Search

‘He probably did not get the credit he deserved’ - 50 years since Hornchurch man’s ‘unique’ mammoth find

12:00 27 July 2014

John Hesketh showing the exposed bones to his father Mr J A Hesketh (Picture: Janet Hesketh)

John Hesketh showing the exposed bones to his father Mr J A Hesketh (Picture: Janet Hesketh)

Archant

Palaeontology is not a subject many will readily associate with Havering.

John examines a fossil on the dig site (Picture: Janet Hesketh)John examines a fossil on the dig site (Picture: Janet Hesketh)

So the 50th anniversary today of one of the most significant discoveries in recent history - by an A-level student from Hornchurch - may come as a bit of a surprise.

On July 27, 1964, amateur geologist John Hesketh found a leg bone and pelvis of a woolly mammoth in a clay pit in Aveley, sparking an National History Museum-backed excavation that resulted in the discovery of two amazingly well-preserved elephant skeletons.

Sadly now deceased, 23-year-old Mr Hesketh at the time lived at the aptly named Rockingham Avenue, and passed the site of the find - near Sandy Lane - every day on his commute to college.

Twice or three times a week, he would stop at the clay pit, then owned by The Tunnel Portland Cement Company, to satisfy his fascination for fossils, occasionally picking up small remnants of a bygone time.

Members of public stand to watch the spectacle (Picture: Janet Hesketh)Members of public stand to watch the spectacle (Picture: Janet Hesketh)

But nothing that could really prepare him for the scale of what he was about to unearth - a woolly mammoth and the now extinct straight-tusked elephant, preserved in the ground for more than 10,000 years.

“The most important breakthrough to occur in Britain” was how the Recorder, then known as the Romford, Havering and Hornchurch Recorder, described the discovery.

“A unique paleontological find, the like of which has not been matched since,” was what it was called in a recent paper for the geology journal Deposits.

But Bob Williams - the essay’s author and member of the Essex Rock and Mineral Society - laments that John was never adequately credited for his work.

Cuttings taken from the Recorder's coverage of the find in 1964Cuttings taken from the Recorder's coverage of the find in 1964

“The skeletons went on display to the public in a special gallery constructed at the National History Museum ... The display ran for 20 years from 1970 to 1990.

“Regrettably, John’s name was only featured in a rather insignificant piece of the informative text that accompanied the exhibit and the clear implication was that ownership of the bones lay with the museum.”

The skeletons went back on show in 1997, where they remain today “with acknowledgement of John Hesketh’s role in the discovery”, according to the museum.

But that the text originally brushed over John’s involvement seems more galling given the context of the straight-tusked elephant’s discovery.

Despite being from a completely different era, separated by perhaps as many 100,000 years, the mammal was found just yards from the mammoth by another amateur palaeontologist - John’s mother.

It’s said Doreen Hesketh had asked the Natural History Museum’s Dr Tony Sutcliffe - who along with colleagues had by this point been drafted in to help John with the dig - what the chances were of another skeleton being found, only to be told it highly unlikely.

The woman, who has outlived her son and is now 93, then picked up a broom and with three sweeps uncovered the elephant’s lower jaw, which had only just been missed by the heavy duty clay digger that was helping to excavate the site.

Today John’s historic (in more ways than one) discovery is barely remembered, and his name seldom cited when it is - despite the thoroughly responsible way in which the amateur geologist reported the find to experts when he realised its magnitude.

Christopher Long, who in 1964 was a 16-year-old budding journalist drafted in by a friend to help with the excavation, has nothing but admiration for John.

“As someone who’s worked as a journalist all my life, a piece of advice I would give is if you ever discover something like that, whether it’s a Richard III or a mammoth, do the responsible thing and let somebody know who knows what it’s about,” he said.

“I think that’s what he (John) will be remembered for.

“But I certainly agree he probably did not get the credit he deserved.”

• If you’re interested in learning more about geology, with particular reference to east London and Essex, the Essex Rock and Mineral Society meet on the second Tuesday of every month.

• To read Christopher Long’s story of his involvement with the Aveley Elephants dig, visit christopherlong.co.uk/oth/aveley.html
Read more:

Nostalgia: Havering in history on July 18, 1954, 1974 and 1994
First World War: Heroic Hornchurch pilot celebrated in new play

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Romford Recorder visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Romford Recorder staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Romford Recorder account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Latest Romford News Stories

Yesterday, 16:18
South Street, Romford

The premises licence of a popular bar has been revoked following a “catalogue of errors and breaches” allegedly made in response to incidents.

Yesterday, 12:33
Goodmayes Hospital

A mental health unit for teenagers is to close temporarily following a Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection.

Yesterday, 12:18
Upminster based security firm Hillis Security Systems Ltd, has been shortlisted for the Which? Trusted Trader of the year award

Staff at a security firm are celebrating after learning they have reached the shortlist for a top industry award.

Yesterday, 11:05
Record amount of hospital admissions in 2014/15. Photo: Press Association

More than 1,400 people in Havering were taken to hospital with an obesity related health issue in a record breaking year for admissions.

Yesterday, 07:45
Two fire engines attended a house fire in Patricia Drive, Hornchurch, last night. Picture: PA

Firefighters attended a house fire in Hornchurch after a cupboard was set alight.

Yesterday, 07:00
Resident Brian Laws outside Sunrise Lodge

Hundreds of sheltered housing units for over 60s are under review, as part of a plan to modernise facilities across the borough.

Mon, 15:00
C&R Appliances at  Gants Hill, has ha a new showroom fitted for people to come an view appliances
CEO Chris Wade.

A family business promising “luxury appliances at affordable prices” is celebrating its expansion, as staff open a new showroom.

Mon, 12:00
Members of Upminster Walk and Talk with organiser Tricia Butler in the middle

Residents interested in meeting new people, exploring green spaces, and improving their health are welcome to join a new Upminster walking group.

Newsletter Sign Up

Most read news

HOT JOBS

Show Job Lists

News from your area

WW100

Click on the banner above for full coverage of the centenary commemorations of the outbreak of the First World War.

Competitions

Kindle 7 inch tablet

Are you looking for a brand new gadget to help you stay connected on the go and make that long journey home a bit more entertaining? Look no further. MyOffers is giving you the chance to win 1 of 50 Kindle Fire 7” Display Tablets! That’s 50 times more chances to win, so hurry up and enter our competition today and you could be one of our lucky winners!

Yummy traditional afternoon teas for two

MyOffers is giving you the chance to win 1 of 50 Traditional Afternoon Teas for two at a location of your choice! That’s 50 times more chances to win, so hurry up and enter our competition today and you could be one of our lucky winners!

Digital Edition

cover

Enjoy the
Romford Recorder
e-edition today

Subscribe