Dinosaur quarries of Hastings

For over two hundred years, dinosaur bones and other fossils have been found along the beach to the east of Hastings, between Rock-a-Nore and Pett, but by far the most spectacular specimens were collected from local quarries in the nineteenth century. At this time, Hastings was expanding rapidly as a popular seaside resort. As a result, huge quantities of sand, clay (for chimney pots and bricks) and stone were required for new buildings and roads. This is reflected in the large number of local quarries marked on the 1899 Ordnance Survey map of Hastings. Many brickworks were located near outcrops of Wadhurst Clay. As well as clay, this formation also contains beds of sandstone and Tilgate Stone, which is a hard calcareous grit that was quarried for road stone (White, 1928). It was also known locally as ‘Bluestone’ or ‘Hastings Granite’ (Abbott, 1907). While the natural erosion of cliffs on the coast revealed occasional fossils, inland quarrying provided a more rapid and continual exposure of specimens. These included dinosaur bones from the geological section known today as the Hastings Group (Ashdown Sands and Wadhurst Clay – sedimentary beds which date from 141 to 137mya and belong to the Valanginian Stage within the Lower Cretaceous).

Fig. 1 Little Ridge bones
Fig. 1. Iguanodontid bones from Little Ridge Quarry.

For many years, I have been curious about the exact locations of these long-abandoned quarries, but my research was really inspired by a ‘behind the scenes’ visit to the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London. Here, in the storeroom, were huge dinosaur bones, some with their original labels, which were identified as coming from the old quarries of Hastings (Fig. 1). Unfortunately, they were not named on maps and very few locations were recorded in sufficient detail in early scientific papers. For example, a quarry that was established on agricultural land was often named after the farm or nearby house belonging to the land owner. However, confusion arises when separate quarries were located within the boundaries of a single farm.

Gideon Algernon Mantell (1790-1852) was a doctor based in Lewes, but he was also a very keen amateur fossil collector. During the 1820s, he described and named the Iguanodon (only the second dinosaur to be named scientifically) on the basis of some teeth and dinosaur bones he found (or bought) at various quarries in the Tilgate Forest area of Sussex. In his personal journal (1822), Mantell complained about other collectors “poaching fossils” from quarries in his local area (Curwen, 1940). This may be one reason why some fossil hunters were not prepared to record precise details of their locations. Although Mantell visited Hastings on several occasions, I could find no evidence that he personally collected fossil specimens here.

Two of the most important local fossil hunters in the latter half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were Samuel Beckles and Charles Dawson. These remarkable gentlemen are discussed below, because their history is essential to my task of finding the quarries.

Samuel Husband Beckles (1814-1890)

Beckles was born in Barbados and qualified as a barrister at the age of 24, but, when his health began to deteriorate, he retired to St Leonards in 1845. He became interested in the geology of the Weald and made many important discoveries in the Hastings area, Dorset and the Isle of Wight. Among the many fossils he found were some well-preserved Iguanodon bones, including the first partially articulated hind foot (Owen, 1854, found during 1853 to 1879). As a result of his discoveries, Beckles was able to publish a number of scientific papers on local fossils and his importance as a geologist was recognised by his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1859.

After Beckles’ death, a part of his large collection of Wealden fossils was bought by the Hastings Museum. Specimens included dinosaur vertebrae, limb bones and jaw fragments, and a ripple-marked footprint of Iguanodon. Unfortunately, today, very few of his specimens can be individually identified. The remainder of Beckles’ collection was purchased by the British Museum (Natural History), later renamed the Natural History Museum.

Charles Dawson (1864-1916)

While Dawson was living in St Leonards, he became friends with Beckles, from whom he learned considerable skills as a fossil hunter. Their visits to local quarries were so successful that, by 1884, Dawson had built an impressive collection of Wealden fossils. He also spent time investigating the coastal cliffs to the east of Hastings, from Rock-a-Nore to Pett. By the early age of 21, his work in geology brought him a Fellowship of the Geological Society of London. Later, on the recommendation of Richard Lydekker, he was appointed as an honorary collections advisor to the British Museum (Natural History), a post he held for over 30 years. Dawson found specimens that were used to establish three new species of Iguanodon (Lydekker, 1888, 1889). One of them, originally named Iguanodon dawsoni in his honour, was based on a partial skeleton collected from a site that he referred to as ‘Shornden’ (Norman, 2010, 2011a, b). Today these are recognised as belonging to two species: Barilium dawsoni and Hypselospinus fittoni (Norman, 2010, in press). The ‘Dawson Collection’ in the NHM contains some of the very best dinosaur fossils ever found in Sussex. However, today, Dawson is primarily remembered for his involvement in the Piltdown forgery and other deceptions (Weiner, 1955).

My search for the quarries

My quarry research involved the study of Ordnance Survey maps, geological maps and local street maps of the area. Other clues have been obtained from nineteenth century field trip accounts, articles in geological journals, contemporary newspapers and more recent descriptions of the fossils found in these quarries. Archives at the East Sussex Records Office, Hastings Museum, Hastings Reference Library and on the Internet have also been informative. Once a potential quarry site had been identified, the location was visited, mapped and photographed. From the material gathered, I have selected three local quarries (Fig. 1).

Little Ridge Quarry (TQ 8065 1240). The 1873 OS map shows a quarry just south of the Little Ridge farmhouse. Today, this overgrown site can be found on the south side of Little Ridge Avenue, a short distance from the Conquest Hospital. It has been suggested that Little Ridge Quarry was located at TQ 799126, west of Little Ridge Farmhouse (Brooks in Batten and Austen, 2011, p. 30), but further research has revealed that this site was not marked as a quarry on the 1873 OS map, and that the area was identified on the later 1899 and 1909 OS maps as Beauport Brickworks. There are also a number of smaller quarries shown on the 1873 OS map, such as ‘Quarry Wood’ to the east of Hillside Road.

Fossils in the NHM storeroom include a number of Iguanodon vertebrae, metatarsals and phalanges from Iguanodon (=Hypselospinus) hollingtoniensis (Fig. 2). These specimens are labelled as coming from ‘Little Ridge Quarry’ and represent part of the ‘Charles Dawson Collection’. The species ‘hollingtoniensis’ suggests an origin in or near Hollington, north of Hastings, and the original specimens (the holotypes) of this species included a variety of post-cranial bones collected by Dawson from a quarry referred to as ‘Hollington’ (Lydekker, 1889). The dinosaur bones from Little Ridge Quarry were recognised as being very similar to those of the ‘Hollington’ specimens.

Old Roar Quarry (TQ 808115). This quarry was named after a 12m waterfall (TQ 804120) that was a popular attraction in Victorian times. An early Hastings guide book states that, “… after long heavy rains a large body of water tumbles over with a tremendous roar, that is heard half a mile off” (Barry 1797, p. 86).

Fig. 2 Old Roar quarry site
Fig. 2. Old Roar Quarry site (now William Parker School’s running track).

The 1873 OS map has no quarry marked at the TQ 808115 site, but by 1899, there are three quarries indicated, with two of them labelled as ‘abandoned’. In 1909, the OS map shows that these quarries had been combined into one large quarry. According to the geological map for the Hastings-Rye area (Institute of Geological Sciences, 1977), it would have covered an area of Wadhurst Clay, with an outcrop of sandstone to the north. By 1929, the site is no longer identified as a quarry and today it is occupied by the William Parker School’s running track (Fig. 3). In the 1928 Geological Survey Memoir for the area, there is a reference which provides a useful clue to the location of Old Roar Quarry: “In the grass-land east of St. Helens Road, and about one third of a mile S.-by-E. of Silverhill Park, there is a large and much-degraded quarry in Wadhurst Clay” (White, 1928, p. 67).

In Hopkinson (1874, p. 213) a contemporary account of a field trip made by some Geologists’ Association members to this quarry is described: “On their arrival at [St Leonards] station they were met by Mr. Peyton, who had most kindly provided carriages for the day. The Old Roar quarry, an extensive excavation in the Wadhurst Clay, was first visited. Here, a bone-bed, almost entirely made up of the teeth and bones of the old Wealden reptiles and fishes, is exposed. It appears to have formed the bed of a river, and may at one time have been continuous with the similar bed exposed at the Black Horse quarry, near Battle. Overlying the bone-bed a leaf-bed containing impressions of ferns is seen; and below it the Wadhurst Clay encloses a bed of stone, a concretionary argillaceous limestone from three to four feet thick, for which the quarry is worked. Below this is a bed of blue clay, and then another bed of stone, the whole reposing on the Ashdown Sand. Two other quarries, one in the upper part of the Ashdown Sand, the other in the Wadhurst Clay, were then visited, and in each of them numerous fossils were found.

Between 1908 and 1911, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a student priest at Ore Place, a Jesuit Seminary in Hastings. During his free time, he was an enthusiastic collector of fossils and, in May 1909, he wrote a letter to his parents in which he described a field trip to a local quarry: “In the past two weeks, I’ve become acquainted with Charles Dawson, a geologist in the area. It happened under amusing circumstances. While visiting a quarry close by, we were surprised to see the ‘manager’ take on an understanding attitude when we discussed fossils with him. He had just discovered an enormous pelvis bone from an Iguanodon and was very anxious to talk about it. I knew then that it was almost a whole Iguanodon being found piece by piece, and the fragments (you could say crumbs, for I wonder how they can be recognized) are piling up one by one in a crate destined for the British Museum” (Teilhard de Chardin, 1968, p. 48).

Fig. 3 Old Roar quarry pelvis
Fig. 3. Iguanodontid pelvis and vertebrae from Old Roar Quarry.

Although Teilhard de Chardin does not name the quarry, his description of the Iguanodon pelvis corresponds to a large partial skeleton, labelled ‘Old Roar Quarry’, in the NHM collection (NHMUK R3788; Norman 2011a, b). The label also states that it was purchased by the ‘British Museum’ from Charles Dawson in November 1909. This magnificent specimen, originally named Iguanodon dawsoni (Lydekker 1888), was identified from a pelvic girdle, consisting of the ilium, ischium and pubis together with thirteen articulated posterior dorsal and sacral vertebrae (Norman 2011a, b) (Fig. 4).

In his 1922, article on Dinocochlea ingens, then identified as a ‘gigantic gastropod’, BB Woodward states that the specimen was discovered during road works near Silverhill, not far from the Old Roar Waterfall, and close to the quarry dubbed by Mantell the ‘Iguanodon Necropolis’ (Woodward, 1922). Could this have been the Old Roar Quarry?

Shornden ‘Brick Works’ (TQ 801106). This occupied a triangle of land (Fig. 5) with a path leading through it from Beaufort Road into Alexandra Park and the Shornden reservoir (Fig. 1).

Fig. 4 Shornden OS map
Fig. 4. Shornden Brickworks, Silverhill (OS map 1899).

By 1861, a pottery/brickworks was already established here and it continued to operate until about 1890 (Beswick, 2001). Wadhurst Clay and Tunbridge Wells Sand were extracted for making tiles, chimney pots and bricks in two large kilns, which are shown on the local OS map of 1873. However, the site appears too small to have provided enough clay to sustain production for any length of time, so clay must also have been obtained from other local pits. These possibly included the nearby quarry in Vale Road.

‘Shornden Quarry’ is one of the locations named in the NHM’s collection of fossils from the Hastings area. Dinosaur bones found here by Charles Dawson include various pelvic bones and vertebrae from Iguanodon (=Hypselospinus) fittoni (NHMUK R1635 a-d) and I. (=Barilium) dawsoni, which still have their original ‘Dawson Collection’ labels (Fig. 6). Other specimens include an almost complete ilium and incomplete sections of pelvis, leg and foot bones (Lydekker, 1888, 1890; Woodward and Sherborn, 1890; Norman, 2010, 2011a, b).

By 1909, the brickworks site was occupied by a nursery, which later became a private garden belonging to the corner house – now the Silver Springs Medical Practice. Eventually, the land was sold for development and a block of retirement flats (Beaufort Court) was built here in 1985. The present day garden contains a pond – which might originally have been a clay pit (Fig. 7).

Fig. 5 Shornden vertebrae
Fig. 5. Iguanodontid vertebrae from Shornden Brickworks/Quarry.

Other local dinosaur quarries and sites. Hollington Quarry, Buckshole Quarry, Hole Farm Quarry and West Marina Quarry were also identified by Dawson and Beckles as yielding dinosaur bones in the Hastings area. Unfortunately, there is practically no recorded information about these quarries, apart from contemporary reference labels found on the fossils, although it is likely that Buckshole Quarry was located adjacent to Buckshole Reservoir (TQ 805110).

However, dinosaur fossils were also found at other locations in the town. In October 1848, work was in progress to construct a new gasometer (TQ 819099) near Queens Road. According to a local newspaper: “In the excavation for the tank, which was very extensive, there was discovered many skeleton specimens of the antedeluvian (sic) world, belonging, we understand, to the Iguanodon class” (Anon. 1848, p. 3).

The following year the Hastings and St. Leonards News reported: “We hear that some fossil remains of the old-world iguanodon have been found by the excavators of the new railway line near St. Leonards. The bones are in the possession, we believe, of Mr. Thomas Vidler, Castle-road” (Anon, 1849, p. 3; Baines, 1963, p. 318).

William Diplock described an event at Silverhill junction in 1860: “Remains of Saurians have been found in the neighbourhood of Hastings. The skeleton of a gigantic Iguanodon was discovered in digging the foundation for the new house at Tivoli, called Silverlands. The bones are in the possession of S. W. Beckles, Esq., who it is hoped will one day put them together and describe them” (Diplock, 1864, p. 341; Baines, 1963, p. 366).

In 1925, during excavations for the building of the White Rock Pavilion (TQ 8115 0918), fragmentary “saurian bones” were exposed in the Wadhurst Clay. They were later put on display at Hastings Museum (White, 1928, p. 45).

Sadly, it appears that apart from the above details, records of these specimens were either not kept or have been lost.

Today, although the old quarries are now landscaped or buried under housing developments, there is at least one site near Hastings where the discovery and excavation of dinosaur bones continues. In recent years, Dave Brockhurst has made some remarkable finds in the Wadhurst Clay of a local brickworks. The fossils include the remains of Iguanodon, Polacanthus and even a posterior cervical vertebra of what may have been the world’s smallest adult non-avian dinosaur (Naish and Sweetman, 2011; Sweetman, 2011). Until it is officially named, it has been nicknamed the ‘Ashdown maniraptoran’ (see also Issue 27 of Deposits: World’s smallest dinosaur? The ‘Ashdown maniraptoran’ by Dr Steven Sweetman).


My thanks to Diana Brooks, David Padgham, Peter and Joyce Austen, Hastings Reference Library, Hastings Museum and especially to Dale Smith for his field trip research in rediscovering overgrown quarry sites. I am also very grateful to David Norman for his valuable help and advice.


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Anon. 1849. [Report on excavations for a new railway line.] Hastings and St. Leonards News, 25th May 1849, p. 3.

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