Mantell’s life and reputation

Key secondary texts on Mantells’ life, work and times are:

Cadbury, Deborah. 1998. The dinosaur hunters: a story of scientific rivalry and the discovery of the prehistoric world. London: Fourth Estate
Dean, Dennis R. A bibliography with supplementary essays. New York: Scholars, Facsimiles & Reprints, 1998. Includes Gideon Mantell Bicentenary address given at Falmer and Lewes 1990.
Dean, Dennis R. Gideon Mantell and the discovery of dinosaurs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999
McGowan, Christopher. The Dragon Seekers: how an extraordinary circle of fossilists discovered the dinosaurs and paved the way for Darwin. Cambridge: Perseus Publishing, 2001

And Spokes, Sydney 1927. Gideon Algernon Mantell LLD, FRCS, FRS, surgeon and geologist. London: John Bales & Danielson contains additonal materials such as letters and other correspondence.

A great deal has been written about the rivalry between Mantell and Richard Owen founder of the Natural History Museum in London. See Deborah Cadbury The Dinosaur Hunters and  Owen was widely assumed to have been behind an attempt to undermine Mantell’s reputation immediately after his premature death at the age of 62 in an anonymously published obituary.

There is a description of this relationship in the recently launched booklet entitled Gideon Mantell: A Remarkable Life  mantell-booklet (published in October 2016 to tie in with the Lewes Fossil Festival). This 16 page booklet written by John May  outlines Mantell’s life and works and his contribution to knowledge of these fossilised giant ancient creatures. Most people know that Mantell found and identified the Iguanodon but do they know that he identified, named and described seven other dinosaurs as well.

To read more of what people wrote about Mantell immediately following his death see the number one of four in a series entitled Momento Mori Momento Mori One which were produced in 2002  by Anthony Brook of West Sussex Geological Society to mark the 150th anniversary of  his death.

iguanodon-mystery  A book by William Edmonds The Iguanodon Mystery published in 1979 by  Viking Children’s Books is now sadly out of print although available via Amazon.  Aimed at the younger reader this sets out the story of how Mantell identified the early iguanodon from fragments of fossilised bones and teeth and how the interpreations changed over the years.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Find Dinosaur Bones around Lewes

In shop windows from Cliffe Corner up to by Gideon Mantell’s former house on the High Street there were eight pieces of iguanodon skeleton hiding in shop windows.Many thanks to the participating shops and entrants. The competition is now closed. See below for answers.

Layout 1Layout 1

Clue Number EightDown at Cliffe Corner you will find bags full of tall tales!  Many different books for children exist on dinosaurs at

Gideon Mantell as a child in the early 1800s went to school at Dr Button’s Academy opposite Cliffe Church and was a star pupil there.


The tail of the Iguanodon provided balance as it walked or ran but it also could act as a powerful weapon swiping aside anything attacking it from behind. So along with its thumb spike it could try and defend itself from predators.

Clue Number SevenLike the shoe shop but isn’t. But it is in the vicinity.  So could it be


The three-toed footprints of iguanodons have been found all over the world and in the past people may have thought they were made by dragons. For local sites you can look around Hastings

Clue Number SixSaddle up and ride off from here, let’s hope the saddle is big enough! The Bike Shop at 39a Friars Walk is opposite the site of the original Lewes Railway Station. Gideon Mantell used to visit Lewes by train and would alight here.


There were debates about whether the Iguanodon walked on four feet or two. The pelvis gives us clues of the angle that the hip bones joined the pelvis that it could run on two legs with powerful back leg muscles. See for the detailed anatomy of dinosaurs.

Clue Number FiveTickle his ribs… maybe just an ‘ickle bit more to find them! This shop is just up School Hill where Clothkits used to sit


The finding and identifying of the iguanodon from small fragments like ribs or teeth is a story in itself but see here for more about the different types of Iguanodon.

Clue Number FourSussex is where he was found but he wasn’t very interested in Stationary!  Easy clue to find due to the dinosaur balloon in the window.


The iguanodon needed to be able to reach up to trees to find his food to eat hence his long neck. He was a herbovore. His bones have been found in Kent, Sussex and the Isle of Wight. See here for where to find and see bones in Sussex.

Clue Number Three Si says “Sounds like he would give you a spikey handshake coming up from the Station!”  Fittingly this clue can be found in Station Street that was known as St Mary’s Lane when Mantell was born and raised up in what is now number 23.


This claw can be seen in the Natural History Museum At first Mantell thought it was a spike on the end of the Iguanodon’s nose.

Clue Number TwoDown by the wishing well—Needlen’t be too difficult to find! Find the clue with Mr Birch now in the basement at the Needlemakers at


This great gentle monster had muscle attachments to its jaw to show it was a plant eater. It had a bony beak instead of front teeth.

Clue Number One – These teeth are not as big as a Castle but close!  Lewes Castle and the Barbican Museum are near to where Gideon Mantell lived at 166 High Street and is where he was living when he found the very first Iguanodon tooth.He named it Iguanodon as it reminded him of the tooth of an Iguana.


Original drawing here of first teeth found around 1822 that gave rise to the idea of a giant reptile. The library at the Barbican House Museum has some orginal Mantell documents that can be viewed by appointment .

See here for more information on the finding of the tooth. The tooth is now in New Zealand as Mantell’s son lived there and it was sent to him for safekeeping after he died in 1852


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Lewes Fossil Fest

Logo Filled September 24 and 25th 2016

Lewes hosted a family event on the last weekend of September under blue and sunny skies. There were activities and a theatre show telling the story of the finding of the Iguanodon. The town of Lewes played an important role in palaeontology, as it was the birthplace and home of Gideon Mantell who found and identified the first fossils, and gave the Iguanodon its name. This free hands-on community arts and earth science festival provided a unique chance to bring this story to families and individuals in Mantell’s home town.

The Railway Land Wildlife Trust (RLWT) and Lewes District Council Ranger service worked with the Lewes Town Partnership on creating this two day festival based in and around the Linklater Pavilion in the centre of the town see

The festival consisted of:

Saturday 24th September: a programme of arts, crafts and science based activities in the Linklater Pavilion.The programme included talks, and displays by professionals, together with an exhibition and souvenir brochure. Partners included the Booth Museum of Natural History, Brighton & Hove Geological Society, the Geologists’ Association, Lewes U3A Geology Group volunteers, RLWT volunteers, LDC ranger service, Bag of Books, author Nicky Dee and her Fossil remains of the Iguanodon from the Booth Museum were on display close up over the weekend


Sunday 25th September: the street theatre Iguanodon Restaurant was set up next to the Linklater, with additional stalls including fossils and other earth sciences and exhibition in the Linklater Pavilion. Two free showings of the street theatre play, about the finding, identifying and naming of the Iguanodon were performed (12.00 noon & 2.30pm) This had its inaugural showings at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival by not for profit theatre company Emerald Ant CIC; the 35ft model Iguanodon was created partly in Lewes.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Crystal Palace dinosaurs

1854 was the date of the unveiling of model dinosaurs in the park in South London  where the Crystal Palace had recently been moved from Hyde Park. Gideon Mantell however had died in 1852. So what is the link?

In August 1852 Mantell was approached by the directors of the Crystal Palace Company to oversee the development of a geological display telling the story of the discoveries he had overseen for so long. The minutes showed they wished to “make enquiry of Dr Mantell as to what degree of completeness the collection could attain for a sum of 3,000 or 4,000 pounds”. Mantell was however in acute pain, and in fact dying, and so he declined the offer. “Very good for nothing… in fact I am all used up” he wrote. On 10 November he died, possibly from an overdose of the opiates he took to achieve some relief.

His previous antagonistic relationship with rival Richard Owen then worked its ways out. This has been documented in the book by Deborah Cadbury The Dinosaur Hunters: the True Story of Scientific Rivalry and the Discovery of the Prehistoric World

Owen despite having been unmasked as the author of an obituary dismissing Mantell’s contribution to the knowledge of the time went on to not only inherit Mantell’s deformed spine for his collection at the Hunterian Museum but also to take over the development of the dinosaur park at Sidenham. Owen ignored Mantell’s, in fact correct, interpretation of the Iguanodon as having shorter fore limbs and designed a squat four legged scaly monster Igunaodon model.

On New Years Eve 1853 Owen hosted a celebratory meal inside a cast from this model and used it to promote the venture, as described here Dinner in the Iguanodon .


The famous “Dinner in the Iguanodon Model” was immortalised in this picture, published in Illustrated London News, 7 January 1854, p. 22.The names of Mantell, Buckland and Cuvier can be glimpsed high on the wall but Owen took the place at the head of the table.

To explore this debate and the respective roles of all of the men and women discoverers of our earliest land and sea creatures a piece of street art will be coming to Lewes in the summer. Not only was Lewes Mantell’s birthplace but also the location of where he  lived when he discovered and identified the original Iguanodon fossils. This event will be on Sunday 25 September 2016  and will be brought to life by the Iguanodon Restaurant street theatre shows presented by Emerald Ant CIC

If you would like to help plan this event, can help with fundraising or help develop the fossil festival programme to accompany this please email debby.matthews[at]



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Horsfield’s History & Antiquities of Lewes and its Vicinity

This illustrated book was published in 1824 by J Baxter and written by Rev Thomas Walker Horsfield who was the Minister of West Gate Chapel (1817-27) includes additional material from Gideon Mantell. Volume I includes an appendix of the Natural History of Lewes by Gideon Mantell FRS.There are descriptions of the bones, beads, pots and other antiquities found by Mantell in his searches around the hills of the town. Click on the link to view the book online as a Google facsimile

Contained within the 350 plus pages is a comprehensive history of the town as was known at the time in an extremely readable style. There are illustrated plates included in the book which are familiar to many people as pictures in their own right.  The only possible chapters now contested are the sections describing Lewes as a Roman garrison.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Gideon’s parents Thomas & Sarah Mantell

In 1776 Thomas Mantell, written sometimes as Mantle, married Sarah Austin born 25 Nov 1755 from Peckam Kent and lived together in 16 St Mary’s Lane, Lewes. Thomas Mantell born 21 April 1750 signed himself in documents as a Cordwainer, or shoe maker.The history of the ownership of the house is listed in Colin Brent’s exhaustive analysis of house ownership and residences of Lewes.

Number 23 SML SJ: Southover manor freehold, rent eight pence
1710 Widow Hawcombe, late Auger: tenement next the Ship in SML – MR
1733 & 1738 Jas Daw junior master bricklayer [GL] Westgate owner & occ – DN list
1761 house belonging to J Daws: abuttal – FB 116
1780-6 Mr Thatcher, 1787 J Wimble junior,1788-1807 T Mantell owner – LT W1
1807 death of TM boot maker & master gardener aged 55 – SWA 13 July
1807-12 Mrs M owner – LT W1 W2
1780-1 J Edwards, 1782 Jos Burgess, 1786 Fowle, 1787 JW junior
1789-1807 T Mantell shoemaker, 1807-12 Wicks, Saxby, Morley, occs* – LT W1
1812 Gideon Mantell occ – W2

Thomas did also own various other buildings in Fisher Street, St John’s Street and Lancaster Street as well as the Methodist chapel he had built in St Mary’s Lane by the time of his death on 11 July 1807. The first Thomas Mantell came to Lewes in the 1550s and took up important roles in the governing of the town such as Headborough in 1562 and Constable in 1572. The full family story is told in the 2008 book by Dennis Dean Gideon Mantell and the Discovery of Dinosaurs

Thomas and Sarah’s fifth child was Gideon Algernon born 3 February 1790 whose middle name reflected his father’s admiration for Algernon Sidney, a republican hero. Together living with Gideon and his parents were older sister Mary (their first child Sarah had died in infancy) and brothers Thomas and Samuel. Later they were joined by younger siblings Joshua, Jemima and, when Sarah was aged about forty five, her eighth child Kezia.

Thomas founded a Methodist chapel opposite the house on St Mary’s Lane in 1788 where Gideon was baptised by the Rev George Barnard on 8 September 1790. Thomas Mantell died in 1807 and was buried in his parish church, St John sub Castro graveyard along with other members of the Mantell family. In 1812 Gideon is recorded as back from London living with Sarah who was listed as owner of the family home, before taking up his medical practice with Dr Moore on the High Street around the corner. In December 1828 Sarah died age 73, Gideon wrote in his diary “my poor mother was interred this morning in a steined grave close to my father, who was buried 22 years since”.

Grave of Thomas and Sarah Mantell

Grave of Thomas and Sarah Mantell, Gideon’s parents

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Gideon Mantell in the news

They’re Back a recent Guardian article on Dinosaurs made much of Richard Owen and his dinosaour park at Crystal Palace but seemed to have totally overlooked Mantell’s contribution to the story by his finding and naming of the Iguanodon. A letter in the Guardian 19 June 2015 has attempted to put this right

The long standing rivalry between Owen and Mantell was well described in Deborah Cadbury’s book Dinosaur Hunters: A True Story of Scientific Rivalry and the Discovery of the Prehistoric World. Fourth Estate; 2000 (reviewed here

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized