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Wednesday, 28 December 2011

An ancient Fire Engine

This fire engine has recently gone back on display at Lyme Regis Museum; it was one of the original exhibits when the Museum first opened in the 1920s. The engine was probably made in the late 18th century, and was in regular use in Lyme for about a century. Fire engines of this type were really portable pumps: they sucked water either directly or from the tank at the back, and the pump pressurized the water so that an even jet of water was produced through the leather hose. The tank itself could be filled either by buckets or a suction pipe.

The old fire engine was finally replaced in 1889, shortly after it had given a poor performance at a bad fire in Broad Street. Newspaper reports after the fire were highly critical of the council’s continued use of such an antiquated engine. The papers claimed that the Bishop of Salisbury, who was staying in the town at the time, had been forced to play the hero and help out with the fire-fighting. Other accounts, however, suggest that the Bishop merely got in the way. One local person remembered a fireman having to drive the Bishop off a ladder, saying “If thee doesn’t come down from this ladder we’ll put the hose on ye!”

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Year of Maritime Lyme draws to a close

News release from Carole Halden, Marketing Manager of Lyme Regis Museum:

Lyme Regis Museum’s last Fossil Hunting Walk of 2011 on December 29 brings to a close an eventful year of activities celebrating Lyme Regis’s maritime life, culture and heritage. By year-end, a staggering 367 local events will have been featured in Maritime Lyme’s promotional leaflets and on its website. Combining these with the activities of the Fossil Festival, Lifeboat Week, and Regatta and Carnival Week produces a grand total of some 600 maritime-linked events in Lyme over the last 12 months

The idea for a year-long promotional campaign was initiated by the museum and developed at public meetings in 2009-10. Happily, 2011 was the perfect choice of year, as it coincided with the local RNLI’s 150th and the Lyme Regis Sailing Club’s 90th anniversary celebrations. During the year the museum, with boatbuilder Gail McGarva, ran a major maritime heritage project based around the lerret, an historic Dorset fishing vessel. The year also saw activities promoting the Spirit of Corinth, Lyme’s entry in the current Atlantic Challenge rowing race, as well as a number of special art exhibitions and workshops with maritime themes. One workshop, Photographing Maritime Lyme, run for the first time by local photographers Peter Wiles and Maisie Hill, was so successful that it will be repeated next year

The statistics behind the Maritime Lyme promotion speak for themselves: 20,000 leaflets distributed throughout three counties, over 50 news stories announcing events, and 1,630 visits to our website, representing almost 3,500 web-pages viewed. The website ( has worked so well as a marketing tool that it will be kept active next year, with information about what happened in 2011, as well as links with local websites that will be listing 2012 Lyme events.

Mary Godwin, Museum Curator said ‘The year of Maritime Lyme has been a great success, but we couldn’t have done it without the hundreds of hours and expertise contributed by Karol Kulik, who put together the events programmes and maintained the website, plus our designers Richard Hartnell and Kathryn Jackson, and Bob Brooker who built the website for us. Thanks to them we have been able to run a great project that has encouraged different parts of the town and different people to work together. We’re also especially grateful to the project’s sponsors who enabled us to market the project so effectively: HIX Oyster and Fish House; Lyme Regis, Charmouth and District Hotel and Restaurant Association; Lyme Bay Holidays; Martin Diplock; the National Trust; and One Bite Communications. And a big thank you is owed to the local newspapers and journalists who reported on the Maritime Lyme events and, of course, to all the groups and individuals who took part in the project.’

The Lerret Littlesea on the Town Beach, Lyme Regis, on January 3 at the start of the year of Maritime Lyme. Built by Gail McGarva Littlesea is a 17-foot wooden boat resembling the 17th century fishing boats native to the Dorset coast. This double-ended clinker vessel was constructed without drawings, taking the lines of the last sea-worthy lerret of 1923 named Vera.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Jane Austen possessions donated to Lyme Regis Museum

Wednesday 14th December,  saw a special Jane Austen evening at the Museum. Volunteer, Diana Shervington has the distinction that both of her grandmothers were grand-daughters of Jane Austens's brother, Edward Knight. Many of the Austen family's possessions have been handed down through the generations to Diana and the event was a celebration of Diana donating several interesting pieces to the Museum where they will be on permanent display.

To read more about and see pictures of the donated items click here.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

A Brief History of Lyme Regis Museum

Two of the Museum's volunteers, Amy Blacklock and Cate Bennett have recently compiled a leaflet giving a brief history of the Museum itself. From 1901 when it was built by TED Philpot (Elizabeth Philpot's great nephew) through to its regeneration in the 1990's for which it was awarded the Gulbenkian Prize, the museum has been a place to generate all sorts of emotions and its history is well worth a read. John Fowles, as Curator did much to ensure its survival and the Museum is, arguably, his greatest legacy to Lyme .

The leaflet can be collected from the Museum or you can read/download it here.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Thomas Hardy – Man of Wessex

"Thomas Hardy – Man of Wessex" was the title of an illustrated talk given yesterday by Jack Thomas (pictured left). The talk was organized by Lyme Regis Museum, but the subject proved so popular it was held in the Guildhall next door, where there are more seats!

Alongside Dickens, Thomas Hardy was one of the greatest Victorian novelists. He was born in 1840, three years after Queen Victoria came to the throne, and lived to 87, dying in 1928. Jack Thomas's father actually had tea with Hardy! But despite living and working to such an advanced age, Hardy loved the past, and most of his work is set in pre-Victorian times, around the 1830s.

As well as the novels for which he is so famous, Hardy also wrote almost a thousand poems. According to Jack, about a third of these are "not very good", but at his best Hardy's poems are amongst the greatest in the English Language. Although they're not as well known as they ought to be, they had a huge influence on the poetry of the twentieth century.

Much of Hardy's writing is set in Dorset, although locations are translated into the fictional county of "Wessex". Thus Dorchester, the county town of Dorset, becomes Casterbridge in novels such as The Mayor of Casterbridge.

In a little under an hour, Jack Thomas managed to convey an astonishing amount of information about the life and work of Thomas Hardy, including a few surprising snippets such as the fact that Hardy was reading Greek and Latin at the age of four, and that his notoriously ill-natured dog Wessex bit everyone who visited the house except T. E. Lawrence!

[In case you're wondering about Thomas Hardy's connection with Lyme Regis... Hardy never mentioned Lyme in his verse or fiction, but he visited the town on at least two occasions: in 1882 with his first wife and in 1915 with his second wife. The first visit was an uncomfortable one in a horse-drawn coach; fortunately by the time of the second visit the motor car had been invented! There was almost certainly a third visit, also by car, in 1920.]

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Mystery Object

Can anyone help to identify the "Mystery Object" pictured on the left? It was found on Lyme Regis beach by a fossil hunter, but the one thing that's certain is that it isn't a fossil! It looks vaguely nautical, but so far no-one has been able to identify it... although there have been plenty of guesses!

The object appears to be cast out of bronze, and it's very heavy. To get an idea of the scale, the yellow tape measure has been extended to 50 cm (about 20 inches). There is a hole (just visible in the picture if you click on it to enlarge it) in the near end, and the far end has been sheared off.

Please post a comment if you think you know what it is!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Police identity parade

We have just set up a new Information Wanted page on the museum website where we will post queries from Graham Davies and his research team that we think people may be able to help us with. Here is the first. Graham believes the photograph below (click on the image to enlarge it) was taken outside the Police Station in Hill Road in about 1950. However, of the seven policemen shown, the research team has only managed to identify one of them so far: Les Marsh, who is standing on the left of the back row. Can anyone help to identify any of the others?
Graham and his team are always interested in seeing old photographs of Lyme, particularly those dating from the 1950s or earlier, that may have been taken by your grandparents or great-grandparents while living in Lyme or on holiday here. Photographs showing buildings that are no longer standing are of particular interest. For example, does anyone have any photographs showing the Assembly Rooms that were demolished in the 1920s?

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Museum Events in December


Hardy wrote 15 memorable novels and nearly 1,000 poems. Hear Jack Thomas’ illustrated story of his fascinating life.


A talk at Woodmead Hall by Yvonne Green, Principal of Lyme's famous Boat Building Academy. This is the final event of the year of Maritime Lyme, in partnership with The Lyme Regis Society.


Celebrating the acquisition of Jane Austen artefacts – being given to the museum by Diana Shervington, descendant of the Austen family.  Join us for a glass of wine to thank Diana for her generous gift.


  • Friday 9 December 2011 09:00
  • Saturday 10 December 2011 09:15
  • Sunday 11 December 2011 10:00
  • Monday 12 December 2011 10:30
  • Tuesday 13 December 2011 11:15
  • Thursday 15 December 2011 12:30
  • Friday 16 December 2011 13:15
  • Tuesday 27 December 2011 11:30
  • Wednesday 28 December 2011 12:00
  • Thursday 29 December 2011 12:45


  • Saturday 3 December 12.30
  • Sunday 11 December 13.30
  • Saturday 17 December 13.30
  • Monday 26 December 14.00

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Lerret Launch video and the final event of Maritime Lyme

Those of you who have been following the evnts of the year of Maritime Lyme will remember that, back in May, Gail McGarva's lerret was launched for the first time down a steep pebbled beach. We have now obtained a video of the launch. You can see the video and read more about that event here.

The final event of Maritime Lyme will enable you to learn more about the Lyme Regis Boat Building Academy where Gail built the lerret. On Tuesday 13th December, Yvonne Green, the Principal, will give a talk about "Life at the Boat Building Academy". The talk will be at Woodmead Hall at 2.30pm.

NB this is a different talk to "All boats have their story" which Gail has given several times through the year and is staged by The Lyme Regis Society in partnership with Lyme Regis Museum.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Haunted Weymouth

Slightly off-topic, but I've just written a review of a book called Haunted Weymouth for the Dark Dorset website. Weymouth lies about thirty miles east of Lyme Regis along the Dorset coast, and like Lyme it started out as a working port and fishing town before re-inventing itself as a popular seaside resort in the late eighteenth century. Weymouth is a much bigger town, however, with more than fifty thousand inhabitants compared to less than five thousand in Lyme. There are numerous ghost stories attached to Weymouth, and for several years Alex Woodward has organized "Ghost Walks" in the town. She has now written a book on the subject, Haunted Weymouth... click here to read my review of it.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Maritime Lyme Exhibition Success

From Mary Godwin, Curator of Lyme Regis Museum:

As part of the Year of Maritime Lyme, our local history exhibition this year was on the theme of ‘Maritime Memories’ at the Town Mill Malthouse from 22nd to 30th October. This was organised by Ken Gollop, Graham Davies and Gail McGarva whose lerrets Vera and Littlesea were the star attraction of the show (the picture on the left shows Vera outside the Malthouse). We’re also grateful to the RNLI for lending their history display and for loaning us back our model of the Thomas Masterman Hardy Lifeboat (This model was previously loaned to St Michael’s church and is now on loan to the RNLI station). Thanks also to Chris Lang for lending his model RAF Seaplane tenders and to all our superb stewards too numerous to mention! I’m delighted to report that 2,342 people (plus lots of dogs and at least one cat) visited the exhibition during the nine days it was on! Donations were £230, somewhat down on previous years, perhaps reflecting the wider economic scenario, but this will still go a long way towards covering the cost of hiring the Malthouse.

You can read Mary's November newsletter in full at the Curator's Corner of the main website.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The third most influential British woman in the history of science!

Margaret Rose, Chairman of the Friends of Lyme Regis Museum as well as a Trustee of the Museum, sent this interesting snippet about Mary Anning:

To celebrate its 350th anniversary last year, and its commitment to the advancement of women in science, the Royal Society asked a panel of leading female scientists and science historians to vote for the ten most influential British women in the history of science. First came the astronomer Caroline Herschel; second came Mary Somerville, who started her experiments on magnetism in 1825; and third? None other than Mary Anning, ahead of such luminaries as Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first English female doctor, and Rosalind Franklin, whose work on the x-ray diffraction images of DNA was used to formulate Crick and Watson's 1953 hypothesis on its structure.

Said the Royal Society: "Mary Anning, the daughter of poor Dissenters, was an early British fossil collector and palaeontologist. She spent her life working in Lyme Regis. Her skill in locating and preparing fossils, as well as the richness of the Jurassic era marine fossil beds at Lyme Regis, resulted in her making a number of important finds. These included the skeleton of the first ichthyosaur to be recognised, and the first two plesiosaur skeletons ever found. Anning's gender and social class prevented her from fully participating in the scientific community of early 19th century Britain, and she did not always receive full credit for her contributions. Despite this she became well known in geological circles in Britain and beyond, although she struggled financially for much of her life. After her death her enormous contribution to palaeontology was largely forgotten."

 The photograph below shows "Mary Anning" (aka Natalie Manifold) in the Geology Gallery at Lyme Regis Museum.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Kids in Museums Awards

Kids in Museums is an organisation aimed at encouraging museums to become more family friendly. Every year they give out an award to the museum judged to be the best at bringing a love of museums to families. Here at Lyme Regis Museum, we think we are pretty good at attracting families into the museum and giving them a great time.
There are some pictures below and throughout this web-site that illustrate the point.

If you have visited the museum and agree with us then please go to the Kids in Museums web-site and nominate Lyme Regis Museum!

To see the sort of family friendly event the museum runs click here.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Lymiad, an epic poem of the Regency period, is finally published!

Lyme Regis Museum’s latest publication The Lymiad was launched at a reception in the Guildhall on Friday November 11. Written 200 years ago, the original manuscript of this long satirical poem about Lyme Regis is one of the museum’s major literary exhibits. Presented as a gift to the museum by glass engraver Laurence Whistler in 1978, its importance was immediately recognised by author John Fowles who was curator of the museum at that time.

Sarah Fowles, speaking of her late husband’s editorial involvement with the book said he would have been proud to see the finished publication: ‘He would have stroked it, as he did with all books he loved.’ And, as a designer herself often working in book publishing, she felt the book was beautifully produced.

The picture below shows Sarah Fowles together with John Constable, co-editor of The Lymiad, and Stephen Locke, chairman of Lyme Regis Museum.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Painting of Lyme Regis featured on TV

A few months ago on this blog, a post about the 19th century artist J. M. W. Turner mentioned that a small oil painting entitled "Shrimpers at Lyme Regis" on display at Nunnington Hall (a National Trust property in North Yorkshire) had recently been attributed to Turner. This painting was featured in today's episode of Bargain Hunt on BBC television, which included a short segment filmed in Nunnington Hall.

In the clip (from which the still on the left is taken) presenter Tim Wonnacott describes how the painting, attributed on the reverse to "J. M. Turner 1832", was found by National Trust staff gathering dust in the attic, and was then subjected to no less than five years of research. Even after that, he says there is still some doubt about the authenticity of the work because "the material that the painting is painted on is not a type of artist's board that Turner used at this period of his life".

If you missed the show, there is still a chance to catch it on BBC iPlayer for the next few days. The Nunnington Hall segment starts at 23 minutes 23 seconds.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Novel set in Lyme Regis nominated for Literary Award

Curiosity is a novel about the nineteenth century Lyme Regis fossil hunters Mary Anning and Henry de la Beche. It was written by Canadian author Joan Thomas and published by McClelland & Stewart last year. Since then the book has received numerous enthusiastic reviews, and was frequently cited in "Best of 2010" lists.

Curiosity has now been nominated for the International IMPAC-Dublin Literary Award. The book is described in the nomination as “Fascinating reading, exposing rigid barriers of class, gender and education in the early 19th century”. It is up against some stiff competition, so we will just have to keep our fingers crossed!

To find out more about Curiosity, visit Joan Thomas's website. To find out more about Mary Anning and Henry de la Beche visit Lyme Regis Museum!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

A historic mailbox

The building that is now the Old Lyme Guest House in Coombe Street was, from 1799 to 1853, the town's Post Office. The wooden posting box, which is still in its original place on the wall (see picture) is one of the oldest surviving mailboxes in Britain.

As can be seen from the photograph, the posting box has both a vertical and a horizontal slot. These were not in use at the same time, but reflect changing government guidelines! In 1846 all Postmasters were instructed to adopt a vertical aperture because it was thought to be more difficult to steal a letter through one (stealing letters was a serious crime punishable by death). However, ten years later in 1856 the authorities decided that horizontal slots were acceptable after all!

To learn more about the social history of Lyme Regis, visit the Museum website.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Museum Events in November

THURSDAY 3 NOVEMBER 2.30pm Woodmead Hall
Professor David Nichols talks about creatures of the sea and
shore. Organised by Friends of Lyme Regis Museum.

Descendant Diana Shervington talks about how Jane’s fictional
characters reflect her admiration for the Naval heroes of her day.

Gail McGarva talks about traditional wooden boats and the
building of their modern-day ‘daughters’.

SATURDAY 26 NOVEMBER from 6pm – everyone welcome
Museum re-opening after major electrical refurbishment, join us
for a glass of mulled wine and a look at the exhibits in a new light!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Mary Anning on the stage in Montreal

What sounds like a really great play inspired by Lyme's very own Mary Anning opened recently at the Centaur Theatre in Montreal, Canada. The play, written by Colleen Curran, is called True Nature and centres around a modern-day female palaeontologist whose life seems to parallel that of Mary Anning, her role model. True Nature runs until 6th November, and you can find out a lot more about it on the play's web page. There are even a couple of short videos (from which the still shown above is taken) for those of us who can't make it to Montreal in person!

In an e-mail to Museum director Mary Godwin, Colleen Curran writes that "Montreal has gone Mary Anning mad in the best way. We have lots of school groups coming to the show at the Centaur who are learning all about her. Book Clubs and Study Groups are reading Curiosity [by Joan Thomas] and Remarkable Creatures [by Tracy Chevalier]. And on October 23rd The Redpath Museum is hosting a Mary Anning Day. And everybody knows a lot more about Lyme Regis now than they ever did before."

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

John Betjeman and Lyme Regis

Sir John Betjeman (1906 - 1984) is famous both as a poet and as a defender of Britain's Victorian heritage. He came to Lyme Regis when he was doing research for his Guide to English Parish Churches, in which he describes the town as "An attractive little seaside resort on the borders of Devon with many late 18th and early 19th century houses and a few earlier survivals". But Betjeman visited the town on other occasions as well. The Observer newspaper, when reviewing a biography of Betjeman and wishing to make the point that the book went into unnecessarily tedious detail, said "Who cares where he stopped for a drink one bank holiday driving to Lyme Regis?"

On display in Lyme Regis Museum is the letter shown on the left, which Betjeman wrote in 1954 criticizing the Town Council for putting up concrete lamp-posts (click on the letter to read it -- you'll notice that the future Poet Laureate's typewriter had a distinctly wonky "n"!). In the letter, Betjeman says that Lyme "is just the sort of town that could not stand them [concrete lamp standards], since the skyline is so important there and the streets are so narrow". One wonders what he would have made of the town's new "ammonite-shaped" lamp-posts -- Mary Godwin, the Museum curator, suggests he wouldn't have liked them at all due to their novelty element!

There is another interesting, if tenuous, connection between Betjeman and Lyme. One of his most famous poems is A Subaltern's Love-Song, concerning a Miss Joan Hunter Dunn. The poem was set to music by Donald Swann (of Flanders and Swann) and included on his 1965 EP record For The Love of Betjeman. In his autobiography Swann's Way, the composer explained how Lyme played a role in his choice of this particular poem: "With Joan Hunter Dunn, the urge to set this to music came after meeting a girl momentarily at a ball in Lyme Regis. This was my first sight of the English Rose, and I was very stirred by her. At that time England was still new to me after Palestine and Greece. This girl encapsulated the beautiful countryside, and all the English places I had visited since my return, into a very romantic picture. John Betjeman also felt this: apparently he was working in the Ministry of Information and saw a wonderful girl going down a corridor and said: 'I bet she's a doctor's daughter from Camberley'. She was, and her name was Joan Hunter Dunn."

[Thanks to Mary Godwin for scanning the letter and providing the quote from Swann's Way.]

Monday, 24 October 2011

Maritime Memories of Old Lyme Regis

For the Year of Maritime Lyme, Lyme Regis Museum has organised a special local history exhibition at the Town Mill Malthouse. Entitled ‘Maritime Memories’, it brings together a wide variety of historic material relating to Lyme’s maritime past. Anyone interested in the town’s social history, the sea, and boats of all kinds will find something fascinating in the exhibition.

The exhibition is on from
Saturday 22nd to Sunday 30th  October
between 10am–4pm
and admission is free.

Amongst the exhibition material will be the lerrets, Vera (below) and Littlesea and a wealth of rarely seen photographs.

If you can't get to the Malthouse then more photographs of the exhibits can be seen here.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Francis Palgrave: A Victorian Poet in Lyme Regis

Over the years, many literary figures have visited Lyme Regis, but one who decided to settle in the town was Francis Palgrave (1824 - 1897): he chose Little Park as his second home. Although largely forgotten today, Palgrave was quite a well-known poet, critic and editor in his time. Many people will be familiar with the story of how the great poet Tennyson walked nine miles from Bridport to Lyme in the summer of 1867, and on arriving at a friend's house refused any refreshment but immediately said "Take me to the Cobb, and show me the steps from which Louisa Musgrove fell." Well, Francis Palgrave was the friend in question!

Palgrave's most famous work was The Golden Treasury of English Songs and Lyrics, first published in four volumes in 1861. This was an anthology of almost 300 poems spanning more than two centuries of English literature, which became something of a Victorian bestseller. Palgrave's aim in compiling the anthology was "to include in it all the best original lyrical pieces and songs in our language, by writers not living." That last criterion meant that the most recent poet to be featured was Wordsworth... but he is also the most prolific, with more than forty of his poems making it into Palgrave's first edition!

Palgrave also wrote poetry of his own, including a little-known volume called A Lyme Garland: Being verses, mainly written at Lyme Regis, or upon the scenery of the neighbourhood, which was printed in a limited edition in 1874 (see the title page at the bottom of this post). A less obscure collection of Palgrave's verse is The Visions of England: Lyrics on leading men and events in English History (1889). One of the poems in this volume, "The Ballad Of King Monmouth",  refers obliquely to Lyme Regis in the lines:
They file by Colway now;
They rise o’er Uplyme brow...
[Palgrave's notes explain that the Duke of Monmouth "landed in Lyme Bay, June 11, 1685, between the Cobb (Harbour-pier) and the beginning of the Ware cliffs: marching north, after a few days, by the road which left the ruins of Colway House on the right and led over Uplyme to Axminster."]

Lyme Regis Museum contains a number of exhibits relating to Francis Palgrave, and copies of The Golden Treasury can be purchased from the Museum Shop. For more information on Lyme's literary links, see the Writers and Artists page of the main Museum website.

Monday, 17 October 2011

John Sergeant, Frith Postcards and Fossils

On the 21st September, John Sergeant visited Lyme to film for a new television series for the BBC. The series is about Frith Postcards and has the working title of  Britain's First Photo Album. The ten 30-minute series will focus on the extraordinary achievement of Francis Frith, the pioneer Victorian photographer who embarked upon a colossal project to photograph as much of the United Kingdom as possible during the second half of the 19th century.
The pictures taken by Frith and his staff are viewed as one of the first and most comprehensive pictorial records of the UK, a wonderfully evocative record of our shared history, and equally a present day insight into the social landscape of Britain.
John Seargent spent time in the Museum and out on the beach looking for fossils with Museum Education Officer, Chris Andrew. We'll post more information when we know the screening date for the programme.

The Museum has a large collection of photographs and postcards which can be examined on request. For more information click here.

Friday, 14 October 2011

A Prime Minister (or two) in Lyme Regis

The bust shown on the left can be seen on the staircase at Lyme Regis Museum. It depicts William Pitt the Younger (1759 - 1806), who visited Lyme at the age of 14 in 1773. Just ten years later he became Prime Minister -- the youngest person ever to do so.

Like many people in those days, young William was brought here for his health. He came with his father, William Pitt the Elder, who had also served as Prime Minister a few years earlier.

While in Lyme, the Pitts rented "the Great House" in Broad Street, which was owned at the time by Eleanor Coade, the inventor of the decorative ceramic material known as Coade stone. The Great House was divided up into smaller properties in 1900, but a plaque on the wall of Boots the Chemist (below) records its location and its connection with the two generations of Prime Ministers.
You can read more about Notable People of Lyme on the Museum website.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Mary Anning Day 2011

Saturday 24th September was Mary Anning Day in Lyme Regis. The day brought together a plethora of events from hands-on creation of papier-mache dinosaurs, to a talk by Tracy Chevalier on the Anning's famous ichthyosaur head and the showing of a new plesiosaur find.

For a description and pictures of the day's events click here.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Addendum - another event in October

I've just added another event to the earlier post about October events, but just to draw special attention to it here it is:


(in partnership with The Lyme Regis Society)

Deputy Town Clerk, Simon Ratcliffe and members of the steering group will talk about the Shelters.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Museum Events in October

A talk by the museum’s enthusiastic experts Paddy Howe and Chris Andrew with
recently discovered amazing fossils on display. Ask questions, handle fossils and
bring your finds along for identification.

THURSDAY 6 OCTOBER 2.30pm Woodmead Hall
Kathy Underwood explores the history of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution
in this, the RNLI’s 150th anniversary of service in Lyme Regis. Organised by the
Friends of Lyme Regis Museum.

David Cox gives an illustrated talk in the series Wildlife Through the Seasons –
about birds, butterflies and mammals in the locality at this time of year.

THURSDAY 13 OCTOBER 5.30pm to 7pm
Friends of Lyme Regis Museum invite everyone for a glass of wine and an
overview of this Year of Maritime Lyme.

SATURDAY 22 OCTOBER 12noon Lyme Regis Malthouse
Join in the opening celebration for ‘Maritime Memories of Old Lyme Regis’. This
exhibition is open every day 10am to 4pm until Sunday 30 October – FREE.

A talk by the museum’s geologist Paddy Howe and marine biologist Chris Andrew
with recently discovered fossils on display. Ask questions, handle fossils and bring
your finds along for identification.

(in partnership with The Lyme Regis Society)
Deputy Town Clerk, Simon Ratcliffe and members of the steering group will talk
about the Shelters.

SATURDAY 29 OCTOBER 11am to 3.00pm
Make and take your own driftwood boat, with artist Alison Bowskill. Driftwood
provided. Drop in any time FREE.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Historic boat on display at the Museum

One of the two remaining seaworthy "Lerret" fishing boats is currently on display on the sea terrace outside Lyme Regis Museum (see picture). This is Vera, which was built in 1923 and on which Gail McGarva's new Lerret Littlesea was modelled. If you haven't seen a Lerret before, and you're in the vicinity of Lyme, now's your chance!

Earlier posts about Lerrets:
A historic Dorset fishing vessel - the Lerret
The lerret - purpose built for fishing in Dorset
Lerrets and lucky stones

Friday, 23 September 2011

James McNeill Whistler: Playing with Fire

The small ground floor gallery at Lyme Regis Museum was once again packed yesterday afternoon for one of the Museum's ever-popular talks! This one saw Sandra Lello (left) give a fascinating talk on the subject of James McNeill Whistler: Playing with Fire.

As mentioned in an earlier post, Whistler came to Lyme Regis in 1895 at the age of 61, by which time he was one of the country's best known artists. His arrival in Lyme caused quite a stir — partly due to his flamboyant appearance and larger than-life personality, and partly because of his by-then notorious reputation. He had been involved in a number of high-profile libel cases and as a result had lost most of his money!

The reason for Whistler's visit was rather sad — his young wife had a serious illness and it was believed the sea air would aid her recovery. Unfortunately this was not the case, and she died soon after. One thing that did recover, however, was Whistler's artistic reputation. While in Lyme he painted a couple of late masterpieces, including "Little Rose" (below left) as well as producing a number of engravings of the town (below right).
The model for "Little Rose" was a local girl named Rosie Rendall, who was about eight years old at the time. The distinctly sullen expression on her face may be due to the fact that it always took Whistler an inordinately long time to paint his pictures. This was partly due to his use of a scumbling technique, adding layer upon layer of very thin colour to produce a transparent effect, and partly to his habit of adding just a tiny dab of paint at a time, and then standing back to admire his work from a distance!

For further information on Lyme's artistic heritage, see the Writers and Artists page of the main website. If you're interested in attending one of the many excellent talks held at the Museum, see the Events page.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Mary Anning Day blog on Discovery News

Hard on the heels of this morning's mention on Scientific American's Tetrapod Zoology blog, Lyme Regis Museum has featured on another big US site — Discovery News. Sarah Simpson's blog post Happy Discovery Day Ichthyosaur: 200 Years Later talks about Mary Anning and her great ichthyosaur find two hundred years ago... and mentions the same fossil skull currently in Lyme Regis Museum that was pictured on the Scientific American blog this morning.

In another post last week, Sarah described a Family Fossil Hunt on the Jurassic Coast, in which her eight-year old son made a fossil discovery of his own (pictured below)!

Marine reptile research discussed in Lyme Regis

Over on Scientific American's Tetrapoid Zoology blog, Darren Naish has just posted the second installment of his report on the SVPCA symposium held in Lyme Regis last week: Dinosaurs at SVPCA – no Mesozoic non-avialan theropods, thank you very much – and what about those marine reptiles? From a Dorset point of view, this is perhaps even more interesting than the first installment a couple of days ago.

One of the images from the article (left) shows Dr Naish inside Lyme Regis Museum, posing with the ichthyosaur skull found by Mary Anning. He describes three "vaguely linked" talks about recent ichthyosaur research, as well as several on the subject of plesiosaurs. Also mentioned is Scelidosaurus: the Dorset Dinosaur.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Tetrapod Zoology in Lyme Regis

The latest article on Scientific American's Tetrapod Zoology blog is called Vertebrate palaeontology at Lyme Regis: of ‘All Yesterdays’, the ‘Leathery Winged Revolution’, and Planet Dinosaur -- which is a bit of a mouthful, but well worth a look. Despite its eponymously American host, "Tet Zoo" is written by Darren Naish, who lives just along the coast in Portsmouth. Darren visited Lyme for the 59th Symposium on Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy, and his article ranges over several of the subjects covered by the symposium... with the promise of more to come!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Curator’s Newsletter September 2011

From Mary Godwin, Curator of Lyme Regis Museum:

It’s been our busiest August ever, with over 8,091 visitors
(5,552 in 2010)!

And so far it’s also been our busiest year ever overall, with
23,462 visitors to the end of August compared to 18,681
last year. The August numbers were boosted by our fossil
fun days, which attracted up to 900 people to experience
Chris, Paddy and Brandon Lennon doing exciting things
with fossils. These days have been massively successful
with the star attraction being the cutting and polishing of
ammonites which had people queuing up all day. We hope
to be able to do more of these days in future.
Local fossil expert Brandon Lennon with visitors during one of the
museum’s Family Fossil Days

Let there be Lights!
The museum will be closed from the 14th to 27th
November for the installation of new lighting, general
decorating and end-of-season repairs. Closing the
museum is a radical move but the electrical work isn’t
compatible with having visitor in the building and as this
is one of the quietest times of year hopefully not too many
people will turn up and be disappointed. Please do spread
the word as far as possible.

The Friends and I are still actively fundraising for the
lights and we still need £5,000 in order to be able to do
the whole museum. If anyone would like to assist us by
grateful! Each LED museum spotlight fitting costs £200
and we can have multiple sponsors for each light, so all
donations of whatever size will be very, very welcome!

History of Sport Researcher Still Needed
I’m still keen that we mount a History of Sport in Lyme Regis
exhibition in 2012 but so far we don’t have anyone who
has offered to do the research. If anyone might be
interested in taking this on please do get in touch.

Mary Anning Day Tickets Still available
Tickets are still available for Mary Anning Day on 24th
September. Our theme this year is ‘200 Years of
Discovery’ to tie in with the Anning’s discovery of the
great ichthyosaur skull in 1811. Once again we have a full
programme of talks and activities for all the family. Come
and get your tickets from the museum.

The Lymiad Published
We have just published a fascinating book entitled The
Lymiad, the original manuscript of which we have on
display in the museum. Written anonymously during the
autumn of 1818, The Lymiad describes social life in Lyme
Regis in the time of Jane Austen and Mary Anning. It is
composed in the form of letters from a young lady visiting
Lyme to her cousin in Bath and casts a gentle but satirical
eye on the inhabitants of the town, Lyme’s bloody history
and the troubled political times of the early 1800s.
During the 1980s John Fowles made a transcript of the
poem and he always hoped that it could be published.
Now, after many
years, this has
finally happened
and it is dedicated
to his memory.
The publication
has been made
possible by the
dedicated work of
John Constable
and grants from
the John Paul
Getty Junior
Charitable Trust,
the Marc Fitch
Fund and many
subscriptions from museum Friends and volunteers and
people from as far afield as the USA and Australia.
Copies are now available from the museum.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Bloody Assizes

Three hundred and twenty-six years ago today, on September 11th 1685, the Bloody Assizes opened at Lyme Regis. The infamous Judge Jeffreys presided over the trial of hundreds of men accused of assisting the Duke of Monmouth in his rebellion against King James II. The following day twelve men were executed on the beach west of the Cobb and their body parts were spiked on the railings around Lyme Regis church.

For more information, see On this day 11th September 1685, The Bloody Assizes were opened at Lyme Regis over at the Dark Dorset blog -- many thanks to them for pointing out this fascinating anniversary!

The main museum website has a short article about Lyme's role in the English Civil War and the Monmouth Rebellion, from which the following minuscule picture of the twelve "martyrs" is taken (apologies for the poor resolution!).

Friday, 9 September 2011

An academic symposium comes to Lyme Regis

The Symposium of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy (SVPCA) is a prestigious international academic conference that is held once a year. This year the conference will be based in Lyme Regis to celebrate the bicentenary of the discovery by Joseph and Mary Anning of the first ichthyosaur to come to the attention of science. There will be 115 delegates from 18 different countries attending, many of whom are leading experts in their specialist fields whether that be marine reptiles, flying reptiles, dinosaurs, fish or mammals.

The conference will take place adjacent to Lyme Regis Museum at the Marine Theatre next week, 12th to 17th September 2011, and full details can be found at the SVCPA website.

While the main conference programme is aimed at professional academics, there will be free evening lectures as follows:

Tuesday 13th September, 6 pm: The end-Triassic mass extinction and its role in resetting ichthyosaur and dinosaur evolution, by Michael Benton (you can read an earlier blog post on this subject).

Wednesday 14th September, 6 pm: Scelidosaurus from Lyme Bay, the world's first complete dinosaur, by David Norman (you can read an earlier blog post on this subject).

Friday 16th September, 6 pm: Pterosaurs: the Leathery Winged Revolution, by Mark Witton.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Yet another Ichthyosaur emerges from the cliffs...

On his blog yesterday, Ben Brooks described A rare summer find in Lyme Regis:

About two weeks ago, after the Lyme Regis Museum‘s fossil walk on the 27th August, there was an interesting find on the Church Cliffs landslip east of Lyme Regis. Paddy Howe, fossil walk leader and the museum’s resident geologist was walking back from the end of the walk with myself and Chris Andrew (the museum’s education officer) when he spotted something in the shales of the landslip...
Visit Ben's blog to read the full story!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Museum Events in September

Fossil hunters Paddy Howe and Chris Andrew give talks about fossils. Amazing fossils to see and handle. Ask questions and bring your finds for identification.

MONDAY 5 SEPTEMBER 2.30pm meet at museum
Take a walk with Daphne Baker through the Lyme Regis that Mary Anning would have known. Takes about 1½ hours. Limited numbers so please book.

TUESDAY 6 SEPTEMBER 2.30pm meet at Lifeboat Station
A walk around the Lyme Regis of Jane Austen’s time, with Fred Humphrey in the guise
of Admiral Croft. Takes about 1½ hours. Limited numbers so please book.

THURSDAY 8 SEPTEMBER 11am meet at Boat Building Academy
A stroll to visit boats at the Boat Building Academy, the gig shed and the harbour, with boatbuilder Gail McGarva. Takes about 1½ hours. Limited numbers so please book.

SATURDAY 10 SEPTEMBER 2.00pm meet at Lifeboat Station
From the Cobb, Richard Bull shows how and where stone was quarried from Lyme’s
beaches and cliffs, to be traded around the world. Limited numbers so please book.

FRIDAY 16 SEPTEMBER from 6pm – everyone welcome
A celebration of the opening of the museum’s Artsfest exhibition ‘Maritime
Photographs’ by the Heritage Coast U3A photographic group.

A talk by Sandra Lello about this influential American-born artist – a wit, dandy and shameless self-promoter who worked in Lyme in the late 1800s.

SATURDAY 24 SEPTEMBER 10.00am to 5pm FREE admission
A celebration of 200 years of discovery. Historic and contemporary fossil collecting explored in family activities and talks, including celebrity author Tracy Chevalier and renowned botanist Sir Ghillean Prance. See museum website or telephone 01297 443370 for full details.

Sandra Lello talks about John Fowles, the author who created French Lieutenant’s Woman, his life, work and contribution to Lyme.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Young palaeontologists

During August, Lyme Regis Museum has run a series of events aimed at encouraging young people to become interested in fossils.

Two different events were run on three days through the month: Jurassic Seafood which concetrated on smaller fossils and Jurassic Sea dragons which looked at Ichthyosaurs and Plesiosaurs.

Fortunately, the most famous fossil found by Lyme's most famous fossil hunter, Mary Anning, had pride of place in the Museum during the events as it was in Lyme on loan from the Natural History Museum.

The events were fantastically successful, with over 2000 attendees who were informed about the creatures in the Jurassic seas and were able to prepare ammonites by rubbing down and polishing pre-sliced specimens.

The pictures show attendees at the events.

For more pictures click here and to get some information about how ammonites lived click here.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Limestone and Lyme Regis

Lyme Regis is world-famous for its limestone cliffs, which have yielded countless fossils of ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs and other ancient creatures. However, the name of the town comes from the local river, the Lim... which simply means "river" in the local dialect and has no connection with the mineral lime!

The picture on the left shows the junction of the Blue Lias (above) and White Lias (below). Both Blue Lias and White Lias were quarried in Lyme Regis up until the time of the First World War, and were widely used for building work in the town. Both types of stone were used for kerbs and paving: most of the paving in Broad Street is Blue Lias, but Pound Street has a long run of White Lias on its northern side. Lyme’s old sea walls around the Museum and Theatre were built of Blue Lias limestone, but they suffered from severe erosion  until the new sea walls were built in front of them in the 1990s.

Limestone had other applications besides being used as building stone. It was an important ingredient in cement, which was manufactured in the Cement Works on Monmouth Beach in the latter half of the 19th century. It was also used for making whitewash to waterproof walls, in agriculture to improve the quality of soil, and as "quicklime" to speed up the decay of dead animals!

Lime was burnt in lime-kilns such as the one shown on the right, which can still be seen in Uplyme (appropriately enough, in Lime Kiln Lane). The ground level is much higher than it used to be, so the fire grate is now below ground level. Coal and limestone were fed into the kiln from above; lime was drawn out above the fire grate.

In 1842, an inhabitant of nearby Charmouth found a novel use for a lime kiln which he owned. He wanted to vote in the Parliamentary election for Lyme Regis Constituency, but in those days only people who owned property in excess of a certain value were allowed to cast a vote. Since this individual's most valuable asset was his lime-kiln, he bribed a surveyor to value it above the threshold! He was allowed to vote, but the Parliamentary Select Committee (not being quite sure what a lime kiln was) came to investigate... and when they saw what it was his vote was struck off!

If you would like to know more about Lyme's lime industry, take a look at Richard Bull's research papers on Industrial Lyme -- from which all the above information comes.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Lyme Regis Railway

Back in the 19th Century, Lyme Regis needed a railway. Even in those days, it was very much a seaside town and, with the advent of railways, that was how the British public wanted to go on holiday. Lyme was never going to be on a main line to anywhere so a branch line was its major hope. Schemes were put forward from 1845 onwards which was fifteen years before the main line reached Axminster. Nine schemes and fifty eight years later Lyme had its branch line from Axminster.

However, what was built was done as cheaply as possible and ended up with "difficult access through sidings at Axminster, steep gradients, weight restrictions, sharp curves, a 25mph speed limit and a dodgy 230 yard concrete viaduct 93ft high which had to be shored up and carefully watched. The line terminated high above Lyme by the then new Victoria Hotel, leaving its passengers a long walk into town – no cliff railway down to the sea, as at Lynton. Run with dedication by local staff, saddled with unsuitable locomotives and second hand coaches it was prey to motor bus competition after only two decades - having itself having seen off one of the last railway-sponsored rural horse bus routes and caused terminal decline of sea cargo across the Cobb".

The above quote is from the Museum's research paper The Axminster & Lyme Regis Light Railway - too little, too late? written by Richard Bull (as volunteer researcher) as part of the preparation for The Industrial Lyme exhibition earlier this year. Click here to download this paper and here to browse all of The Museum's research papers.

You can still see the Cannington Viaduct if you visit Lyme. You can still see the station but for that you will have to go Alresford station on the Mid Hants Railway where it is in use as a buffet.

Friday, 12 August 2011

PRESS RELEASE: Dapedium - a fossil fish

News Release 11 August 2011

Sarah Stephens, a researcher in palaeontology at Bristol University, spent two days at Lyme Regis Museum this week studying our specimen of a very large fossil fish Dapedium (pictured left, with Sarah). Sarah, who is doing a revision of the classification of this well known species of Lyme, said 'This Dapedium is an absolutely gorgeous fossil. Not only is he huge, but his skull is so wonderfully preserved you can identify nearly all of his bones; details like the ossification between the bones in his lower jaw helps distinguish between species and aren't always clear in less beautiful specimens.'

Paddy Howe, the museum's geologist, and Chris Andrew, responsible for learning and outreach, were available to pass on their specialist knowledge of this Dapedium which was found at Black Ven.

Sarah, who will be publishing her findings in a scientific journal, said ‘It is wonderful to get the opportunity to come and look at a beautiful specimen like this and spend time with Paddy and Chris, picking up tips from the experts’.

Be dazzled by the Dapedium – go along to the museum any day between 10am and 5pm and see it in the geology gallery. The next Family Fossil Day, with Paddy Howe and Chris Andrew on hand to talk about fossils, is Thursday August 25 -- free admission all day.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Curator’s Newsletter August 2011

From Mary Godwin, Director of Lyme Regis Museum:

International Interest!
We’ve noticed that we’re getting an ever-increasing number of international visitors to the museum. In the visitors’ book over the last couple of weeks alone we’ve had people from Japan, Australia, Sweden, Italy, Lithuania, Spain, USA, Hungary, Wales, Latvia, Netherlands, South Africa, Denmark, New Zealand, France, Germany, Ireland, Brazil and Canada! In the light of all this international interest, in future we’re also going to be focusing more effort on marketing to people outside the UK. We’ll be making contact with key individuals, the media and special interest groups abroad.

New Fossil Walk Guide
Paddy and Chris have recruited a new fossil walk guide in the form of Ben Brooks who has just graduated with an MSc in Geology from Southampton University. This means that on the days Ben is around, we can take up to 40 people on our fossil walks. This will be a big help as in recent weeks the fossil walks have been heavily oversubscribed.

Volunteer ‘Team’ Needed for History of Sport Exhibition 2012
We’re looking for a team of two or more people to research and put together our local history exhibition for 2012. Inevitably the topic will be the History of Sport in Lyme, to tie into the Olympics! We already have the research from a past exhibition about the football club ‘Come On You Seasiders!’ and lots of info. in the museum files but this will be a great opportunity to develop our archives on the whole range of local sports clubs, school sports etc. The exhibition will be at the Malthouse in summer 2012. Putting together a big exhibition like this is a major project and not for the fainthearted but advice and support from our local history experts will be on hand. If anyone would like to discuss what’s involved with this project with a view to volunteering, please do get in touch with me.

New Children’s Quiz and Gallery Activities
Volunteers will be interested to hear that volunteers Richard and Sue Cousins have produced two revamped children’s quizzes for the museum. The wordsearch is now available as an optional separate sheet. Sue has also taken on looking after the dressing-up clothes and children’s gallery activities. These take quite a beating in the school holidays so having someone to keep an eye on them and ensure they are in good order is a great help!

Mary Anning Day Tickets now on Sale!
Tickets are now on sale for Mary Anning Day, 24th September. Our theme this year is ‘200 Years of Discovery’ to tie in with the Anning’s discovery of the great ichthyosaur skull in 1811. Once again we have a full programme of talks and activities for all the family. Artist Darrell Wakelam will be working with families to conjure up something amazing with papier-mache all day in the museum and the museum is open free all day. Our speakers in the Marine Theatre during the day and evening offer something for everyone. For fossil enthusiasts, Paddy Howe and Chris Andrew will be talking about recent fossil finds in the Lyme area and Richard Edmonds from the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site team will be talking about the economics of fossil collecting. For those with an interest in the life and times of Mary Anning and her contemporaries, Tom Sharpe from the National Museum of Wales (always a highly entertaining speaker) will be talking about the relationship between Mary and her friend and contemporary Henry de la Beche, founding Director of the Geological Survey of Great Britain. In the evening we have talks from two of our Patrons. Our first evening speaker is internationally renowned botanist Sir Ghillean Prance, former director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, who will be talking on the theme of ‘200 Years of Discovery in the Amazon’, where he is still actively researching. To round off the day, author Tracy Chevalier will be talking on the theme of ‘Finding the Big One – the Anning’s First Great Ichthyosaur’, with readings from contemporary accounts and from her own work. The full programme can be seen on the museum website now.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Shakespeare - The Lyme Regis Connection

George Somers was born in Lyme Regis in 1554 and died in Bermuda in 1610. He was thus a contemporary of William Shakespeare.
Somers was a seaman, a trader and possibly a privateer and buccaneer and earned enough to pay for substantial estates in Dorset. However, the sea was in his first love and he returned to seafaring in the Caribbean and a command within the Royal Fleet. In 1609 he sailed from Plymouth as Admiral of a small fleet voyaging to Virginia in support of the colonists.
The fleet consisted of seven ships and two pinnaces with some 600 colonists. It sailed from Plymouth on 2nd June and had a contingent from Lyme on board. In a severe storm the fleet was scattered and Somers' ship was wrecked on the coast of Bermuda.
Two of the Lyme contingent were William Strachey and Silvester Jourdain who both wrote accounts of the voyage. Jourdain's book, A Discovery of the Barmudas otherwise called the Ile of Dievls was published in 1610.

It is believed that Shakespeare was aware of these two accounts of Somers' voyage and was inspired by them to write The Tempest which was first performed in 1611.

Source: Ebb and Flow - The Story of Maritime Lyme Regis by Peter Lacey which can be obtained from Lyme Regis Museum.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Mary Anning's Ichthyosaur in Spotlight

The arrival of the first discovered Ichthyosaur back in Lyme Regis has caused huge interest. BBC South West have been in the town today filming for Spotlight, the regional news and current affairs programme. Museum geologist, Paddy Howe and Education Officer, Chris Andrew were interviewed about Mary Anning and the wonderful ichthyosaur skull. The pictures show Paddy being interviewed and the skull being filmed.

The item will be shown on Spotlight tonight at about 6:40pm.

For those of you who were concerned that my earlier post about the Ichthyosaur contained a photograph of the Museums model of the skull, I've included one of the NHM's photographs of the real skull in situ. If you can read the original legend, you will see that Mary Anning did not get a mention!