Geology Museums of Britain: Portland Museum, Dorset

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Jon Trevelyan(UK)

Fig. 1. A huge Titanites giganteus adorns the doorway.

I visited this little museum a while ago while on a Geologists’ Association field trip. I have passed it several time and always loved the large Titanites giganteus above the door (Fig. 1) of this picturesque cottage (Fig. 2). As a result, I had always wanted to visit, but more particularly I want to see the famous fossil turtle (Fig. 3) that is exhibited there.

Fig. 2. One of the two seventeenth century cottages making up the museum.
Fig. 3. The lovely fossil turtle at the museum.

In fact, Portland Museum is a lovely example of a local museum containing (among other things, geology (Fig. 4), in this case, tucked away in a beautiful part of the ‘island’ in two seventeenth century cottages, near Rufus Castle and the popular Church Ope Cove.

Fig. 4. Some of the geological exhibits at the museum.

The Isle of Portland in Dorset represents the most southerly point of the Jurassic, which is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site and famous for its geology, fossils and geomorphology. It is joined to the mainland by the equally famous Chesil Beach but has always been regarded (not least by its inhabitants)as separate from the mainland, and this is reflected in the museum’s collection. That is, Portland Museum does not just contain geology and palaeontology; its exhibits also reflect the Isle’s history and people.

Portland Museum was founded in 1930 by Dr Marie Stopes, renowned for her contributions to palaeobotany and female sexuality (but less well respected for her eugenics). Its website states that its mission is to:

… promote the history and heritage of the Isle of Portland by making accessible the collection of objects, archives and images that tell the story of the island from its earliest times to the present day.”

It is an independent registered Charitable Trust run mostly by volunteers.

In terms of geology, Portland Museum displays an excellent collection of Jurassic fossils, including a Megalosaurus footprint artificially embedded in a rock at the top of the garden (where you can drink your coffee). It also has a collection of cycads (Fig. 5) that originally brought Stopes to the island. However, as I suggest above, my favourite exhibit is the Portland turtle fossil. This extremely rare fossil is the oldest known example of a turtle fossil found, certainly in Europe, but possibly the rest of the world.

Fig. 5. Some of the fossil cycads that attracted Marie Stopes to the Isle.

In addition, both inside the museum and outside, there are the evitable enormous ammonites (the Titanites giganteus referred to above; Fig. 6) that the Isle is famous for, but also the remains of reptiles that swam in the tropical, Jurassic Tethys seas. Both the cycads and many of the ammonites were discovered over the years by working quarrymen in the layers of Portland Stone, used to construct some of the most iconic buildings in the world, for instance, St Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London.

Fig. 6. A group of Titanites giganteus ammonites.

The museum can be found at 217 Wakeham, Easton, Portland, Dorset, DT5 1HS. There is parking nearby.

Geology museums of Britain: Whitby Museum, Yorkshire
Geology museums of Britain: The Booth Museum of Natural History, Brighton
Geology museums of Britain: The Museum of London
Geology museums of Britain: The National Stone Centre, Derbyshire
Geology museums of Britain: Staffin (Dinosaur) Museum, Isle of Skye
Geology museums of Britain: Watchet Market House Museum, Somerset
Geology museums of Britain: The Museum of Somerset, Taunton
Geology Museums of Britain: Portland Museum, Dorset
Geology museums of Britain: Yorkshire Natural History Museum, Sheffield
Geology museums of Britain: Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow
Geology museums of Britain: TheHunterian, Glasgow
Geology museums of Britain: Kendal Museum of Natural History and Archaeology, Cumbria
Geology museums of Britain: Wells & Mendip Museum, Somerset
Geology museums of Britain: Radstock Museum, w2Somerset

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