Accident or Design?

This present building opened in August 1931, the collection having been on Pier Road for the previous 104 years.

Frank Meadow Sutcliffe, retired local photographer who was curator of the Museum from 1923 to 1941, wrote an account of how the fossil sea creatures were moved in the Museum in Pannett Park.

It was published in 1946 in “Chapters of Whitby History”, by Horace B. Browne, and edited for this website.

1931: Accident or Design?

Or, the ancient fossil creature that grew!

When it was decided to build a new museum at Whitby for the better housing of its varied treasures, the question of displaying to the best advantage the seven fossil Saurians, scattered here and there in the old museum, was one of the main problems; for the main feature of Whitby Museum is its collection of Lias Fossils, gathered and arranged with such great skill by Martin Simpson.

The largest of the Saurians, Ichthyosaurus crassimanus, was measured by the architects of the new building, and the walls were made large enough to take it; in fact the size of the new building was determined by the length {25 feet or 7.6m)of this reptile.

He was too big to go through the windows of the old place, so he was cut into four; but when ready for fixing up in the new place, it was found he was longer than the wall. Either he had stretched a foot or so; or the wall had shrunk on drying; or the tape measure used in taking his measurement had shrunk in washing.

I forgot to say that before any of the Saurians were removed from the old walls where they had hung for nearly a hundred years, paper patterns of their full size were made of them all. So, when the paper pattern of crassimanus was stretched across the wall where he was to go, it was found to be too long. Then arose the question: should a foot or so be cut off the end of his tail, or should he be placed diagonally instead of horizontally. The wise philosophers decided on the latter course; and now everyone who sees the beast says how well he looks, and how much more alive than if he had been dead level.

This fossil had been found during jet mining below Hawsker cliffs, and was purchased for the museum for £105.

More on the fossils and other geology can be found here.