How town’s brickfields held fossilised treasures
PUBLISHED: 14:00 22 April 2019
The prehistoric era has played an important part in Ilford’s history in recent years.
Over the last two centuries, a large number of prehistoric remains have been discovered, mainly in south and central Ilford.
The estimated age of these remains has varied from around 100,000 to 200,000 years old.
But how did these discoveries come about?
For more than 100 years the making of bricks was one of the town's most important industries – bricks made here were used in the construction of some of the London docks in the late 1700s and early 1800s, and in the construction of the railway between Mile End and Romford in the late 1830s.
Many houses throughout east London were made with Ilford brick – sourced from large brickfields such as on both sides of the High Road near The Cauliflower and Green Lane, and at Uphall where the seam of brick-earth was reportedly 20ft thick.
It was here at Uphall in 1786 that the first recorded find was made.
In 1812 the fossilised remains of oxen and stags were discovered at an Ilford brickfield, and what appeared to be elephant and hippopotamus teeth were found in a field near the River Roding.
Ancient animal teeth are often discovered because they are the hardest part of most creatures.
The partial skeleton of a mammoth was discovered in 1824, but the bones were so broken as to make proper reconstruction impossible.
In 1834 a senior civil servant named Antonio Brady started what was to become a 40-year long part time excavation of the area around Ilford.
He would, in that time, discover the remains of more than 300 elephants, and the area became known as the Ilford Elephant Ground.
His specimens even formed the nucleus of exhibits displayed in the Natural History Museum in South Kensington when it opened in 1881.
By far his most famous find was the near perfectly preserved skull of a mammoth in 1863, complete with a pair of tusks eight feet and eight inches long.
A replica of this amazing Ilford discovery is still on display in Redbridge Central Library – opposite the stairs – to this day.
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