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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!