Plaque to Mantell in St Michael’s church

On Lewes High Street is St Michael’s church. This was the church where Mantell attended and had his children baptised and is just a short walk from his house and doctor practice. His son Reginald had the plaque installed to his father, dated 1857. Gideon died on 10 November 1852 (Reginald gets the date wrong by a year)

Reginald himself died not long after his father at age 30 of cholera while working on the railways in India on 30 June 1857.


The wording on the plaque are not easy to read so a transcript is here below.


The plaque is mounted at the bottom with the Mantell Coat of Arms granted to the Mantell part of the family in Kent and depicts a black cross engrailed between four black martlets on a silver shield. Gideon was reported to have had a table with this engarved on it his house at Castle Place.

Gideon himself had a plaque to his father Thomas placed in St Michael’s Church with one of his poems. It can be found at the back wall of the church.


Thomas Mantell was buried in St John sub Castro church yard, St Mary’s Lane being of that parish, together with Gideon’s mother Sarah in a solid family grave which can be visited. Read about it here


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The 2018 Lewes Fossil Festival braved the rain!

This year’s Lewes Fossil Festival was on Sunday 23 September at the Linklater Pavilion. There was a range of family activities to suit all ages and abilities; including a hunt for shark teeth, model painting, a Treasure Hunt, dino biscuit icing, a selection of short films and the chance to view and handle real dinosaur bones and fossils courtesy of the Booth Museum of Natural History in Brighton.

There was also a chance to build their own Jurassic Park dinosaurs with bits of plastic and other things we usually throw away. This produced some magnificent models.

The Future Fossils project was an interesting take on what people in the future would make of our civilisation if all that was left in the geology was bits of plastic, or their imprint.

A Geology Walk around Lewes went on during the morning of the Fossil Festival 23 September. Meeting at Mountfield Road roundabout near Lewes station Roger Cordiner took a group around Lewes illustrating the range of different building stone materials around the town, information sheets were provided.

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Dr Mantell: physician and accoucheur

house116Gideon Mantell was born 3 Feb 1790 in St Mary’s Lane, now Station Street in Lewes.  His early education has been well documented, see Mantell’s Life and Reputation for some key books on his life. At age six he attended a local Dame School, possibly in Fisher Street near by St Mary’s Lane where he was born and lived. It was said that on her death she left all her small wealth as a legacy to her young scholar.  In 1797 age 7 he moved on to John Button’s Academy opposite Cliffe Church. Here he was an exceptional student by all accounts. He stayed there until 1802 when he was sent to live with his uncle at Westbury near Swindon until 1805. There is a comprehensive description of his early education on page 24 of Gideon Mantell Momento Mori – 1 compiled by Anthony Brook of his obituary published in the Gentleman’s Magazine 38 (Dec 1852) 664-7.

At the age of 15 he was apprenticed to Dr James Moore, local doctor who lived on the High Street around the corner from his home in Lewes.

Country surgeon

This experience is described anonymously in 1845 by Mantell in his small booklet Memories of a Life of a Country Surgeon

He sets out how he experienced his apprenticeship with Dr Moore in Lewes, and after at London’s St Bartholomew’s under the famed John Abernethy. He returned to Lewes in 1812 to take up practice as local doctor to three parishes and as physician to the Royal Artilery Hospital at Ringmer. He also describes his need to carry out amputations, to attend to the soldiers following floggings and to women in childbirth.

Having received a certificate from the Lying-in Charity for Married Women at Their Own Habitation he was qualified as an accoucheur, or midwife, to women in labour. At a time when 14 women died for every 1,000 births, Mantell only lost two patients in 2,400 deliveries. In 1828 he published an article in the London Medical Gazette, vol 2 pp781-782 entitled ‘On the Secale Cornutum’, in other words on ergot of rye for use during delayed labour.

From his training in physiology and anatomy he was able to piece together and describe the ancient land dinosaur creatures he was finding from the fragments of fossilised teeth and bones found in the local Sussex clays.iguanodon-fossil-engraving-of-the-discovery-by-gideon-mantell-in-a-BA5R2M

For further reading see Papers in Volume 65, February 1972 Section of the History of Medicine Meeting June 19 1971 with the Brighton and Sussex Medico- chirurgical Society

Gideon Algernon Mantell LLD FRCS FRS(1790-1852) Surgeon and Geologist: ‘Wizard of the Weald’ [Abridged] by AD Morris MD (Eastbourne, Sussex)’

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The Building Stones of Lewes: Lewes Fossil Festival Geology Walk

On Sunday 23rd September 2018 11am – 12.30pm there will be a geology walk starting by the roundabout by Lewes Station and Mountfield Road car park and finishing at Lewes Castle. This is put on as part of the 2018 Lewes Fossil Festival and will explore the various building stones used in a range of historic buildings in Lewes.

The walk leader in Roger Cordiner author of recently published Building Stones Atlas of Sussex book, copies of which will be available at the Fossil Festival going on at the Linklater Pavilion that day (11am – 3pm). Roger himself wil be at the Linklater following the completion of his walk.

A magnifying glass would be useful to view the rocks and fossils in detail. Attendees will get a worksheet/map for the walk they can fill in as they go along. Cost is £3, please pay the walk leader.

Book here


Form available here to download Atlas


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The Anglo/ US link

Mantell had a long (over 20 years) correspondence with American Benjamin Silliman (1779— 1864), geologist and chemist who founded the American Journal of Science. For many years known simply as Silliman’s Journal, an important outlet for American scientific papers, still exists and is now devoted to geology alone. Silliman taught at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. USA 1802 -1853 and developed his thoughts on geology and deep time through their letters.

Mantell and Silliman eventually met as “old familiar friends” in 1851 and Mantell took him to the Isle of Wight, they took a stroll around Lewes and also visited the Crystal Palace Great Exhibition and the British Museum. They parted on 31 August, for ever and Mantell died the following year.


Silliman pictured here around the time of his visit wrote up his trip in A Visit to Europe in 1851 (2 vols USA 1853)

Their correspondence is lodged at Alexander Turnbull Library in New Zealand [location] along with much of Mantell’s papers on his death in 1852; sent there by his younger son Reginald for the safekeeping of older son Walter who had emigrated there.

The early fossilised discoveries made by Mantell,  William Buckland, William Conybeare and of course Mary Anning’s Ichthyosaurs were all made in the UK. The stories of these early palaeontologists are told in the Dinosaur Hunters by Deborah Cadbury London; Fourth Estate, 2000 and in The Dragon Seekers by Christopher McGowan Abacus 2003 amongst others.

The creation of the Crystal Palace dinosaurs however led on to more discoveries and attempts at depictions of what they would have looked like in Belgium and the USA. The story of these further developments are described in this blog here  The Transatlantic Connection: Dinosaurs after the Crystal Palace by Richard Fallon.


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Walk with Dinosaurs

Find out more about the park in South London where you can Walk with Dinosaurs – although these are not as we imagine them now. 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. More here


Ellinor Michel chair of the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs gave a talk in Lewes 9 February 2018 for the Gideon Mantell Memorial Lecture* about the challenges and  importance of these models. She is a taxonomist and evolutionary biologist at the Natural History Museum.

* Mantell was born in St Mary’s Lane Lewes on 3 February 1790 and spent much of his life in Lewes as doctor, geologist, early palaeontologist and writer. Every year around this time we invite a speaker on a related theme to present a talk.

For more information on the dinosaur park in Sydenham see the short films here:

The Lost Valley of London Hat’s off to Anthony M R Lewis for his film about Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. This shows how much fun a visit to Crystal Palace dinosaurs can be. Exciting to see what an imagination gone wild can produce.

The Seven Deadly Agents of Destruction: outlines the different ways in which the sculptures in the park need protecting

Back to Life The Dinosaurs inspire, and conservation work keeps these impressive Victorian sculptures vibrant and intact for future generations  celebrated in this  new documentary short by award winning film maker Tal Amiran. It features conservation work done over the winter of 2016-17 on eight of the water-based sculptures. The conservators speak about their work, their feelings for the sculptures and the magical sense of the site.

And follow the work of the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs  via the following social media:

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Recording the Lewes Avalanche 1836

Mantell was living in Brighton when the terrible snow storms of Christmas 1836 swept across Europe. The winds created a large crest of snow on the chalk cliffs above South Street in Lewes. On Boxing Day this fell and completely smashed the houses in Boulder Row. He records the event in his diary. The full account can be read in the Sussex County Magazine i (1927) pp70-74, 598


Snowdrop Mantell was Poor Law doctor while in Lewes and would have known and tended to those who lived in the poor houses on Boulder Row.

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Lewes Fossil Festival 2017 write up

Around 150 children plus parents and other adults attended the all day event at the Linklater Pavilion on Sunday. Time was spent making paper Pterodactyls, painting model Ammonites, dino biscuit icing and following the Treasure Hunt around the Railway Land Nature Reserve.

We had fossils on display and people on hand to talk about them, and some people brought their own ones in to show. Cllr Graham Mayhew is pictured here with Laura McLennan from the University of Derby geology faculty who brought with her fossils to handle and to be on hand to talk to people. Laura was introduced to the festival by the Lewes STEMfest which encourages all things Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathemats aimed at children and families


Children’s author Nicky Dee held sway for two sessions of story telling and introducing her new book Bone Wars. Later on children also attended two sessions from story teller Jane Terry, who also provided the dino biscuits and icing activity, on The Trouble with Trilobites.

And the giant dinosaur skeleton hidden in his underground cave stole the show. Many thanks to Carinan, Katherine and co. for the model


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Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis

It is now accepted that there were different types of Iguanodontids ie dinosaurs with teeth that look like those of the Iguana. This early plant eating creature whose remains had been found around the south of England was identified as Iguanodon and first publicised by Mantell in a letter to Davies Gilbert who read it to the Royal Society of London on 10 Feb 1825 entitled “Notice on the Iguanodon, a newly discovered fossil reptile from the sandstone of Tilgate Forest” This made Iguanodon the second land dinosaur to be named (after Megalosaurus).


It has been assumed that there were two species of Iguanodon – a larger form called Iguanodon bernissartensis, from remains found in a coal mine in Belgium, and a more graceful species called Iguanodon atherfieldensis, more common in southern England.  Although there may have been other sub species as they lived from the late Jurassic through to the late Cretaceous. This latter has now been renamed Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis after Mantell.

This model of the mantellisaurus drinking is for sale from httpCollectA_Mantellisaurus_drinking2s:// 

See here for the background story of the discovery of these dinosaurs

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2017 Lewes Fossil Festival programme

A5 backFossil Festival flyer

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August 3, 2017 · 5:07 pm