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 https://www.facebook.com/LewesSTEMFest/


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 https://m.facebook.com/wonkypaleontologists/?locale2=en_GB


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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://www.everythingdinosaur.com/ 

See here for the background story of the discovery of these dinosaurs http://www.dinosaurisle.com/iguanodon.aspx

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2017 Lewes Fossil Festival programme

A5 backFossil Festival flyer

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August 3, 2017 · 5:07 pm

Georgian Dragon

This Harvey’s Brewery beer is a seasonal brew celebrating England’s Father of Palaeontology. In 1821, Lewes doctor and fossil collector Gideon Mantell’s understanding of fossilised Iguanodon teeth, discovered in a Sussex quarry, heralded the start of the classification of prehistoric reptiles. Ruby in colour with a fruity aroma and a sustained, lingering bitterness https://www.harveys.org.uk/beers/seasonal-ales/april-georgian-dragon/

Allergy Advice: Contains Barley
ABV: 4.7%
Tasting Note: Ruby Ale with Pioneer hops. A hint of fruitcake.

This beer comes out in time for St George’s Day on 23 April.


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A Petition against Slavery

From a recent Lewes History Group Newsletter Dec 2016

The 30 January 1826 Sussex Advertiser included a petition against various aspects of slavery in the British Colonies signed by 79 householders of the borough of Lewes. The signatories included the non-conformist ministers of Westgate Chapel (Thomas W. Horsfield) and Tabernacle (Evan Jones), the Unitarian gentleman William Boys, Baptist attorney John Webb Woolgar, banker Thomas Whitfeld, surgeon Gideon Mantell, ironmonger Nehemiah Wimble of The Friars, printers William Lee and John Baxter, butcher Benjamin Morris, auctioneer Plumer Verrall, bookseller R. W. Lower, draper William Crosskey and shepherd-schoolmaster John Dudeney. Many of the signatories were non-conformist Liberals but Anglican Conservatives were also represented.

Gideon’s father Thomas Mantell was a Methodist and had the first Methodist chapel built in Lewes in St Mary’s Lane next to the current Chapel Hill Antiques. He was close to the fellow members of the non-conformist community of Lewes listed above but died age 57 in 1807. He would no doubt have approved of Gideon’s presence amongst these signatories.

More on  Gideon’s parents can be found here

More information about non-conformism in Lewes in the early 1800s, the time of Thomas Mantell, can be found here http://home.btconnect.com/christchurchlewes/CC2015/files/Tabernacle_vol1.pdf

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The Visit to Lewes of King William IV

King William IV and Queen Adelaide paid a visit to Lewes in October 1830. Gideon Mantell was on hand to record the event, which he did in a small booklet that he published after the event. This 46 page booklet was entitled A Narrative of the Visit of their most Gracious Majesties William IV and Queen Adelaide, to the Ancient Borough of Lewes, on the 22d of October 1830. Published in London: Lupton Relfe, 1831.

A painting depicting the event has been hanging on the walls of Lewes Town Hall Assembly Room until the beginning of February 2017. It has been removed for professional cleaning and is due back in the summer 2017.See news item about it here

We can glimpse Mantell as one of the invited guests who attended the event and wno sat for a portait to be added to the crowd scene (depicted next to the uniformed man who was Sir T Downman and a child). He wrote in his diary

“All week employed as usual! Today sat (or rather stood) to Archer the painter who is employed on the picture intended to commemorate the King’s visit to Lewes.”

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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

Also see 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-second-edition (published in October 2016 to tie in with the Lewes Fossil Festival  and slightly amended and updated here). This 16 page booklet written by local journalist and author 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.


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.

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