By George, it’s about time we hailed Mary!

mary anning grave
There have been calls for a statue or similar commemoration to fossil hunter Mary Anning to be installed in the town, with her gravestone currently being the only reference to her

IT was Richard Austin who started it. Now there’s a phrase not entirely unfamiliar to many of us.

But it was, he did. Aussie took to ‘Soapbox II’, the riotous local hell-raising group nihilistically-run on Facebook by Matt Puddy, to say what a disgrace it was that Mary Anning’s grave in the churchyard was in such a shamefully-tatty state.

Or as he put it: “Having watched David Attenborough helping Chris Moore get his headless fossil of an ichthyosaurus from within the cliff face near Lyme, I heard Attenborough refer to our very own unsung heroine Mary Anning for bringing the world’s attention to the Jurassic cliffs and its bony treasures within.

“So it does beg the question as to why her gravestone alongside the church is as far as I know the only outside shrine or reference to the great lady (not counting the museum or the road)? In fact, she only gets four lines on the gravestone.

“Why do we as a community erect a bronze statue of a former mayor called Sir George Somers, who as history would have it was closely associated with the slave trade industry, if not up to his neck in it (interesting read in Wikipedia)?”

[My note: I think Richard is incorrect about this; although Somers was a pirate who plundered and razed the New World, he died before slavery began in Bermuda. But that’s largely irrelevant to his point, below, and anyway if you want to try tell Aussie he’s wrong, then good luck with that.]

Richard ended: “For me Mary Anning is far more important to our history, so let’s buy her a new headstone or erect a large bronze statue much bigger than the iffy voyager in Langmoor.”

Now I have no desire to start any truck with any iffy voyager, especially one who carried a sword in his Pampers, but Aussie has a good point – and it is one which is clearly popular within the town as 85 members of Mr Puddy’s gang of local antagonists endorsed it on ‘Soapbox II’.

Whilst I realise that seven dozen ‘likes’ on Facebook does not exactly make you the Prophet Moses, I’ve mentioned Richard’s call to many in the town and everybody agreed that they too would like a large erection. Not one poo-poohed it with anything like the alarming enthusiasm which seemingly filled the pants of the statue of Sir George.

Although the recent over-crowding of the town at half term almost made me wish that we’d put up a statue of Hitler, to try deter visitors, aside from the sentimental argument it makes good commercial sense to have a monument to Mary Anning. For although Richard argues that she is “far more important to our history”, perhaps of greater significance is that she is far more important to our future.

george somers statue
A statue is already in place to commemorate former Mayor of Lyme Regis, Sir George Somers, who colonised Bermuda

The avid reaction to Attenborough’s recent BBC film on Lyme fossils, the mania to see Dippy at Dorchester, the fever to see the new old bones on display at Charmouth and the impending movie about Mary Anning starring Jenny Agutter all add up to argue that whereas we residents may believe that visitors mostly come here for the Cobb, the beach or the Palmers [joke], the truth is that the biggest lure is the joy of fossil-hunting.

As Lyme is the home of arguably the greatest palaeontologist the world has ever known, as there are stacks of fossils both west and east of us and as Mary actually lived and died here – as opposed to Somers, Coram and Lister, who were only born here and achieved their greatness someplace else – why are we not more heavily marketing this and trading off of it for the benefit of the town’s tourism?

Instead of the council wasting time and tedious talk investigating a daft idea to build a rubbish-looking café and some extra bogs in the Lister Gardens – an expensive vanity project that would attract absolutely no extra visitors to the town – why does it not vote to give our excellent and forward-thinking tourism supremo, Councillor Cheryl Reynolds, the larger funds she needs to build a statue to Mary and to otherwise properly promote Lyme’s fossil fame?

Next year is the 220th anniversary of the birth of Mary Anning, this year ought to be the one during which the council agrees to honour her appropriately with a tall statue and in doing so help to boost the town’s fossil fame to tourists.

The only debate, of course, is where to put it. I favour moving the Millennium Clock from Cobb Gate and putting up a 60ft statue to Mary in its place. I’d like to hear from readers on why not.

Dog-stealing gangs deserve ruff justice

I’M writing this more as a community awareness announcement than as my usual thing of moaning about Lyme matters that I know nothing about. Have you heard about the growing menace of people nicking dogs?

My friend Ruth Wason, former head girl Ruthie of the much-missed Harbour Café fame, alerted me to this.

It’s not nice. In essence it is suspected that gangs of dog fighters are roaming about, pinching your pet from your front garden or if it’s left alone for a sec outside a shop, so that the kidnapped animals can be used as BAIT in training dogs to fight and kill. It’s said that the dog fighters prefer to steal spaniels, because they scream better when thrown into the pit.

I know, it is difficult to believe that such scum exist, but apparently they do. And they do in alarmingly-increasing numbers because of our ludicrous laws, under which dog fighters face six months at the absolute tops, but most likely just a magistrate’s ban on keeping animals. Fair enough, then I’ll get me mate to keep ‘em. Which morons write these laws?

Anyway, besides wondering what our MP is going to do about our current pathetic punishments, the point is that this hideous cruelty is becoming a nationwide problem and I’m just passing on Ruthie’s tip to best not to let your pet out of your sight.

I’m also passing on what I anticipate may be the opinion of many, that should any local magistrates [without naming names, Julie Sheppard] have one of this trash appear before them on a dog-fighting charge, that they send them down irrespective of any pleas of mitigation that they were born without a heart, brain and soul.

Woodmead Halls
About Geoff Baker 8 Articles
Born and educated in Lyme Regis, Geoff Baker trained as a journalist at the Express & Echo in Exeter and graduated to Fleet Street – via the Sidmouth Herald and the Birmingham Post – where he became chief of the entertainment desk at the Daily Star. He quickly gained a reputation for breaking exclusive showbiz stories and was often a guest on national TV. After setting up an agency handling news for Fleet Street, Geoff worked as Paul McCartney’s PR guru for 15 years, accompanying the former Beatle on his worldwide tours. Geoff returned to his home for a less hectic lifestyle to write a much-awaited novel

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