‘Sea Dragons of Somerset’ exhibition coming this September
This September, the Alfred Gillett Trust are hosting a free pop-up exhibition of fossilised ichthyosaurs found in Street as part of the national Heritage Open Days initiative. From 7-10 September, the public can view the fossils and learn about how they were found and what they tell us about the local environment.
19 large ichthyosaur fossils will be 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 resident 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. Now, for the first time in nearly 40 years, locals and visitors alike will get a chance to come face-to-face with the famed sea dragons.
The exhibition will be open to the public from Thursday 7 to Sunday 10 September from 10am to 5pm. Entrance is free, but donations towards the care and future display of the fossils would be gratefully received.