In September, the Alfred Gillett Trust hosted a hugely successful pop-up exhibition of fossilised ichthyosaurs found in Street as part of the national Heritage Open Days initiative. Over 2,200 people attended the four day exhibition, which saw the fossils on display in the town they were found for the first time in 40 years.
16 large ichthyosaur fossils were on display, as well a selection of smaller fossils found in the local area. Known as ‘sea dragons’, ichthyosaurs were dolphin-like marine reptiles which swam in the warm seas which covered Somerset around 200 million years ago. Street is known internationally for the quality and quantity of the fossils found in the local blue lias rock.
The fossils were found in local quarries in the 19th century by Alfred Gillett, a cousin of the founders of Clarks the shoemakers. Clark family members were also interested in the fossils which were being discovered in the area, and this impressive collection gradually developed. First displayed in Glastonbury Town Hall in 1880, the fossils were soon moved into a purpose-built Geological Museum in Crispin Hall in Street, which was opened in 1887.
Noted geologists and academics visited the collection to study them, along with tourists and residents in the locality of Street. Such was the importance of the collection and the affection held for the fossils in the area that the newly formed Street Urban District Council chose the ichthyosaur as their symbol in 1894. It is still used today by local societies and associations.
The fossils were finally taken off public display in 1978 when they were moved into storage for conservation. The Trust plan to begin a project to properly document, conserve and re-display the collection, and are looking for volunteers to help with this project.
One visitor said, “exciting days ahead for Street with these wonderful things being ‘rediscovered’…thank you Clark family/ Alfred Gillett for having such a fantastic archive.”
For more details on the fossils contact us or ring the Alfred Gillett Trust 01458 444060.