Category Archives: Dorset

Is this really Mary Anning at Lyme Regis? Or someone else somewhere else?

Is this really Mary Anning at Lyme Regis? Or someone else somewhere else?

It is one of the most popular pictures of Mary Anning and even used on a suggested draft of a £50 note.


The most famous fossil collector was Mary Anning of Lyme Regis in Dorset. She spent years collecting fossils and selling them on. This is one of the most popular pictures of her at work;

It was used on the front cover of a biography and on The Geological Curator in 1985 anningbioganninggcg

In the next few months the film Ammonite on the life of the great fossil-collector Mary Anning will be premiered in the USA and the UK. Mary lived from 1799 to 1847 in the seaside town of Lyme Regis and unearthed may significant fossils on the Jurassic coast. She provided specimens for geologists like Conybeare, Buckland and de la Beche.


Duria Antiquior – A more Ancient Dorset is a watercolour painted in 1830 by the geologist Henry De la Beche based on fossils found by Mary Anning

(compare this with Mary anning picture – is it the same style?)

By the time she was died she was famous and here is a posthumous portrait.


Posthumous painting of Anning by B. J. Donne from 1847, based on the 1842 portrait at the head of this article, showing her pointing at an ammonite

Now back to the oft-posted picture of Mary geologising, alleged to be painted by Sir Henry de la Beche, who was more than capable as an artist. However he should be expunged from history as a former slave-owner.

Here she is, in shorter skirts, standing on a rock with her hammer ready with Golden Cap in the background.


Just a minute!

Is it really Golden Cap? Golden Cap is only 171 metres high (560 ft if you prefer) and with a flat top to play cricket on as I had to on family holidays.


And is it Mary Anning?

To me, as I am familiar with Lyme Regis, having been there on geology field trips and three summer holidays as a child, it just doesn’t look right and I am sure de la Beche was a better artist and would have drawn Golden Cap more accurately right down to the horizontal strata.

Looking at it, I am minded of one of favourite mountain ridges in Snowdonia, the Nantlle Ridge which starts at Rhyd Du  and works its way along the ridge to Craig Cwm Silyn. It is an exposed route as to the north cliffs drop into a series of glacial cwms. The first time I traversed that ridge I tore my brand-new anorak.


Here is the east end of the Nantlle Ridge from Rhyd Ddu with Llyn y Gader in the foreground.

The peak of Y Garn (653metres) on the right with steep (glaciated?) nose and a glacial cwm behind. To climb it the route takes you up the shoulder on the right of the photo. At the bottom was a scruffy sign telling the English to Far Cough. From the first top you move to the left to Mynydd Drys y Coed (695m) and then along the narrow ridge to Craig Cwm Silyn, the high point at 734 metres. From there I normally retraced my steps beck to Rhyd Ddu. The north side of the ridge is precipitous as there are several northerly orientated glacial cwms.

The engineer, geologist Thomas Sopwith drew a sketch of Pen y Gader in October 1841, during a visit to North Wales with the Rev William Buckland  to see if there had been glaciation in Wales as well as in Scotland.


It’s the same as my photo with a roche moutonee in the foreground.

Now for a bit of history. In 1838 William Buckland went to visit Louis Agassiz in Switzerland. Agassiz was full of ice as he had just publicised that the glaciers in Switzerland had been far more extensive and that there had been an Ice Age in the none to distant past. He claimed ice had spread right up to the Jura mountains , where a glacier had dumped the erratic block, Pierre a Bot, high above Neuchatel – and scratched some rocks in the process. On a field trip we also found many glacial grooves on exposed rocks. Buckland took a lot of convincing but in the end Agassiz froze him out, and Buckland became a convert.

In 1840 Agassiz came to Britain and went up to Scotland with Buckland and Lyell. Near Lancaster, where I live, they found their first evidence of an former ice age – drumlins  -and I used to live on one. They then went to Glen Roy with its famous and baffling parallel roads. Two years earlier Darwin studied them and concluding they were ancient raised beaches from the lowering of sea level from 1200 ft. Agassiz disagreed and said there were from an ancient glacial lake publicising it in the Scotsman. Darwin had made a “gigantic blunder”, as he later admitted.


Next year, the ailing John Eddowes Bowman toured North Wales to find evidence and claimed to find nothing. In October Tom Sopwith met up with Buckland near Chester and explored the area in one of the worst Octobers ever. They began at the meres at Ellesmere and reckoned to identify rocks from both Scotland and Wales, concluding that ice sheets met there. They were absolutely correct and I enjoyed doing the same. From there they went up the Dee valley to Bala and then past Arenig Fawr (2804ft) where they did not notice the result of glaciation.


After that they stayed at the coaching in  at Pentrefoelas and continued along the new road (A5) to Snowdonia, finding evidence of glaciation en route. They stayed at Llanrwst. And went up to Ogwen. From Llanrwst they went to Pen y Pass and in between the showers worked out the glaciation


This map shows the glacial troughs Buckland and Sopwith identified.

Llyn y Gader is the smallest of the three lakes just to the west of Snowdon. Note 2 glacial cwms are marked.

For my paper on the work of Bowman, Buckland and Darwin on Welsh Ice see


In a few days of torrential rain they delineated all the major glacial troughs in Snowdonia. It was brilliant work. After dropping down to Beddgelert, they ended up at Rhyd Ddu and noted that glaciers seemed to be going in three directions. As well as being an engineer and geologist, he also produced excellent models showing geological structures.

For his brilliant models go to Facebook

This Thomas Sopwith was the grandfather of Sir Thomas Sopwith, who designed the Sopwith Camel, a WWI fighter plane. The latter’s grandson, also Thomas, lived near where we lived in Chirk. Sopwith was a fine artist at both sketching and painting. His most famous was of William Buckland dressed for glacier work. It is both faithful, but a bit of a send-up.

The wording is entertaining. It is of Buckland at the Waterloo Bridge in Betws y Coed. I once hobbled over that bridge, having twisted my ankle trying to find one of Buckland’s sites.


This was also the basis of a painting, a poor copy by an APF. Who was it? Sopwith would say it was not up to scratch!


Now another sketch at Beddgelert by Sopwith on 16th October 1841


Here’s Buckland in the Pass of Aberglaslyn in the same garb. He stayed in Beddgelert but the record of his stay is “missing”

When you compare these with the “Mary Anning” picture, you will note the same clothes, shoes and hat! And then there are also the glacial striae on the roche moutonee, which is not possible for Lyme Regis as ice never reached Dorset during the Ice Ages. Further the painting is in the style of Sopwith and not the exquisite watercolours of de la Beche.


I think one can only draw one conclusion. This picture is not of Mary Anning, nor of Lyme Regis, nor by de la Beche, but is of William Buckland in Snowdonia and the original by Thomas Sopwith. (The hill on the right is Mynydd Cigwyn just above Nantlle.) Buckland’s cloak, much needed that October, does look a bit like a shorter skirt adding to the confusion.  It also warns against jumping to historical conclusions. Tom Sharpe, who has an imminent biography on Mary Anning, has also made the same points in a HOGG newsletter

Some years ago I took the part of Sedgwick in a planned HBS documentary of evolution. But it got left out.


Here’s a photo of a woman in 1830s working class clothes


Who’s more like the person in the picture?

This annotated picture should make it clear. Go and visit the place and prove me wrong!



Now here is a picture of Buckland by de la Beche on Buckland’s favourite topic- coprolite. A mortarboard and not a top hat!  Also note what each animal is doing! What is between Buckland’s legs?

Maybe I’ve done what de la Beche did to Lyell’s ideas on uniformitarianism in 1831, when he reckoned that the little volumes of water couldn’t do what Lyell claimed in his uniformitarianism. Here Buckland’s son, Frank, is recruited to show why Lyell was wrong. I reckon this is above Idwal cottage looking down the Nant Francon, but Martin Rudwick is sure it is in the Auvergne. Take your pick, but I re-enacted it on a field trip in 2009



Dippy, diplodocus, goes to war with religion

Last week we went to the Dippy, the diplodocus, exhibition in Dorchester. It was fascinating to see the vast model of this dinosaur, which was attracting kids of all ages.  Later Dippy will travel round the country to the joy of many. It was an excellent exhibion but some of the “informative displays” were rather misguided and inaccurate as they relied on the whole idea of science and religion being at loggerheads with each other. It seems that those from the British Museum of Natural History are simply not up to speed. But first a description and then our visit

First, here is a description cribbed from Wikipedia

Dippy is a plaster cast replica of the fossilised bones of the type specimen of Diplodocus carnegii. The 105-foot (32 m)-long cast was displayed from 1979 to 2017 in the Hintze Hall, the central entrance hall of the Natural History Museum, in London.D

The genus Diplodocus was first described in 1878 by Othniel Charles Marsh. The fossilised skeleton from which Dippy was cast was discovered in Wyoming in 1898, and acquired by the Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie for his newly-founded Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. The bones were soon recognised as a new species, and named Diplodocus carnegii.

King Edward VII, then a keen trustee of the British Museum, saw a sketch of the bones at Carnegie’s Scottish home, Skibo Castle, in 1902, and Carnegie agreed to donate a cast to the Natural History Museum as a gift. Carnegie paid £2,000 for the casting in plaster of paris, copying the original fossil bones held by the Carnegie Museum (not mounted until 1907, as a new museum building was still being constructed to house it).


The work involved in removing Dippy and replacing it with the whale skeleton was documented in a BBC Television special, Horizon: Dippy and the Whale, narrated by David Attenborough, which was first broadcast on BBC Two on 13 July 2017, the day before the whale skeleton was unveiled for public display.[1]

Dippy started a tour of British museums in February 2018, mounted on a new more mobile armature.[2][3] Over the following three years, Dippy will be exhibited at locations around the UK: Dorset County Museum (10 February – 7 May 2018),[4] Ulster Museum (17 September 2018 – 6 January 2019),[5] Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the Great North Museum, the National Assembly for Wales, Number One Riverside in Rochdale, and Norwich Cathedral.[6]

And a timetable of Dippy’s wanderings around the country

Dippy is staying in the Dorset Museum in Dorchester and is sharing her stay with the “cold, cretaceous” novelist Thomas Hardy, who was writing his dark, but profound novels at the time Dippy was unearthed. And so the five of us went round and the two year old was enthralled. So was I!!

This photos show some of her vastness.


She made us look like midgets.


I hope she never got arthritis in her neck.


Big fat legs


Around the walls were more general geological displays and here is the map of the Weymouth Anticline  made by Mike House in about 1950 when he was studying under W J Arkell, who was prof of geology at Oxford in the 50s. House led my first university geological field trip to Swanage, but left soon after to take the chair at Hull. The only thing I remember of his farewell lecture was his description of some dino footprints on what was soft mud. The adult plonked her feet haphazardly, but baby dino planted her feet without crossing the cracks just as a human child would do.



Here is a local fossil ichthyosaur at the museum. One of the early workers was the Rev William Conybeare and an Anglican vicar and important early geologist in the early 1820s. As a geologist he was superb and had evangelical sympathies. Despite what is said in other display boards at the Dorset Museum, Conybeare was typical of his day and had no problem with vast geological time and spoke of “quadrillions of years”. He did have problems with the young earthers of his day!!


nice gnashers from a local


I simply cannot understand what this incoherent muddle means. I think both Conybeare and especially William Buckland (see below) would say just the same !!


How on earth can this be allowed in a serious museum? It is just muddled twaddle.


If, like me, you cannot read it, here it is magnified.


After my face-palming , here is my criticism.

  1. Take the sentence “During the 19th …… Bible.” First, it fails to note that Darwin published in 1859, and the dorset dinos were discovered 40 yrs before, so evolution was not on the table in 1820. In 1820 most scientists and educated Christians accepted the findings of geological deep time, with a few noisy objectors. Even by 1800 most educated people, Christian or not accepted deep time , as Martin Rudwick has shown in his recent books e.g. Earth’s Deep History or my modest contributions ; in the Evangelical Quarterly  which is a historical survey  and  a chapter in the Geol soc publication Geology and Religion on how Adam Sedgwick, a close friend and colleague of Conybeare and Buckland, dealt wit 6 day creationists of his day (Today you are not supposed to speak about or to creationists like that!!)
  2. Dr William Buckland was a great geologist but a nutter!! Hw was the first to identify a Jurassic Mammal and instrumental in getting Ice Ages accepted in Britain. For much of his geological career he reckoned the Noah’s Flood was the last geological event, with vast geological epochs before it. At that time it made sense and in some unpublished writings (now at Oxford) regarded the flood as caused by melting ice from the Ice Age. Read my article in the Proceedings of the Geologists Association on his excellent work (and Darwin’s)  on the Ice Age in Wales . There is a reference to it and access at the end of this blog.
  3. Willaim Smith produced the first geological map of any country in 1815 – England and Wales, but in the 1790s held to a 6 day creation. However he was disabused of that by two local vicars; Richardson and Townsend!
  4. Lastly, the commentary by Henry and Scott. This was a later collation of commentaries by Henry  (1670s) and Scott (1800) neither of whom took any notice of geology!

And finally something on the greatest woman fossil collector Mary Anning


It was great meeting Dippy , but a disappointment at some of the shoddy historical material.

Sadly, it has to be said that today a higher proportion of Christians believe that the earth was created in 6 days than when either Conybeare and Anning were unearthing ichthyosaurs in the 1820 or at the end of the century when Dippy saw the light again.