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MITCHELL, James (1787-1844)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 378 LDGSL/801
Held at: Geological Society of London
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Full title: MITCHELL, James (1787-1844)
Date(s): [1832-1840]
Level of description: Series
Extent: 5 volumes
Name of creator(s): MITCHELL | James | 1787-1844 | scientific writer


Administrative/Biographical history:

James Mitchell was born on 15 January 1787. Details of his early life are sketchy, but it is known that he attended King's College, Aberdeen, graduating with an MA in 1804. He might have made a tour of France and Italy before settling in London the following year, working as a schoolmaster and private tutor. Mitchell then gained employment with the Star Assurance Company, becoming the company secretary until its dissolution in 1822. He was later appointed to a similar position with the British Annuity Company.

From 1813, Mitchell published a number of works on scientific topics, including astronomy, chemistry, natural history and geology. By the 1830s his principle interest was to become the geology and botany of London and the south east. Although he was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society in 1832, only a few brief abstracts of his papers appeared in the 'Proceedings'. Mitchell complained to Dr Henry Woodward that "a certain set of elder brethren, members of the Council and ex-members, who monopolise as much as they can, both the 'Transactions' and in the speaking at the Society; and a new man has to fight his way through them." Therefore the majority of his observations remained in manuscript form.

Mitchell served on a number of parliamentary and royal commissions, and it was whilst acting as a sub-commissioner into children's employment (1840-1843) that he suffered a stroke in June 1843, possibly brought on from over work. Never fully recovering, he died of apoplexy at the home of his nephew on 3 September 1844.


Scope and content/abstract:

'Geological researches round London', comprising five volumes of manuscript copies, by a number of hands, of notes made by James Mitchell principally on the geology and botany of London and the Thames Valley during his residence in the City, [1832-1840]. Also includes some cuttings of Mitchell's published articles. An index to the papers appears at the front of each volume and the titles or subjects listed are:

Loampit Hill; Cavern on the side of Blackheath; Pit in the old Charlton Parish; Shooters Hill; Pit at New Charlton near Woolwich; Sundridge Park near Bromley; Erith; Crayford; Bexley Heath; Dartford; Road from London to Gravesend; Greenhithe Park; Northfleet (including fossils and plants); Shorne; Holly Hill; Gadshill; Pits at Chatham; Gravesend to Wrotham; Town Malling; Quarry near Maidstone; Kits Cotty; Isle of Sheppey; Cliff at Reculver; Margate Sands; Chatham to Canterbury; Key Street; Sittingbourne; Canterbury to Margate; Isle of Thanet; Sandwich; Richborough Castle; Channel Flints; Dover to Folkstone; Hayes Common; Pratts Bottom; Knockholt Beeches; Knockholt to Tunbridge; Tunbridge to Maidstone; London Clay in Kent; Sand found in the Thames; Brickmaking; Useful applications of Chalk; Limeburning; Great Lime; Lias Lime; Cement Stone; Heights in Kent; Manufacturing of Whitening.

Heights of various places in Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex above the low water according to the Trigonometrical Survey; London Clay; Remains of quadrupeds; Of gravel; Animal remains in flint found in the Clay; Kensington; Hampstead; Highgate; Tottenham Marshes; From London to Edgeware; Stanmore Common; Harrow on the Hill; London to Uxbridge; Amersham; Watford; Hatfield Herfordshire; Well at Beaumont Green; Ware; Hertford; Ware to Cambridge; London to Romford and Brentford; Brook Street; Warley Common; London to Chigwell and Ongar; Ongar; London to Cambridge by Epping; Saffron Walden; Alluvial soil on the banks of the Thames; Purfleet; Artesian Well in the Marsh near Purfleet; Button's Breach; Gray's Thurrock commonly called Grays; London to Woodbridge; Chiselhurst; Gravesend; Dartford Marshes; Orpington; Wandsworth; Knightshill; Kingston upon Thames; Croydon; Head of the Wandle; Carshalton; Beddington Surrey; Mitcham Common; Wells at Mitcham; Ashtead Surrey; Ewell Surrey; Carshalton Downs; Croydon to Merstham; London to Merstham; Merstham; Well below the Church at Merstham; Gatton Park; London to Reigate by Sutton; Reigate; London to Godstone; Godstone; The Bourne; Tilburstow; Bletchingly; Fuller's Earth Pits; London to Dorking; Dorking to Limepits; Dorking to Leith Hill; Leatherhead to Guildford; Guildford; Chelsworth House; Langdon Hills Essex.

New River Company's well at the end of Tottenham Court Road; Upper Clapton; List of minerals and fossils in the pits at Muswell Hill by Frederick Purdey; Brentford; Hounslow Heath; Hanwell; Wells at Hanwell; Harefield; Enfield; Northan; Cheshunt Street; Watford; Wades Mill; Puckeridge; Much Haddam; Royston; Tring; Strata of Essex; Waltham Abbey; Sewardstone; Epping Forest; Stratford; Dagenham; Ilford; Romford; Upminster; Peckham Rye; Counter Hill; Norwood; Epsom; Sutton; Cheam; Road from Croydon to Limpsfield; Merstham; Bletchingly; Nutfield and Fuller's Earth Pits; Barnes; Chertsey; Plumstead; Sydenham; Dartford Heath; Chiselhurst; Westerham; Farningham; Maidstone; Wrotham; Upnor; Cliff, Cooling and All Hallows; Cuxton; Halling; Isle of Sheppey; Sittingbourne; Windsor; North side of Bagshot Heath; Bagshot Heath; On the Blackheath formation; Druid Sandstone; On the changes produced on chalk flints.

Section of the London and Croydon Railway; Of the London Basin; Of the London Clay; Age of the London Clay; Fossil wood in London Clay; Septaria or Cement Stone; Wells in London; Bognor Shells; Woolwich Shells; Mineralogical substances in Middlesex and Essex (Cement Stone, Pyrites, Selenite, Wood, Sulphate of Magnesium); Quartz; Gravel. Series of papers on the construction and description of water wells, including: Foul air - wells; Wells at Sanderstead, Norbury, Epsom Downs, Kent; Air pump used in well digging and well boring; Expense of well digging and well boring; Direction of underground currents; Foul air in Wells in Essex and Middlesex; Beds of sand in the blue clay beneath it; Wells rot each other; Wells at Sheerness and in Sheppey; As to whether digging or boring be preferable; Muswell Hill; Barnet; Hemel Hempstead; Tring; Buntingford; Royston; Hare Street; Danbury; Rochford and Rayleigh; Wallisea Island; Wigborough; Coast near Malden; Braintree; Croydon and the neighbouring Country; Brixton; Forest Hill; Well at Balham Hill; Well at Mortlake; St George's Hill; Kingston to Guildford; Weybridge; Well at Cobham; Godstone; Well at Merstham; Waltham on the Hill; Headley; Reigate; Red Hill Reigate; Dorking; Wells at Normanry and Ash; Wells in the Weald of Sussex; Reading; Newbury; Bexley Heath; Chelsfield and Well Hill; Wells at Margate; Great Baddon; Wells in various places.

Superficial strata of the county of Middlesex; Wells in Middlesex; Well at St Mary Woolnoth; Church Fenchurch Street; The Thames Tunnel; Mud and sand carried out by the Thames; Hampstead Heath; Watery action on the surface in Essex; On wells formed by digging and boring in Essex; Stratford in Essex; Chigwell and Chigwell Row; Kelvedon; Copford; Great Wakering; Wakering Marsh; Foulness Island; Walton on the Naze; On the watery action on the surface of the county of Surrey; On the sections at New Cross; on the strata of the of the Jolly Sailor Station of the Croydon Railway; Shirley sand pits; Addington Hills; Croham Hurst; Croydon; Woking Common; Leatherhead; Nettley Heath; Heights above the level of the Thames of places in and about London; On the foul air in the chalk and in the strata above the chalk in the country near London.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:

Access is by appointment only, daily readership fee is applicable unless you are a member of the Society. 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:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Volumes were partially rebound in 1974 when the spines were mistakenly marked 'Prestwich'.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Presented to the Society by Joseph Prestwich, 1889.

Allied Materials

Related material:

There are a number of referee reports relating to Mitchell's (mostly) rejected papers, see: GSL/COM/P/4/2; 26 letters from Mitchell sent to the Assistant Secretary, see: GSL/L/R/1-6 and GSL/MUS/1.

Other geological notes by James Mitchell are held by the Natural History Museum; Notes on the antiquities of Buchan held by the National Library of Scotland, Manuscript Collections; Correspondence with Edwin Chadwick, 1832-1842, held by University College London Special Collections (ref: CHADWICK).

Publication note:

Mitchell's work is referenced extensively in: Whitaker, W. "The geology of London and of part of the Thames Valley", 'Memoirs of the Geological Survey, England and Wales. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1889. Two of Mitchell's papers have been subsequently published as: Cawthorne, W A and J C G M Fuller, "James Mitchell's 'Brickmaking': an early nineteenth-century study in economic geology", 'London Naturalist' vol 73 (1994), pp 31-35; Cawthorne, W A and J C G M Fuller, "James Mitchell's 'The Thames Tunnel': unpublished notes by an amateur geologist, August 1839", 'London Naturalist' vol 73 (1994), pp 27-29.

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Source: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Woodward, H B. 'The History of the Geological Society of London', London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1908, p135. 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:
September 2012

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