John Whitehurst, a clock and instrument-maker, synthesized many thousands of observations of stratigraphic sequences made by scores of lead miners as well as by himself in the Peak Mining District in Derbyshire, England to document a regional stratigraphy . That stratigraphic synthesis, published in 1778, preceded the work of William Smith and may be considered a pioneering step in the beginnings of the science of geology. Whitehurst was drawn to the Peak District by its scenery and warm springs in the mid-1700s. While there, he became fascinated by the multitude of shafts dug into the Carboniferous limestones by miners in their quest for lead. Intensive lead mining had been carried out in the Peak Mining District since the latter part of the seventeenth century. By the mid-eighteenth century, the area was one of the principal lead mining districts in the world. Trevor Ford (2007, oral communication, 2007) suggested that as many as 100,000 shafts had been dug throughout the Peak District by the time that Whitehurst studied the area.
Through his discussions with miners, Whitehurst realized that an understanding of a regional stratigraphy could permit ore-hearing strata to be traced into unexplored sites. Accordingly, Whitehurst familiarized himself with stratal sequences and their orientation (strike and dip in modern terms) which he and miners observed in hundreds of local excavations. He synthesized this plethora of local details into six stratigraphic cross sections across the region. These cross sections were published in an Appendix to An Inquiry into the Original State and Formation of the Earth published in 1778. Whitehurst stated in the Appendix (p.143) that "amidst a lot of the confusion of strata, there is nevertheless one constant invariable order in the arrangement them." He noted that his intent in drawing the stratigraphic cross sections was to establish "a system of Subterraneous geography as may in time become subservient to the purposes of human life by leading to the discovery of these things which are concealed from our observation in the lower regions of the earth" (Appendix, p. 143). Whitehurst suggested that stratigraphic sections such as he had drawn for the Peak District could be developed in other areas. He pointed out (Appendix, p.145) "I am fully persuaded in my own mind that if all the strata in all countries were faithfully represented by sections, it would furnish miners with superior ideas of their respective works, and enable them to proceed in their works with more propriety, It would also be a peculiar satisfaction to the proprietors of mines to see the sections of strata, with the nature and quality of each bed."