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The spectacular Lower Jurassic fossils of Strawberry Bank, Ilminster, Somerset, were discovered by local resident and keen geologist Charles Moore (1815-1881) in the early 1840s.
Moore later recalled how the first specimen was discovered: "An old school house, [near the Commercial school-house, in which he had passed his early days] was being renovated, and two boys were amusing themselves with a pebble or nodule they had found in the rubbish. This, in rolling from one to another, separated and by a lucky chance the pieces were looked at and preserved. In the centre and naturally at the point of separation, was a beautiful fish of the extinct genus Pachycormus."
Moore searched all the local quaries to find the source of this nodule and when he did locate the layer in a working quarry at Strawberry Bank, then just north of Ilminster, he diligently collected thousands of specimens. On moving to Bath in the 1850s he exhibited these specimens, alongside his many other fossils, as a free public museum at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (then situated on Terrace Walk, Bath).
In Moore's day, famous geologists travelled to view his specimens and commented on their extraordinarily fine preservation. On Moore's death in 1881 BRLSI purchased the collection from his widow, including the Strawberry Bank fossils, and it has been part of our museum collection ever since.
Charles Moore, photographed c.1860 with some of his specimens from Strawberry Bank, Ilminster. He called the layer from which they came the 'saurian, fish and insect bed'.
Moore's important collection had drifted into obscurity and the Strawberry Bank specimens were known by only a handful of specialists.
Now the BRLSI has teamed up with palaeontologists from Bristol University Department of Earth Sciences to conserve, prepare, and research these amazing fossils. The JESBI project promises to reveal startling secrets about the anatomy and lives of these 185 million year old animals.