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Smith, Worthington George

People > Smith, Worthington George

Worthington George Smith was born on the 23rd March 1835, the son of George Smith, a civil servant and Sarah Worthington. He attended St. John's Parochial School Shoreditch and on leaving school was apprenticed to the architect A.E. Johnson. He later transferred to Sir Horace Jones under whom he became an expert draughtsman and a member of the Architectural Association. In 1861 however he abandoned architecture to devote himself to freelance illustration and engraving.

In 1855 Worthington Smith moved with his wife Henrietta to 121 High Street Dunstable on the advice of a doctor who recommended fresh air and a country existence. By this time Worthington Smith had developed many interests including archaeology, history and mycology (the study of fungi).

Smith's archaeological work had begun in the 1870's after the publication of Sir John Evan's book 'Ancient Stone Implements of Britain' (1872) and he had already found old stone age (palaeolithic) tools and landsurfaces in London prior to his arrival in Dunstable. It was while on collecting excursions for botanical and archaeological specimens in the Dunstable area that he located a series of palaeolithic landsurfaces which included sites at Caddington, Round Green and Gaddesden Row. These, and other items of archaeological and historical interest were published in a series of periodical articles and books throughout the years 1879-1916. It is however the work 'Man, the primeval savage, his haunts and relics from the hill-tops of Bedfordshire to Blackwall' (1894) for which he is most well known. Smith gained official recognition for his work within archaeology when in 1897 he became the local secretary of Bedfordshire for the Society of Antiquaries and in 1902 he was rewarded with a civil list pension of fifty pounds a year in consideration of his services to archaeology and botanical illustration.

As an historian Smith contributed much to the history of Dunstable; he was the discoverer and translator of the charter granted to the town by King Henry I and the author of an extensive book on its history 'Dunstable, its history and surroundings' (1904). His work was recognised when he became the first freeman of the Borough of Dunstable.

In his own lifetime however Smith was probably more renowned for his contribution to the study of fungi than for his archaeological or historical discoveries. He published over 250 papers and notes on the subject, among them a number of books which included 'Mushrooms and toadstools: how to distinguish between edible and poisonous fungi' (1867) and 'Diseases of field and garden crops, chiefly as are caused by fungi' (1884).

Smith continued to live and work in Dunstable until his death on the 27th October 1917 at the age of 82. An obituary was published in the London Times on October 31, 1917.

Further Reading and Sources:

Worthington George Smith, by Bedfordshire Libraries, 2005

Page last updated: 24th January 2014