A SMALL West Oxfordshire village is helping to put its most famous son back on the map of scientific discovery.

Churchill-born geologist William Smith was largely overlooked in his lifetime, but his revolutionary theories enabled layers of rocks to be dated for the first time, and it is 200 years since he produced the first geological map of Britain.

To celebrate, villagers have unveiled a new plaque and set up an exhibition to mark the milestone.

The plaque was unveiled on the site of Smith’s former home in the village by Professor Hugh Torrens, Emeritus Professor of History of Science and Technology at Keele University, on Sunday, the day before what would have been Smith’s 246th birthday.

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The new exhibition at the Churchill and Sarsden Heritage contains Smith’s famous geological map, his map of Oxfordshire and his fossil drawings.

So far it has drawn so much interest it is attracting tourists from as far away as Japan.

The centre’s director David Chambers said: “A lot of people hardly know he existed, so this helps to let people know what an important man he was and how much impact his theories had.

“His ideas proved that the earth was much older than was accepted in the religion of the time. This was pre-Darwin, so he was flying in the face of accepted scientific theory and religion.

“It was only at the end of his life that he was recognised by the Geological Society, but he died bankrupt in Northampton.”

Volunteers at the heritage centre have worked with the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH), which digitised an archive of William Smith artefacts last year. It has lent the maps and artefacts for the exhibition.

Head of archives at OUMNH Kate Santry said: “It’s quite surprising that he isn’t a household name”

The Churchill and Sardsen Heritage Centre was set up in 2001, after volunteers renovated a former medieval church, which had fallen into disrepair. It has permanent displays about Smith and the village’s other famous sons, Warren Hastings and James Langstone.

The centre is open until September 27, on Saturdays, Sundays, Bank Holidays from 2-4.30pm.