Who exactly found the iguanodon tooth?

Gideon Mantell’s life was full of exploration and learning and he wrote and published about it extensively but one mystery remains; who actually found the original iguanodon tooth? The story goes that Mary Ann Mantell accompanied her husband Gideon on a journey one day in 1822 and while he was visiting one of his patients she spotted a strangely coloured item by the road side in a pile of stones left by some road builders. She immediatly spotted the significance and showed it to her husband who went on to publish the find as evidence of a giant land lizard the Iguano-don (tooth of an iguana) in 1825. However the basis of the story is hard to source.We know that later on Gideon and his wife separated; with her leaving him and her children, possibly exasperated by his obsessions with ancient stones and bones. Was she written out of the history books or is there a different explanation? Come to a talk by Anthony Booth on Tuesday 24th February 2015 7.30pm at Council Chamber, Lewes Town Hall entrance £4. Anthony has been delving deep into the printed sources to seek to uncover where the truth lies….

The actual tooth can be found in the Te Papa museum in New Zealand where the Mantells’ first son Walter emigrated to and who received many of the Mantell papers and artefacts after Gideon’s death http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/topic/2166

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How to find original Mantell publications

Mantell’s books can be viewed as facsimiles or as paperback reprints but to handle or own one of Gideon Mantell’s original publications is a special thing. These books can be quite expensive, for example his Geology of the South East England (1833) can be in the high hundreds. Some of the books are quite rare as they were produced by subscription and have hand produced plates in them.

Places to buy originals includes the Bow Windows Book Shop in Lewes.

Or search the regular book fairs in Lewes Town Hall. There you can usually find Alan Ticehurst who may have one of Mantell’s originals for sale. Or he can seek them out for you. Contact him on 01323 641912 or email alanticehurst@talktalk.net. If you do so please let him know you found out about him here.

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Gideon Mantell’s last resting place

As he was living on Clapham Common when his beloved daughter Hannah died Mantell had her buried nearby in West Norwood cemetery. He stated that he wished to be buried with her on his own death which explains why this son of Lewes who was by then living in central London is buried in West Norwood outer London.

His grave can be found at grave 273, square 99. The following description of his funeral comes from The Friends of West Norwood Cemetery (FOWNC) Newsletter No 46

Mantell’s funeral followed the instructions he deposited with his wife’s nephew, Alfred Woodhouse, buried ‘by the side of my beloved child’ in Norwood Cemetery, with the funeral ‘as plain as possible, and to take place in the early morning’. The hearse, drawn by four horses, was accompanied by two other coaches, one being his own, presumably driven by his coachman Thomas. His daughter Ellen Maria, sister Mary West, Alfred Woodhouse, his solicitor Mr Williams, Charles Pritchard, Headmaster of Clapham School, Joseph Dinkel, the artist who worked with him for 20 years, and Hannah his cook were at the graveside with the service performed by the Reverend Kemble from Clapham. His wife, probably living in Cambridgeshire at the time, did not attend although Mantell hoped she would. He had drawn the outline of a plain monument to be placed over the graves and the Portland stone tomb subsequently placed there was designed by Amon Henry Wilds, son of Amon Wilds who had remodelled Mantell’s home, Castle Place in Lewes.

Thanks to Bob Flanagan of the FOWNC for the attached pictures of Mantell’s grave show it before and after restoration, necessary as it was sinking into the ground. The design by Wilds is meant to be a near perfect replica in form, but not in the applied detail, of the Bark Stand in the sanctuary of the Temple of Amun at Naqa, Sudan, (684-680 BC) dating from the 1st century AD in the reign of King Natakamani and Queen Amanitore. See the Friends of West Norwood Cemetery Newsletter No 52 for more on the influences underpinning Amon Wilds’ work.

As a GradeII* listed monument the restoration work had to be carried out with the aid of English Heritage  Although broken into pieces by the contractors the original is now in Lewes in the care of Sussex Archaeological Society.  It is hoped by Mantell’s many local fans that a true homecoming back to Lewes can be arranged for Gideon Mantell – by bring them out from the cellar and locating them somewhere in Lewes as a tribute to this national and international local hero.

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The Unpublished Journal of Gideon Mantell 1819-1852

In 1818 Mantell began to keep a Journal – as he called it – “a sketch of passing events”. The original copies of the Journal – together with all the remaining archives of Mantell are kept in the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington, New Zealand to where one of his sons had emigrated. In 1940, E. Cecil Curwen published about half of this extensive record of Mantell’s often turbulent life and times. The unpublished parts have remained somewhat elusive until now. However if you follow the link below you can download the pdf version  of the rest.

Many thanks to John Cooper of Brighton and Hove Museums whose decade long dedication to untangling the unpublished from the published parts of the journals results in this being available today.


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Dinosaur Doctor:the life and work of Gideon Mantell

A new book of Mantell’s life and work has been produced by Edmund Critchley. This book focuses less on his fossil finds and geological work and more on his medical skills and his life as a doctor. Mantell’s understanding of anatomy helped him make sense of the giant bones he was unearthing.

The book gives us a detailed description of Gideon’s early learning and medical training, placed within Lewes’ dissenting  tradition. This was due to the nonconformist leanings of his Methodist father which disallowed access to the grammar school in the town.  It also covers his time learning anatomy and developing his skills as a doctor with Dr Moore in the town and the famous Dr Abernethy in St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London.

The book has a whole chapter on Mantell’s own health and the story of how his spine came to be pickled in the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, now lost. Critchley comes to the conclusion based on his diary entries that Gideon’s own medical problems may have have been due to Guillain-Barre syndrome.

There are a few factual errors in the book, eg saying that he had moved to Clapton rather than Clapham for example.  However Critchley’s own medical background as a consultant neurologist, gives us a new take on Mantell’s life and work.

Copies of the book can be bought at the bookshop in the Barbican by the Castle or direct from the Amberley Press.

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Around the Block: a ramble around Lewes in the footsteps of Gideon Mantell

A book of woodcuts has been launched at Art Wave in Lewes on 27th August 2010. The pictures of Lewes landmarks  are produced by members of the Paddock Printmakers and are accompanied by Gideon Mantell’s words. These are taken from his publication A Day’s Ramble around the Ancient Town of Lewes and relate to how the town looked in 1846.

An exhibition of the prints is open to view in the cafe at the Needlemakers during the festival (28th August – 12th September). Prints can also be found at the Tom Paine Press on the High Street, by the bottleneck.

The hand bound, limited edition book (180 copies only) are on sale contact Carolyn Trant <parvenu.c@ukonline.co.uk> to reserve a copy. Copies cost £45 and are numbered. They can be bought from the Tom Paine press.

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Where to view dinosaur bones in Sussex?

Although there may still be some undiscovered skeletons under the ground the best place to view Iguanodon and other fossilised bones are in the following museums in Sussex:

Founded in 1874, by 19th century naturalist and collector Edward Thomas Booth, the Booth Museum of Natural History is the second largest regional natural history museum in Britain. As well as housing Booth’s original collection of British birds, today it contains three quarters of a million natural history specimens in a collection designated of national importance. Among the 55,000 geological specimens, Henry Willett’s 1860 bequest of chalk fossils remains one of the collection’s cornerstones. The museum’s display includes fossils, minerals, 350 million-year-old corals, shells from a 55 million-year-old ‘Mediterranean’ lagoon near Newhaven, and the 140 million-year-old bones of dinosaurs that once wandered the Sussex Weald. http://www.booth.virtualmuseum.info/visitor_information.asp

Horsham was at the cutting edge of Victorian science as two local men, George Bax Holmes and Thomas Honywood transformed the idea of the past. Bax Holmes discovered and collected dinosaur fossils, including the remains of the Great Horsham Iguanodon at St. Mark’s, and Honywood discovered of the material remains of Mesolithic man (from the period after the last ice age, some 8 to 10,000 years ago). Visit the room on the first floor of the Horsham Museum on the Causeway. http://www.horshammuseum.org/index.asp

Cuckfield Museum‘s displays on Gideon and Mary Mantell are on the first floor at the top of the stairs. They include a cast and a replica of dinosaur footprints found on Bexhill beach and some other Iguanodon bones. The memorial to Gideon Mantell is close by at Whiteman’s Green on the site of the quarry where the early first bones were found. http://www.cuckfield.org/page.php?pg=12

To see more about the Iguanodon displays in the Natural History Museum in London follow the attached PowerPoint presentation on Mantell. gideon-mary-mantell-and-the-discovery-of-the-iguanadon

There are also places in Sussex where dinosaur footprints can be seen on the beach at low tide.http://www.discoveringfossils.co.uk/fairlight_fossils.htm

Happy hunting!

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