The society had it beginnings on 17 May 1858 when a group of young men decided to set up an organisation specifically for the study of geology. From the 1840s there had been an increase in desire for scientific knowledge amongst working people who were not necessarily attending Anderson’s University (1828 – 1877) or the Mechanics’ Institute. These amateur enthusiasts formed part of the fast growing population of Glasgow (from 77,000 in 1801 to 329,000 by 1850).
Membership of the society also grew very quickly. Attractions included lectures from famous geologists on recent research, then published as papers, and the opportunity of collecting fossils and rocks on organised field trips. So nothing has changed! The first field trip in June 1858 was to Campsie Glen which is still a great place to see some of the source material for the industrial development of the Glasgow region. A leaflet on this is available at the Clachan of Campsie café. You can see some of the fossils collected from those early excursions in Kelvingrove Museum and of course you can visit the Fossil Grove to see the Carboniferous trees uncovered in 1887.
The society’s early contribution to research includes, in addition to fossils, an understanding of Scotland’s glacial history, geological time and the relationship between climate change and the Earth’s rotation. Famous 19th and early 20th century presidents include Lord Kelvin (for 21 years), Sir Archibald Geikie, Charles Lapworth, Ben Peach and Walter Gregory. Although the society had a close relationship with the Anderson’s University, general interest and awareness in geology was much encouraged by the publishing of field guides, for example to the Island of Arran.
These activities of both professional geologists and amateurs continued to give inspiration throughout the 20th century. These years have produced internationally important research into the igneous rocks of Scotland, mineralogy (many minerals are named after their type localities around Glasgow), palaeontology and continental plate movement, from geologists like T.N. George, Ethel Currie, E.B. Bailey, G.W. Tyrell, A.E. Trueman and M. Macgregor. The agreement to publish the Scottish Journal of Geology with the Edinburgh Society has ensured a wide circulation among the scientific community. The society continues to attract to its lectures speakers who are at the cutting edge of the science, to publish field guides and to encourage everyone to take advantage of the great geology in the Glasgow region, some of the most varied of any city in the UK. Getting involved is very easy.
The centenary edition of the Transactions of the Geological Society of Glasgow, published in 1958, contains a comprehensive history of the society’s first 100 years, written by Murray Macgregor, an eminent geologist who was associated with the society for 55 years, and who was president between 1926 and 1929. This history can be seen here.
The first meeting of the Geological Society of Glasgow took place in the vestry of Free St. Peter’s Church on 17th May 1858. Free St. Peter’s (built in 1850) was situated at the corner of Waterloo Street and what is now Blythswood Street, but which at that time was called Main Street.
The second and third meetings (24th May and 31st May 1858) were held in McCallum’s Coffee House, Glassford Street. The meeting of 17th June 1858 and four subsequent meetings over the summer months were held in the Athenaeum, which at that time was in Ingram Street; the Athenaeum continued to be the venue for meetings during the second session, and ten meetings were held there from 4th November 1858 until 7th July 1859.
The first meeting of the third session, held on 6th October 1859, took place in the Religious Institution Rooms at 177 Buchanan Street. However, for the next three and a half years, there was no fixed meeting place. Meetings were held in various venues: in the Merchants’ Hall in Hutcheson Street and in the Mechanics’ Institution, 38 Bath Street, as well as in the Athenaeum in Ingram Street and in the Religious Institution Rooms in Buchanan Street.
Eventually, in May 1863, accommodation was secured in the Andersonian University in George Street, and there the society remained until October 1880, when what had by then become the rapidly expanding Anderson’s College could no longer offer accommodation to the society.
In November 1880, therefore, the society moved to a venue within the newly built premises of the Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow at 207 Bath Street, which, until 1906, was owned jointly with the Institute of Shipbuilders and Engineers. The Geological Society of Glasgow continued to meet in 207 Bath Street until 1961, when the Royal Philosophical Society sold the building.
During the whole of Session 104 (1961-62) the society met at the Royal College of Science and Technology. Then, from the beginning of Session 105, the meetings of the society were held in the Department of Geology, which was at that time located in the east quadrangle of the University of Glasgow; the society continued to meet there until the opening in 1974 of the Gregory Building, which now houses the Department of Geology, and where the Geological Society of Glasgow still holds its meetings.