Paleontologists to the Regency – Part Two

Sometimes we have to look past the Regency to see the grandeur of its achievements. This post takes us to Christmas, 1839 and England’s Jurassic coast, a catalogue of the island’s past:

About midnight of December 25th the inhabitants of two cottages in the undercliff were awakened by loud sounds produced by the grinding of slowly moving masses of the adjacent rocks; they found the floors of their houses rising upwards toward the ceiling, and with difficulty escaped. In a few hours one cottage was thrown down. — The Life and Correspondence of William Buckland 

George Pulman reported in his Book of the Ax (1875) that the cottagers had just finished celebrating Christmas Eve “in old jovial style at Bindon Farm, with a burning of an ashen faggot and its accompanying merrymaking.” One of the cottagers, William Critchard, was dismayed to find the footpath he normally trod to get to his landlord’s place had fallen seven feet. He scrambled along its descent to waken his landlord and “with the master’s help” was able to get his household goods out of his cottage before the whole thing disappeared.

Christmas Day a rabbit shooting party was nearly swallowed up by fissures opening in the fields.

The great Dr. Buckland and his wife, the former Mary Morland, were summoned to diagnose the situation.

They proceeded immediately to the location and observed the tremendous chasm with “crags, knolls and mounds confusedly hurl’d” where there had previously been a flat plain suitable for grazing sheep. Fossils and exposed strata had to be noted, as well as drawn by Mary’s “clever pencil.”

she drew that, too!

she drew that, too!

An earthquake? No, indeed. The Regent’s favorite geologist and his intrepid wife, in the course of their search for fossils, could properly interpret the layers of earth that were now exposed by the violent sinking. Chalk sat upon fox-mould, a peculiar strata of soil, which when soaked with water (it had been an unusually wet year) causes the whole to slide.

Having laid to rest the fear of earthquakes, the area prepared for the inevitable tourists who came in droves. The summer culminated in a harvest celebration, with booths erected and young women hired as “nymphs of Ceres.”

“If the world were to be destroyed and any Englishmen survived, they would celebrate the events upon the fragments with a dinner.” — Douglas Jerrold

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