Mantell Birthday Anniversary Talks Series

Gideon Mantell was born on 3 February 1790 in St Mary’s Lane in Lewes and every 3rd February or thereabouts there is an anniversary talk given by someone who can provide a new view on Mantell and his life or work, or on a topic related to early palaeontology. See

Our 2022 talk will be on 3 February 2022 7.30pm at Lewes Town Hall when Tom Sharpe will tell us all about Mary Anning, the Fossil Woman.

Gideon Mantell first met Mary Anning when he visited her shop in Lyme Regis in Dorset on 27 June 1832, but he had known of the famed fossil dealer and her remarkable fossil discoveries for at least 12 years. Although Mantell refers to her in his journal as ‘the geological Lioness of the Place’, he seems to have been disappointed by his visit. He thought her shop was small and ‘dirty, with hundreds of specimens piled around and in the greatest disorder’, and that she was ‘a prim, pedantic vinegar looking, thin female, shrewd, and rather satirical in her conversation.’ Mantell’s description of Mary Anning is at odds with others which we have and perhaps says more about him than her.

So what was Mary Anning really like? And how much do we know about her? How much is speculation? And how much is myth that has developed through the uncritical telling and retelling of her tale over the course of two centuries? Are we seeing a new Anning myth in the making, thanks to a recent film? Separating the facts from the fictions about Mary Anning can be challenging, but her story is a remarkable tale in its own right. This talk will examine what we know of the life of this extraordinary woman, her famous – and less well-known – discoveries, and her part within the wider network of the developing science of palaeontology in the early nineteenth century, and will seek to dispel at least a few of the Mary myths.

Tom Sharpe was formerly Curator of Palaeontology and Archives at the National Museum of Wales and taught geology in the lifelong learning departments of both Cardiff and Bristol universities. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society, the Royal Geographical Society and the Museums Association, and is a former Chair of the Geological Curators’ Group and History of Geology Group. He has long had an interest in the history of geology, and has published on the work of the geologists Henry De la Beche and William Smith and on the history of the geological exploration of Antarctica. He is the author of The Fossil Woman. A Life of Mary Anning, published by The Dovecote Press in November 2020.

Previous talks have included…

The 2021 talk was on the Life and Times of Thomas Mantell (1750–1807) : a true Lewes Maverick. Thomas, father to Gideon Mantell, exists very much in the shadow of his famous son. The talk on zoom focussed on this key Lewes character living during highly exciting political times, the 1790s.  The talk was provided by Debby Matthews and hosted online by Lewes Archaeological Group.

The 2020 talk was Introducing Mantellisaurus by Joe Bonsor 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 2019 talk was delivered by Ray Hale, specialist in wildlife lectures and educational displays entitled Gideon Mantell: The Dinosaur Doctor of Lewes and the Fossil that Changed the World

In 2018 we were pleased to welcome Ellinor Michel chair of the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. These Dinosaurs were ‘given flesh’ in the first attempt at three-dimensional life-like reconstructions when they formed the centrepieces of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins’s inspired Crystal Palace geological islands. She gave a talk in Lewes about the challenges and  importance of these models.