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A history of Lyme Regis in 10 objects from the museum
Sue Paz, BBC Dorset
By Sue Paz
BBC Dorset

An ichthyosaur skeleton at Lyme Regis Museum

Following the BBC's A History of the World project, the staff at Lyme Regis Museum have been inspired to create a similar project of their own.

It aims to tell the history of Lyme Regis, using 10 of the objects on display in the museum, through a series of talks.

The museum was involved with BBC's project through one of its objects in the county collection - Mary Anning's fossil extraction tool.

Mary Godwin, the curator and Head of Lyme Regis Museum said:

"We thought it would be a nice way to get a refreshing look at some of the objects in our collection."

Strong themes

Mary Godwin, Curator and Head of Lyme Regis Museum
The objects in the talks include a cannon ball and a fossiling tool

The objects used in the BBC's A History of the World had to be man-made, and although Lyme Regis Museum's talks will include some made-made objects some of them will be natural.

Mary said: "One of the most important parts of our collection are the geology and paleontology pieces.

"All the items we've chosen highlight strong themes in the history of the town.

"We also explore the theme of Lyme Regis as a port, and as a holiday resort."

The man-made objects which will be highlighted, include a cannon ball from the siege of Lyme Regis during the Civil War.

Mary said: "Lyme was seriously Parliamentarian at the time and was fighting against the Royalists.

"The town had to survive for quite a long time on very limited resources."

There is also a model of the landslip which took place to the west of Lyme Regis in 1839.

Mary said: "It really did shaped the landscape of the whole area.

"The model includes Landslip Cottage, which fell off the edge of cliff at the time."

'Kevin' the icthyosaur

Geologist, Paddy Howe, standing infront of 'Kevin' the ichthyosaur skeleton
It is 'not normal, scientific practise' to give fossils names

Paddy Howe is Lyme Regis Museum's geologist.

He will do the first talk in the series, which looks at Mary Anning's fossil extraction tool and three natural objects, including the skeleton of an icthyosaur, affectionately known as 'Kevin'.

Paddy discovered the fossil during sea defence works were taking place in Lyme Regis in 2005.

He said: "I was working with a team of diggers on the site and one of them was called Kevin Wyle.

"He was 23-years-old and of all the workmen he was the most interested in what I was doing, and would always come over and ask what I'd found.

"Unfortunately, Kevin was killed in a motorcycle accident the night before I found the first piece of the skeleton, and that's why I called him Kevin.

"It's not normal, scientific practise to give fossils names, but this a very special piece."

'Objects tell stories'

'Kevin' is 5.6m (18 feet 3 inches) long, but is missing a few pieces.

Paddy said: "That's more than made up for though, by the remaining features that we do have.

"These include fossilised skin, the stomach contents - we know that Kevin was eating squid, we have thousands of little hooklets from their tentacles.

"We also have unusual structures in the tail, which are previously unknown and haven't been found in any other icthyosaur - I'm sure there'll be a scientific paper produced on those, in time."

Mary believes that a museum is about objects and telling the stories behind them.

She said: "Sometimes the objects on their own may look a bit boring, but once you take the opportunity to explore them in an interesting way, people become more interested in history.

"Before the BBC's A History of the World Project, a lot of people probably never thought about the fact that objects tell stories, but it's been made so explicit now."

The talks schedule for Lyme Regis Museum 2010:

Wednesday 17 March - The Black Venn ichthyosaur

Thursday 25 March - Rose Rendall's Doll and the Town Curfew Bell

Wednesday 31 March - Tobacco Pipes and the Tudor Rent Table

Wednesday 7 April - The Undercliff Model and Lyme's Charter Seal

Monday 12 April - A Neolithic Stone Axe and a Victorian Holidaymaker's Journal.

Other talks yet to be scheduled will cover:

Eleanor Coade's Stone Pillar

A Cannon Ball from the Siege of Lyme

The Town Fire Engine

The Grandfather Clock

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