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The Barking Mammoth

Bill George

Mr. B.J. Graffy of 2 Harrow Cottages, Barking, applied to Barking Urban District Council in the autumn of 1906 for planning permission (No. 1,027) to build five cottages  in Sparsholt Road. His application was approved at a Council Meeting on 27th November 1906.

Mammoth Cottages
Sparsholt Road, Barking

Preliminary ground works apparently started on the site before permission was granted, because on 3rd  November 1906 a large bone, about two feet long, was unearthed. The Essex Museum of Natural History (Passmore Edwards Museum) in Romford Road, Stratford, was informed by telephone on 5th November and arrangements were made by them at once to secure the specimen. Mr. Graffy generously donated the find to the museum and the next day they brought the bone, which was very fragile and in fragments, to the museum for conservation.  The following  entry was made in the museum’s accessions register (Vol. 2 p.140 entry 11315):

Elephas sp. Probably E. primigenius.
Location: Kennedy Estate Barking Level.
Date of Capture: 3 rd November 1906.
Donor: B.J. Graffy – 2 Harrow Cottages, Barking
Donated: 6 th November 1906
Part of Pelvis in shingle below brickearth 4 feet down. Very friable.
The actual find spot was described as a pit on the Barking Level, about 300 yards [actually nearer 500 yards] south west of Eastbury House. The bone was identified as the  greater part of the right innominate of the pelvis of a species of Elephas. The bone was lying in an excavation at about 45 inches from the surface (see photograph – note foot rule measure).

The geological section was roughly as follows:

Surface soil      15 inches
Somewhat clays soil, like brickearth  15-17 inches
Very sandy shingle, "sharp"    14 inches

As the pelvis was lying in a porous gravel, percolating water had dissolved out much of the mineral content of the bone making it very fragile and saturated with moisture. The bone fragments were treated with glue. The museum conservator, Mr. Whitehead,  embedded the restored pelvis into a slab of plaster.

Mr. Edwin Tulley Newton (1840-1930), F.R.S., who was Palaeontologist to the Geological Survey, 1865-1905 examined  the specimen, which was exhibited at a meeting of the Essex Field Club on 24th November 1906 by William Cole, the Club’s Honorary Secretary and Curator. Newton said it was  difficult to distinguish the species of the animal from this particular bone but thought it was more likely to be of a mammoth rather than a straight tusked elephant. He congratulated Mr. Whitehead on the way the bone had been put together and imbedded  in a slab for preservation.

This bone is still safely stored in the collection of the Essex Field Club. The bone came from the Floodplain Terrace, formed by the Mucking Gravel. This used to be known as the Taplow Terrace. Similar deposits are known from Ilford. The fossil bone is  probably about 210,000 years old.

The find spot is commemorated by a small artificial stone plaque with the words "MAMMOTH COTTAGES" which may be seen on the end of terrace cottage at 20, Sparsholt Road, Barking.

In the original publication, the wrong scale was put on the photograph caption. This implied the pelvis was only  about 2 inches long instead of the actual 2 feet or so. A correction appeared on the journal cover.

Cottage at 20 Sparsholt Road, Barking
Site of Mammoth Bone Find in 1906

I wish to express my appreciation to Mr. Jones who is the current owner of the cottage. His father moved into the house in 1937. Mr. Jones, who has sympathetically restored  the plaque, very kindly allowed me to photograph his house. Incidentally the house, which Mr. Jones has been carefully restoring for several years, was sadly struck by lightening in a recent storm. A chimney pot and several slates were dislodged and replaced  only a few days before the house and plaque were photographed for this article on 22nd July 2009.


Cole, W. 1907. Report of  251st Ordinary Meeting. Saturday 24th November 1906. Pelvis of Mammoth. Essex Naturalist Vol. 14(8) p. 272.

Cole, W. 1907. Museum Notes, No. V. IX.- Pelvis of Mammoth (?) from Barking. Essex Naturalist Vol. 15(1) pp. 30-31. With Plate 2 and fig. 1.

George, W.H. 2007. Some Essex Elephants. Essex Field Club Newsletter  No. 52. January 2007 pp. 8-14.

George, Bill. 2009. The Barking Mammoth. Barking & District Historical Society 1934-2009 75th Anniversary Newsletter. Summer 2009 pp. 35-39.

Lucy, G. 2007. London Borough of Barking: Mammoth Cottages, TQ4521383667. Article from Geological Gazetteer on Essex Field Club website.

Sumbler, M.G. 1996. British Regional Geology. London and the Thames Valley. 4th Edition. ISBN 0 11 884522 5. 173 pages.

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