries and biographical information on Fellows, [1895]-current; Records of the Society's Centenary celebrations, 1907-1908; and Bicentenary celebrations, 1994-1998;

Records of the Geological Society Club, 1824-2006; Records of the Society's Specialist Groups and Joint Associations, 1964-[2009].

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
Mostly English but some material in German, French, Russian, Chinese

System of arrangement:

Legacy archive arrangement has been retained except where items can be more logically placed.

Conditions governing access:

Most files are open, however some will contain information which is restricted under the Data Protection Act (80 years closure) or for business purposes (30 years closure). Please contact the Archivist for further information.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copies, subject to copyright and the condition of the original, may be supplied. Requests to publish original material should be submitted to the Archivist.

Finding aids:

A detailed, online catalogue will be available shortly.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Allied Materials

Related material:

For material on the formation of the first professional geological body of the UK, see records of the Institution of Geologists, 1973-1991 (ref: IG).

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Herries Davies, G. 'Whatever is under the earth'. London: Geological Society, 2007; Lewis, C L E and S J Knell. 'Making of the Geological Society of London'. London: Geological Society, 2009; 'The Society - History' ( accessed November 2010. Description by Caroline Lam.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
November 2010; revised October 2013.

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