It had been discovered, by 1975, that an eighteenth-century manuscript on English strata written by a John Player had been donated to a museum in Bath, England in 1857. The hunt for this, lost since some time after 1879, led in 1991 to the realization that an earlier MSS version had survived in private hands. This paper is the result of a collaboration between Madeleine Gill, historian and lineal descendant of the Gloucestershire Quaker John Player (1725–1808), Hugh Torrens, an historian of English geology. We first investigate, and publish part of, Player's MSS ‘Observations on the Strata of the Earth’ of 1765/1766. Its content is highly complex, because of the lack of any adequate terminology which would have allowed Player to describe the many lithologies he had encountered, coupled with his failure to give any place names to the localities at which he had found them. The later history of this MSS is next discussed, and how it came to the attention in 1801 of the circle which then surrounded William Smith at nearby Bath. But this was clearly too late to have influenced Smith directly. It was next discovered that Player had also been the author of a series of articles between 1764 and 1766 in the journal Museum Rusticum, which was an early publishing outlet in support of the work of the Society of Arts, founded in London in 1754. Player wrote these articles under the pseudonym of “Ruricola Glocestris”. His first article, which gave “easy-to-be-known signs by which to direct the search for Coal”, gave us a second, printed, source by which we could investigate his early investigations of English strata. It became clear that his main interest was in helping the discovery of unknown deposits of coal, outside the known coal fields, which were fuelling the nascent ‘Industrial Revolution’ here, and which now surrounded Player as he worked, first as a farmer, and later as a significant land surveyor, widely away from his Gloucestershire base. The final parts of our paper discuss the history of the English study of strata. Here we reject Martin Rudwick's claim that this had owed much, or anything, to German geognosy. We support this by pointing out that Player had been preceded by John Strachey, whose earlier work on such strata we also discuss, as we do that of Player's contemporary, John Michell. Finally, we urge the importance of coal, which fuelled the world's first ‘Industrial Revolution’ in Britain, and which historians now point out has provided the ‘key break in the history of humanity’. We hope this paper will inspire others to examine more the effects that coal and its ‘Revolution’ have had on the rise of the new science of geology.

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