Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Mary Anning statue in Lyme Regis: ‘If I had a geological hammer . . .’

Mary Anning rocks up to Hastings Museum 

Hastings Museum and Art Gallery (HMAG) has a new temporary exhibition, celebrating Mary Anning and fossils. The local theatre group ExploretheArch is also involved. The exhibition runs from early November 2023 till the New Year. Bernard McGinley reports.

A bright particular star of geology, fossil-hunting and palaeontology is Mary Anning (1799-1847). Recently she was played on the big screen by Kate Winlset in Ammonite (2020). She was also the subject of Tracy Chevalier’s novel Remarkable Creatures (2009), and many other treatments.

Living on the Dorset coast, Mary Anning had a developed skill in discovering shells and bones in the cliffs and around. In 1812 she found the body of an ichthyosaurus (‘fish lizard’), that is still on display at the National History Museum in London. She found a plesiosaurus in 1823, a pterodactyl in 1828, and a squaloraja (a transition fish, between sharks and rays) in 1829. Part of her skill was in understanding what she had found, the phylogeny of unknown species millions of years old.

Experts and aspiring experts sought her out, to go on field trips with her and accept her guidance in uncovering and cleaning, preparing and identifying finds. As a consequence, purchased discoveries and research papers tended to exclude mention of her. At that time women could not be members of the Geological Society of London, or even attend lectures.

Mary Anning’s note on a plesiosaurus (Wikimedia Commons).

Her admirers included Professor Buckland of Oxford (1784-1856) who with his wife visited Dorset frequently. (Mrs Buckland as a widow lived in St Leonards, near to another geological pioneer, Samuel Beckles (1814-90).)  


A maquette of Mary Anning will be on display at Hastings Museum (near Bohemia Road and the town centre) from Monday 6 November until Saturday 6 January 2024. It was made by sculptor Denise Dutton, who also did the statue of her in Mary Anning’s home town, Lyme Regis (shown at the top of this article).

ExploreTheArch’s Fossil Finder

The Hastings theatre group ExploreTheArch is having an exhibition coinciding with the arrival of the maquette. Fossil Finder in Us All invites visitors to the Museum to explore their relationship with natural history and winter beachcombing for fossils. Alongside the maquette will be ExploreTheArch’s early career artist team’s response project, in the Museum’s Walkway Gallery.

It is also intended to have an innovative community engagement programme  (funding permitting) with findings on the beach and family-focused shore excursions. ‘Finder families’ will be welcomed to after-find meet-ups at the Museum, to share the shells, stones and fossils collected on the beach.

Mary Anning overcame many barriers to be recognised as a palaeontologist. Her work influenced Charles Darwin and many others. She inspires communities that make up Hastings’ diverse population.

Detail from George Roberts’ contemporary note on his neighbour, Mary Anning (Special Collections of the University of Bristol).

A second ‘Jurassic coast’

The local fossil record is rich, with species such as Iguanodon (=Hypselospinus) hollingtoniensis indicating their finding place. The crevices and disused local quarries around Silverhill, St Helens, Fairlight and Pett Level may have secrets still.  Xenoposeidon proneneukus came from Ecclesbourne Glen and wasn’t identified until this century. In June this year, the Daily Telegraph made the comparison of “a second ‘Jurassic coast‘”.

Local enthusiasts included Samuel Beckles (who found a pterosaur west of St Leonards), and his friend Charles Dawson (1864-1916). (It’s of a piece with Mugsborough that the prime suspect for faking Piltdown Man was a St Leonards solicitor.) Gideon Mantell (1790-1852) was inspired by Mary Anning to explore Sussex geologically. The Hastings & District Geological Society carries on that work. 

Entry to Hastings Museum is free, and this exhibition is suitable for all ages. Find out more about the Mary Anning Rocks tour here

If you’re enjoying HOT and would like us to continue providing fair and balanced reporting on local matters please consider making a donation. Click here to open our PayPal donation link. Thank you for your continued support!

Posted 20:51 Sunday, Nov 5, 2023 In: Visual Arts

Also in: Visual Arts

More HOT Stuff

    HOT is run by volunteers but has overheads for hosting and web development. Support HOT!


    Advertise your business or your event on HOT for as little as £20 per month
    Find out more…


    If you like HOT and want to keep it sustainable, please Donate via PayPal, it’s easy!


    Do you want to write, proofread, edit listings or help sell advertising? then contact us


    Get our regular digest emails

  • Subscribe to HOT