When researching for my talk "The First Railway to Ipswich and Beyond "
about Bruff building the Stoke Hill Tunnel, I read that woolly mammoth
remains had been discovered during the excavation work in 1845/6. I spoke to
Bob Markham, a fellow member and distinguished geologist, about this and he
kindly sent me some notes on the subject which I have reproduced in slightly
revised form and "illustrated" below.
The Stoke Bone Bed
This fossil bearing site has been known since Victorian times. The original
Ipswich Railway Station, opened by the Eastern Union Railway in 1846, was in
St Mary Stoke parish, south of Ipswich town centre. When the approach
cutting to the southern (London) end of the railway tunnel through Stoke
Hill was excavated; the workmen could hardly have expected to find the
remains of fossil elephants.
The Ipswich Journal of the 4th December 1847 recorded tusks, teeth and bones
of elephant from Stoke Hill donated to the newly opened Ipswich Museum (then
in Museum Street) by Mr Girling. The Suffolk Chronicle of 18th May 1849
recorded; 'in a glass case in the Museum was a group of mammoth teeth, found
at the site, of various sizes, showing that animals of all ages had died.'
The Ipswich Journal later that month reported a lecture given by Mr John
Brown of Stanway in which he said that they were 'so plentiful that the
teeth were carried about and offered for sale - two were purchased in
Colchester'. John Brown presented specimens to the British Museum in 1852
and a Norwich man called Robert Fitch had specimens in his collection.
In 1908 Nina Francis Layard, an English poet, prehistorian, archaeologist
and antiquary, opened up a small section at the side of the cutting, leading
into the tunnel, for examination. Remains found included an enormous tusk of
an adult mammoth, an uncut tooth of a baby mammoth and part of the claw bone
of a lion. The tusk was in a fragmentary condition and fell into hundreds of
In 1919 a large portion of cliff to the east of the cutting at the south end
of the tunnel was removed to enable construction of new railway sidings. Mr
Woolford, Mechanical Engineer of the Great Eastern Railway, acquired bones
and teeth from the workmen. He then granted permission for Nina Layard to
excavate. On the 2nd March 1920 she picked up the bone-bearing bed; an
extremely tenacious deep purple clay. The bones were in a good but fragile
condition and comparatively few in number. They could be removed
successfully. Twenty-two mammoth teeth were recovered, in some cases still
retained in the jaws and also the foot bones and teeth of a large lion.
Members of the Ipswich and District Field Club visited the Stoke Bone Bed
excavation in April 1920. They found Nina Layard working in wet clay, with
an umbrella in one hand and a knife she used for excavation in the other
hand - quite a character. She eventually donated her finds to the Ipswich
Dr Smith-Woodward, a world expert on fossil fish, visited the site in June
1920 and discovered portions of the shell of a freshwater turtle. More
fragmentary bones were found in 1975 by archaeologist John Wymer in a small
excavation at the north end of the wagon repair works close to the main
What a most interesting vista would have greeted a visitor to the Stoke Hill
area in those far-off days of pre-history.
Bob Markham and Merv Russen