Western Morning News

90m-year-old skeleton comes out of the closet

- MARTIN HESP martin.hesp@reachplc.com

MANY families apparently have skeletons in their closets – but imagine having a skeleton so shocking and shameful that for over 100 years it lay buried in the garden…

Actually, the skeleton belonging to the Somerset’s Temperley family is not regarded in the least bit shameful today – indeed it will soon be featuring in pride of place on the labels of their finest commercial product.

That is the intention of cider brandy maker Julian Temperley who has paid more than £3000 to have his family’s 90 million-year-old Ichthyosau­rus cleaned and mounted.

“An image of the Temperley Ichthyosau­rus will go on the label of our next 20-year-old cider brandy,” said Julian, who recently rescued the fossil from where it lay buried and hidden in a garden for over a century.

But why had such a splendid creature (worth more than £15,000 according to eBay) been shoved away unseen for so many years?

Julian takes up the story… “It was found either by William Philosophu­s Bradford or John Wesley Bradford – my great-great-grandfathe­r or his father – in around about 1850 in their lime quarry at Pitsbury near Langport,” Julian told the WMN.

Not only were the two men founders of the now well-known Bradford’s builders’ merchants, but they were also ardent Christians back in times when Darwin’s Theory of Evolution had yet to hit the streets.

“They dug up sedimentar­y rock and burned it for the lime – and it was while they were digging in the quarry that they came across the Ichthyosau­rus. They took it home and buried it. You have to remember that fossils weren’t really explained until Darwin came along,” said Julian. “Up

“They came across the Ichthyosau­rus - and took it home and buried it in the garden...”


until then, if you believed in fossils you were denying the Bible saying God created Day One, and so on…

“It’s not the sort of thing you’d have flashed around because your local vicar wouldn’t have been that educated and wouldn’t have understood what it was – so I can imagine that for the Bradfords it was an interestin­g thing that you buried and kept to yourself. Anyway, eventually Darwin came along and convinced people that fossils weren’t anything to do with Satan.”

Neverthele­ss, the family Ichthyosau­rus remained buried in the Levels village of Thorney.

“Whenever we visited Somerset as kids, we dug it up and were generally amazed. But after the flooding of 2013-14 we realised it was not a good idea to leave it buried and I thought we ought to look after it,” said Julian.

“There was a programme about Attenborou­gh digging up an Ichthyosau­rus with Chris Moore at Lyme Regis, so we took our fossil down there to be cleaned and Chris said it was one of the best he’d ever seen.

“The teeth are still there in enamel form after 90 million years, which is pretty good. We will now keep it on the wall of our cider brandy bond where it will be part of the family history. Putting it with ageing spirits seems like the right thing to do.”

 ?? Richard Austin ?? > Cider maker Julian Temperley with his ichthyosau­rus fossil
Richard Austin > Cider maker Julian Temperley with his ichthyosau­rus fossil

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