The Priory of St Pancras in Lewes

Gideon Mantell wrote of the Lewes Priory which was a short distance from his home in St Mary’s Lane, Lewes “In my boyhood when I haunted this spot [the Priory] early and late in search of some relic of the olden times enough was standing to interest even the common observer…. In my various explorations of the ruins when a youth, of which, of course, were not judiciously conducted but with a very inefficient means three or four ornamental capitals, and a considerable number of encaustic tiles, bearing various devices recorded my labours”

Exhibit in British Museum
Mantell had these items on display in his Mantellian Museum in Brighton until he sold them to the British Museum in 1838, where they are now on display.

The young Gideon sketched the old Priory dove cote in 1801 when he was eleven. This had provided food for the monks at the Priory and had housed 322 pairs of doves. One wing of the cruciform building was destroyed 1804, the others came down soon after. Its dimensions were 80ft x 80 ft

From Sketches by GA Mantell aged eleven for his sister Jemima produced in 1801 of which only two copies survive. Gideon Mantell the Antiquarian is the subject of the 2023 Mantell birthday lecture on 3 February, to be delivered by Graham Mayhew.


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Finding the teeth of Iguanodon

As described by Dennis Dean in his book Gideon Mantell and the Discovery of Dinosaurs (Cambridge University Press; 1999) by November 1821 Mantell was in possession of at least six iguanodon teeth found in the locality of Lewes where he lived.

Mantell had been exploring and logging what he found in the local geology around him in Sussex since childhood and published his description of them in 1822 entitled The Fossils of South Downs, or Illustrations of the Geology of Sussex. His books contains plates from drawings by his wife Mary Ann Mantell including “ the teeth, vertebrae, bones, and other remains of an animal of the lizard tribe, of enormous magnitude, are perhaps the most interesting fossils that have been discovered in the county of Sussex.”

In 1825 Mantell was publishing his paper on the description of a newly discovered animal he called iguanodon and has described the original teeth as having been found by his wife in deposits at the side of the road used by road builders in the summer of 1822. She picked up what looked different from the other stones in the pile and showed it to her husband who tracked the stones back to a quarry in Cuckfield. The quarry at Whitemans Green is where other parts of the ancient animal were uncovered allowing him to make his assessment of the size and form of the large lizard or reptile like animal. There is a plaque in Cuckfield showing the location and items in their museum describing the find.

The paper entitled Notice on the Iguanodon a newly discovered fossil reptile from the sandstone of Tilgate Forest in Sussex was presented on February 10th 1825.

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Conserving the Heritage of South East England

Notice here of a conference to be held on Saturday 27 November 2021 in Kings Church Centre, Lewes. This will cover a range of topics relating to geology, archaeology and social history. THIS HAS NOW BEEN CANCELLED, HOPEFULLY BE REPLANNED FOR 2022

Conference Fee for the day is £30, which includes coffee/tea, buffet lunch and Conference publication. Please make your cheque payable to   Anthony Brook   and send with your details to Anthony Brook, 15, Cambourne Court, Shelley Road, Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 4BQ. Conference Fee for Full-time Students is only £25!



Thomas Hose  (Bristol University)  ‘GeoConservation and the RIGS of Southeast England’

 Ellinor Michel and Charlotte Wightwick  (NHM) ‘Conserving the Victorian Vision of Dinosaurs, at Crystal Palace’

Matt Pope  (Institute of Archaeology at UCL) ‘New Discoveries from the Archaeological Record of Palaeolithic People in Southeast England

Geoffrey Mead ‘Southeast England in the early 18th century: Defoe’s Tour of 1722’

Matthew Slocombe  (Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings)   ‘The Work of SPAB in Southeast England, and its ‘Old House’ Project’

Kathryn Ferry ‘Seafront Structures of Southeast Seaside Resorts’

Chris Hare ‘Hilaire Belloc and the South Country: landscape, people and myth’

James Trollope ‘The Sussex Landscapes of Eric Slater and Frank Short’

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Charles Lyell and Principles of Geology

From the Stores #2: Gideon Mantell | Through Lyell’s Eyes (

Gideon Mantell was a frequent correspondent of Charles Lyell a fellow early english geologist. Their life-long relationship started with a bang in 1821, when Lyell casually called on Mantell while visiting his old school at Midhurst. Having heard tell of the doctor from some workmen in the nearby quarry, Lyell rode the 25 miles over the South Downs and knocked on Mantell’s door nearly at dusk. Presumably they might have known each other’s names from the Geological Society, but one would imagine the visit would still have come as surprise at best. However, common interest prevailed, a well-stocked fossil cabinet provided great amount of conversation, and the two reportedly gossiped until morning. (Bailey, p. 48) Their published letters cover all from scientific theories, discoveries, to the latest gossip and accounts from the GeolSoc and Royal Society, of which they were both members. This extract comes from a recent blog by the archivist of the Charles Lyell collection at the University of Edinburgh library see above.

The library holds the collection of Lyell’s papers, correspondence, 150 geological specimens and also, since 2019, his many notebooks. These notebooks, which are in the process of being digitised, set out the progression of his thinking that helped him form the theories in his key work the Principles of Geology published 1830-33. Lyell travelled widely and described, and illustrated in detail, volcanos, earthquakes, stratography, glaciers and how the geology of the earth evolved over what he called “deep time”. His views on evolution chimed with those of Darwin and Russell Wallace

An analysis of the correspondence between Lyell and Mantell was published Alan Wennerbom in 1999 for his D Phil thesis entitled Charles Lyell and Gideon Mantell, 1821-1852: Their Quest for Elite Status in English Geology. Supplementary Volume: The Correspondence between Charles Lyell and his family and Gideon Algernon Mantell: 1821-1852.

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Life and times of Thomas Mantell

Lewes History Group talk Monday 11th October  The Life and Times of Thomas Mantell (1750-1807).

The world of the 1790s were truly turbulent times, both politically and socially. In Lewes they were no less momentous and Thomas (1750-1807), father to Gideon Mantell, played his part. This talk will look at the actions and activities of Thomas Mantell, cordwainer and non-conformist, within this context to uncover more of this enigmatic character and the development of Lewes.

Thomas exists very much in the shadow of his famous son. Thomas’ third son Gideon was born on 3 Feb 1790 in St Mary’s Lane (now Station Street) in Lewes and leaves his own record of growing up in Georgian Lewes. With a combination of the actions of the father and the words of the son we can get a clearer picture of Lewes at this time.

The talk on zoom is facilitated by the Lewes History Group, Ticketsource tickets available via their website are free to LHG members but for a fee of £4 to non members.

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Not just the Iguanodon

Cover… but seven dinosaurs in total.

The extract is taken from the 16 page booklet Gideon Mantell: a remarkable life produced for the Lewes Fossil Festival in 2016. Second edition April 2017.  Text written by writer and journalist John May.

The extract references Dennis R Dean, author of two key text on Mantell see below*and explains how Mantell found and identified various different dinosaurs for the first time. 

It is not commonly appreciated that he (Mantell)  devoted some thirty years to his increasingly accurate reconstructions of Iguanodon, while discovering other dinosaurs as well. 

These were: the carnivorous Megalosaurus – discovered  independently by Mantell and others – the first dinosaur of any kind to be described; Iguanodon, the first herbivorous dinosaur; Hylaeosaurus, the first armored dinosaur; the huge remains of a Cetiosaurus (‘whale lizard’), identified by Mantell as a land-based reptilian, wrongly named by its earlier discoverer, arch-rival Richard Owen, who’d assumed it was a marine crocodile; Pelorosaurus, a gigantic species of sauropod (‘lizard foot’) dinosaurs; Regnosaurus (meaning “Sussex lizard”), a genus of herbivorous dinosaurs; and Hypsilophodon, a small agile dinosaur, which Mantell thought was a very young iguanodon.

Mantell discovered also several dozen other prehistoric creatures including prehistoric crocodiles and turtles, molluscs, fishes, insects, sponges and plants. With this broader view, he was able to visualise the primeval landscape the dinosaurs inhabited.

Dean also claims that Mantell ‘was the first person to collect dinosaur bones systematically and over a period of time with the specific intention of restoring the animals’ original appearance’. Mantell’s natural gifts as a public speaker and writer, combined with his remarkable and extensive fossil collection, with giant dinosaur bones as the centrepiece, thrilled and enlightened scholars, scientist, writers, artists and the inquisitive general public of his day. Dean writes: ’…far more than anyone else, he impressed the Age of Reptiles upon contemporary minds’.

A hard-working doctor, often on night calls, Mantell survived on little sleep and did most of his scientific work around midnight. As if these demands were not enough, Dean writes that Mantell was also ‘a local and family historian; a productive archaeologist and microscopist; a political activist and social climber; a minor poet and artist; and, in his valuable journal and extensive correspondence, an outspoken critic and chronicler of his times’

Further reading

Gideon Algernon Mantell: A Bibliography With Supplementary Essays, by Dennis R. Dean and David Norman, published 1 December 1998 (279 pp., Scholars Facsimiles, ISBN-10: 0820115193 & ISBN-13: 9780820115191)

Gideon Mantell and the Discovery of Dinosaurs, by Dennis R. Dean, published 1999 (xix + 290 pp., Cambridge University Press, ISBN-13: 9780521420488)

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The Mantellian Museum in Brighton

Against the counsel of his family but with the encouragement of the Earl of Egremont Gideon moved all of his fossil and other artefacts from the High Street in Lewes to 20 Old Steyne Brighton in 1833. He set up his Mantellian Museum there.

The “Mantell Piece” found in a quarry in Maidstone in 1834 contained a jumble of bones that provided evidence of an early gigantic creature. This along with many others from the collection are now in Natural History Museum in London. The collection was sold by Mantell to the British Museum for £4,000 when he moved to London in 1838.

Mantell Piece itself


Once in Brighton however things didn’t go as well as hoped. He arrived as a celebrated scientist and lecturer but left a few short years later with his family circumstances, his finances and reputation reduced. He was forced to sell off his collection to the British Museum. So what went wrong?

John Cooper writes “The discovery of fossil evidence for the previous existence of huge, extinct creatures in Sussex was extremely unsettling for many people. Mantell braved people’s attitudes and religious beliefs, and pursued the need for scientific progress. Brighton then didn’t always value his efforts, and even now we don’t always value his important role in the national and international setting.”

To read more see John Cooper’s article Gideon Mantell and the Brighton Press 1834- 1838 in Journal of West Sussex History No 77 2008-9 p33-46. This forms part of a series of essays entitled “What on Earth is under Sussex?


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Smallpox outbreak in St Mary’s Lane 1794

When young Gideon would have been three years old (he was born in 1790) an outbreak of the dreaded smallpox occurred in Lewes on 4 January 1794. The following report was recorded in the Town Book of 1794 describing how the town and its people requested affected people to remain in their homes and not to spread the illness. The people identified in the account lived two doors from the Mantell family house on St Mary’s Lane.

Gideon’s father Thomas Mantell was a local tradesman a cordwainer, and a well known Dissenter. He was elected one of the two Headboroughs in 1792 and served on the council known as The Twelve who, elected annually, managed the town’s finances and oversaw law and order and general town improvements. He would have been involved in the town meetings called to discuss the outbreak and what to do about it.

The town eventually decided upon the use of inoculation, a new development available in the town from its local doctor Dr Frewin who had premises on School Hill. It was  agreed by the town that  “general inoculation being an evil much less to be dreaded than infection in the natural way”.

After being injected with some “infected matter” taken from cow pox pustules they were required to rest indoors for two weeks.  Nevertheless it was not without its dangers and out of 2,290 town inhabitants and 600 strangers inoculated forty six died. Those who died were of all ages from eight hours to eighty years and there many ulcerated arms experienced and 25 women miscarried.

Dr Thomas Frewin (1704-91) from Northiam was a pioneer and advocate of inoculating, having written it up for his Master’s. He was however cited as a “common Nuisance” in the Lewes Quarter sessions of 1750 for injecting patients near a busy highway in Northiam, by 1772 it was becoming more accepted a practice. However in 1794 it was still a novel approach with many people fearful.

From the Town Book of Lewes 1702 – 1837 ed by Verena Smith. Sussex Records Society; Lewes Vol 69 pages 94-96

extract 1

extract 2

extract 3

Smallpox was declared as “eradicated” by World Health Organisation in 1980 through programmes of vaccination carried out across the world.   

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Introducing Mantellisaurus; the 2020 Mantell Birthday Memorial Lecture

When Gideon Mantell and wife Mary Ann described fossils they had found in the Wealden clays north of Lewes in the 1820s they realised they had come across something totally new; the original tooth so resembled that of an iguana’s the creature was named Iguanodon. Over the next 100 years more bones were discovered and a whole set of dinosaur skeletons under the name of Iguanodontids were identified and placed in museums around Europe. More recently however the family tree of this creature has been questioned…

The 2020 Gideon Mantell birthday memorial lecture was on 3rd February 2020 at Lewes Town Hall Council Chamber. Joe Bonsor (@palaeojoe) PhD student at the Natural History Museum in London shared his work on the skeleton that is exhibited in the museum’s Hintze Hall, now named Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis after Lewes’ own Gideon Mantell.

The Write up of the talk is from John Cooper of the Booth Museum in Brighton is published in the Brighton and Hove Geological Society Newsletter Issue 137 March 2020 p4-6

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Geology conference

Cuckfield The quarry at Cuckfield where various items were found

For those interested in Geology/Earth Science in Southeast England the inaugural Wealden Geological Assembly was on Saturday 30 November 2019 in the Exhibition Hall of Worthing College Highlights of the programme included:

  • Wealden Dinosaurs, based on Mantell’s discoveries: Joe Bonsor  (PhD student at the NHM)  ‘Iguanodon and other Wealden iguanodontids’
  • Tom Raven  (PhD Student at the NHM) Hylaeosaurus and other Wealden anklyosaurs’

The SERC Nov 2020 conference is planned for Saturday 14 November 2020 in Clair Hall, Haywards Heath on Conserving the Heritage of Southeast England.  

The organiser is Anthony Brook, 15, Cambourne Court, Shelley Road, Worthing BN11 4BQ

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