1893: the cemetery refused to give up its dead

Updated: Dec 14, 2020


The average Briton had very little knowledge of Geology, and perhaps cares less. In his mind the subject is generally associated with stuffy class rooms, and Latin words of portentous length. Its “true inwardness" never discloses itself to him. and he has never taken the trouble to find it out. But whatever excuse there might have been in the past for his lack of information, it does not exist at the present day.


Learning has become a pastime, and a thoroughly practical acquaintance with the principles of Geology can be obtained without oven venturing indoors. This is largely owing to the efforts of such Societies as the London Geological Field Class, which has instituted outdoor rambles during the summer months with much success. The last trip for the season took place on Saturday, when Cuckfield was the destination of the party. They arrived at Haywards Heath Station about four o'clock, a special carriage having been reserved for their accommodation in the train leaving London Bridge at 2.25.


Needless to say the students, male and female, to the number of between 30 and 40. presented quite a professional appearance. The majority had satchels slung across their shoulders, while hammers of various kinds were to be seen on every side. A start was immediately made for Cuckfield, the van being led by the popular teacher of the class, Professor HG Seeley FRS, clad in a light grey suit, and holding a formidable stone-breaking instrument in one hand.


Other members of the party were Mr Smith Woodward, of the British Museum; Sir John B. George FLS, Secretary of Section A. and organiser of the outing; Mr R Herbert Bentley, Secretary of the London Geological Field Class; and Mr Payne, of Hatchlands, Cuckfield, who joined the company at Whiteman’s Green. Unfortunately, the weather looked very undecided, but clouds or no clouds the ardent geologists proceeded on their way.


On arrival at the piece of stone paving that connects Haywards Heath with the mother parish - a halt was called, and a lecturette delivered on its beauties by the Professor. He invested it with more charms in five minutes than it has been the lot of the inhabitants to discover in ten times the number of years. If sermons are contained in stones that rough causeway can supply more than sufficient to last a lifetime, according to Mr Seeley. The wrinkles, the ripples, the marking, and the indentations formed the text, and very eloquently were they discoursed on.


The ribbed appearance of the stone, he remarked, was the same as they could observe on the sand after the water had retired. The markings, however, might be due to tho action of the wind and not of the water. Broad Street, Cuckfield, having been reached, a heap of flints by the side of the road, was made the subject of a few words, and amateur stone breaking was the order of the day.


Whiteman’s Green was then visited by way of Little London Lane, and the Class soon became the cynosure of attention to the natives of that salubrious part. Mr G Tidey called the notice of the party to some remarkably heavy bones, etc., which he came across last Wednesday while demolishing an old bakehouse at the rear of his premises. Why they were placed there continues a mystery, and seeing that the building pulled down can boast of the respectable antiquity of at least 150 years, there does not seem much chance of its being cleared up.


Mr Seeley pronounced the objects, which were very large, to be the thigh bone of an ox and the teeth of a horse. There must have been giants in those days, to judge by the size of these remains. Mr Leney also showed some fossils belonging to Mr R Mitchell, and obtained by him from Mr Best’s stone quarry, Ansty. One of the specimens turned out to be a portion of the backbone of the iguanodon. From this small part the Professor built up a perfect animal of fearsome proportions, although not longer than fourteen or fifteen feet, which would appear to be quite an insignificant size for an ignanodon. Mr J Leney then appeared with a box full of curiosities secured by him at the Local Board pit.


Among other sundries it contained a tooth of the lepidotus, scale from the back of a crocodile, portion of the carapace of a turtle, and minute tail of a fossil reptile. Although found at Cuckfield the Professor was of opinion that a great many of the objects were water-borne before reaching their present position.


A move was then made for the Millhall quarry, famous as being the first spot in which the remains of the ignanodon were discovered. Mr Seeley remarked that they were there through the kindness of Mr TW Erie, who had written saying that if it were not for his illness he would have bad great pleasure in being with them that day. Either a fresh water lake formerly existed where they were standing, or the bed of a great river, which accounted for the variety of fossils to be found. The hammers were again brought into use by the party, and 'finds' became numerous. Notes were taken of all discoveries, with an assiduity worthy of Captain Cuttle.


But as luck would have it, the cemetery of the iguanodon refused to give up its dead. If it had done so, it is pretty certain the the remains would not have been applied to the purposes of road mending, to which use the Cuckfieldians formerly put the teeth of bit remarkable reptile. An iguanodon must have presented a curious appearance when in the prime of life.


To give an idea of its size a local geologist thus wittily writes: "It was so tall that if a fine individual of the species had chosen to sit alongside of Cuckfield Church, it might, perhaps, have been able to rest its chin on the parapet of the tower whence the spire rises, whilst its tail, covered like the rest of its body, with scales, would have run out some yards backward perhaps oven far enough for the boys at the National School to deal irreverently with its tip without venturing outside their own territory.


Although so formidable in aspect, the iguanodon was a firm upholder of the principles now advocated by the Vegetarian Society. The creature had four legs, the two back ones, which were terminated by feet with three toes, being by far the longest and most powerful. Its face could hardly be termed its fortune, unless a long narrow head, set on a lanky neck, with a nose ended by a parrot-like beak, be considered a type of the beautiful.


Before leaving Cuckfield the private museum of Mr Erle was inspected by the company, who examined its contents with much interest. The beautiful fern-house, hot-houses, and grounds were also visited, and a vote of thanks passed to Mr. Erie for his kindness. The party then returned to Haywards Heath, and after a substantial tea at the Station Hotel, departed, about nine o'clock, for the metropolis, well pleased with the success of the outing.

Source: An afternoon with London geologists, visit to Millhall pit, Cuckfield. Mid Sussex Times Tues 18 July 1893


Contributed by Malcolm Davison.