April’s Object of the Month comes from a recent acquisition of photographs that were donated to the Museum in January 2023. The photographs belonged to the late Roy Nash who was the ‘unofficial’ photographer at Swindon Works from the 1950s to the closure in 1986. Most of Roy’s photographs show the workshops, locomotives and employees in Swindon, however, there are a set of photographs that show something quite unusual. On the 23rd April 1975 the remains of two Jurassic sea creatures were discovered in the Brass Foundry at the Works and Roy was there to capture the moment!
It was whilst digging the foundations for a new machine in the brass foundry that the bones were found. They were discovered by Mick Fagan, who was only 20 years old at the time. The bones were just 7ft below the surface and must have been an exciting discovery for such a young man.
But what were these bones, and what creatures did they belong to? Rewind 150 million years and Swindon was under the sea. The limestone and clay that Swindon is built upon today was laid down during the Jurassic era. At this time dinosaurs, such as stegosaurs and diplodocuses, roamed the land, and pterodactyls (flying reptiles) flew in the air. The sea was also teeming with life; dominated by huge reptiles such as pliosaurs, plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs. Swindon Works was built on Kimmeridge Clay which was laid down in deepening seas about 155 million years ago. Some creatures that died sank to the bottom of the sea and were preserved as fossils within the clay.
After the discovery of the fossils officials at Swindon Works called in the experts. Dr Beverley Halstead of Reading Museum identified the bones to be from two different sea creatures – a pliosaur and an ichthyosaur. The type of pliosaur found – Pliosaurus brachyspondylus – was only the second one ever to be discovered in the world. Pliosaurs were huge animals, with four flippers, a large head and a strong jaw. Ichthyosaurs were more streamlined and resembled dolphins and porpoises of today.
The discovery of the fossils caused much interest and it was soon evident that these remains were destined for a special home. The fossils were on display at Swindon Works before being sent to their final destination, the Natural History Museum in London. The photographs taken by Roy are a wonderful reminder of what is hidden beneath our feet. We all thought that Swindon Works had a history spanning 150 years, but actually it is more like 150 MILLION years!