Arachnofoolya

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Imagine finding that on the bog seat. Image from the Wolverhampton City Council twitter feed.

A bit of a departure, but this is an article of been longing to run since I received it a couple of weeks ago, but sadly ongoing current affairs prevented it. However, I’m proud today to feature Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler’s latest piece of historical investigation.

Peter, as regulars know only too well, has a remarkable nose for sniffing out the actualité behind some of the often wayward or downright incorrect assertions of more… establishment historians.

This time, Peter stays with mining, but wanders over to Dudlaaay to investigate a rather remarkable fossil that’s recently been in the news. I’m hoping this might open a wider discussion on the matter.

For those inspired to visit this excellent exhibition ‘The Riches Beneath Us: The Black Country’s Amazing Rocks‘ it’s on at Wolverhampton’s Bantock House from now until Sunday 15th November 2015. It’s absolutely free, and Peter tells me he enjoyed it very much.

I thank Peter for yet another wonderful piece of historical investigation. Being able to feature his articles is an honour, and makes running this blog a joy and pleasure. After the last grim week it’s good to get back to what we do best.

Right, pick the bones out of this… Peter wrote:

Bantock_House_Dutch_Garden

Bannock house: a jewel that’s well worth a visit. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The Coseley Spider; not a spider, and not from Coseley!

Hi Bob,

Many things that I respect about the Blog, from a local history point of view, can be summed up in your article from March of 2012, Echoes… Lets think a minute.

Probably one of the touchiest subjects to discuss can be local folk lore. So as not to offend your locals, I would like to question the so-called Coseley Spider, which many already know was not really a spider, but I maintain that it didn’t really come from Coseley.

I had never heard of the Coseley Spider (eophrynus prestvicii… lets call it EP!) but had an interest in Parkfield Colliery, and the forgotten fossil forest that used to be present there. I went along to the exhibition at Bantock House where some specimens from the former fossil forest were being shown. I was surprised to learn from the Wolverhampton City Council:

Experts say the first (EP) was described in 1837 and the second – nicknamed the Coseley Spider – was discovered in 1871 at the former Parkfields Colliery.

The Parkfield Forest was first described by a chap called Beckett in a paper of 1845, but I could not recall any mention of EP. The Dudley Geological Society made a field trip to Parkfield in 1877, but again no mention of EP.

Well, the Coseley Spider turns out to be quite amazing, being among the first terrestrial predators. A recent tomographic reconstruction by Dunlop and Harwood can be seen here…

And for detailed description see their paper here.

The above paper backs up all that I had found about the history of the fossil except for the location of the find. The fossil was discovered by a fellow called Hollier from Dudley and handed to Henry Woodward, who was the Curator of the British Museum. Woodward classified it as EP, and wrote about it in the Geological Magazine.

Now the above paper says that Woodward reported that the fossil was found from the Coal Measures of Coseley, Staffordshire. But at a meeting in Wolverhampton of the South Staffs and East Worcestershire Institute of Mining Engineers, October 1871, the Woodward report was discussed and it was referred to as coming from the Dudley Coal Measures.

Luckily at the very next meeting in November the man himself was present.

The members expressed their surprise and pleasure at the sight of the very perfect fossil, and high praise was awarded to a pair of casts taken from it by Mr H Woodward, who is also the curator of the British Museum, and laid upon the table with the originals…

…Mr Hollier said the fossil was unique so far as that district was concerned. The authorities of the British Museum were very anxious to have the fossil, and if they did, he hoped he would have a number of casts to give to local museums and his friends…

…Hollier said that the fossil was formed in the clay ironstone nodules of the district, and more attention should be given to the inspection of these nodules, in order that they might discover other specimens which were, up to this time, supposed to be found in the Shropshire coalfield alone. In stating that the fossil came from the south west of Dudley, he added that it came from the ten feet binds ironstone, immediately overhanging the thick coal.

If my geography is correct Coseley is due north of Dudley! So how did it come to be known as the ‘Coseley Spider’?

I believe that the term is quite recent and as Parkfield was at one time in Coseley, before boundary changes, it was erroneously thought to have come from Parkfield.

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6 Responses to Arachnofoolya

  1. Jason Dunlop says:

    As one of the people who worked on Eophrynus, I didn’t have Parkfield on the radar. Henry Woodward’s original paper simply stated ‘Dudley’ as the locality and I suspect at some stage it was assumed that this fossil came from Coseley; like most of the stuff from the Dudley area. The error seems to have been introduced by the arachnid palaeontologist Alexander Petrunkevitch by at least 1953 who stated in his monograph on European fossil arachnids that Woodward’s Eophrynus came from Coseley near Dudley. Since most Dudley fossils do come from Dudley, I think everyone just accepted this. Jason Dunlop.

  2. Pedro says:

    Hi Jason

    Thank you very much for your comment. If you are interested I can send you an article concerning Parkfield Colliery and the fossil forest, which will appear in the December issue of the Black Country Society Magazine.

    All the best, Peter

  3. Pingback: He staked his all for the miners | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

  4. Pedro says:

    Elliott Hollier (1813-1905), the chap who found the EP, was twice Lord Mayor of Dudley, Town Commissioner, and founder of Dudley Cricket Club….

    http://www.hollyer.info/elliott.php

    He was Hon Sec of the 2nd Dudley and Midland Geological Society when it was set up around 1862, and seemed to have had a fair size collection of fossils. He loaned his collection, as others did, for exhibition at the Society. EP was found in 1871, and according to the above site he advertised the sale of a large collection of fossils from the Wren’s Nest limestone in the 1881 edition of “Clark’s Curiosities of Dudley”.

    It appears that EP remained in a private collection until around 1945 when it was presented to B’ham University by Misses Tilley (some disagreement about time and name).

    The arachnid palaeontologist Alexander Petrunkevitch had described the fossil in 1949 working from a cast as the whereabouts was unknown, but by the time he published a book in 1953 he had been able to work with the real thing. He lists it as being from the Coal Measures of Coseley, near Dudley.

    South west of Dudley there was a Parkhead Colliery, but I think this is just coincidence

  5. matt197924 says:

    Parkfield was indeed in Coseley Urban District until 1966 and it still Coseley as far as I’m concerned. Unlike Dudley council, Wolverhampton have been very keen on wiping names off the map and claiming their parts of Coseley as “Wolverhampton” as if they aren’t and haven’t been anything else.

  6. George Blackham says:

    Matt is absolutely correct..

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