Beard, William (DNB00)

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BEARD, WILLIAM (1772–1868), bone collector, the son of a farmer at Banwell, Somerset, was born on 24 April 1772. He received such education as the parish clerk, who was also the schoolmaster of the village, could give him. Like his father, he worked on the land. He married and bought a small estate, which he farmed himself. Excited by the tradition that Banwell Hill contained a large cavern, he persuaded two miners to join him (September 1824) in sinking a shaft. 'At a depth of about 100 feet they came to a stalactite cave. While making a second opening lower down the side of the hill, in order to form a better approach to this cave, he discovered a smaller cavern containing animal bones. With some help procured for him by the Bishop of Bath and Wells (G. H. Law), to whom the land belonged, Beard dug out the cavern, and found among the débris a number of bones of the bear, buffalo, reindeer, wolf, &c. Captivated with his discovery, he let his land, and spent all his time in searching for bones and putting them together. He acted as guide to the many visitors who came to see the cavern and the bones he collected. He soon learned something of the scientific importance of his discoveries, and became an eager collector of the contents of the bone-caves of the neighbourhood, at Hutton, Bleadon, and Sandford. He was a reserved man, of quaint manners, and with a high opinion of his own skill. The nickname of the 'Professor' given him by the bishop greatly pleased him, and he was generally called by it. He died on 9 Jan. 1868 in his ninety-sixth year. He retained his bodily and mental activity almost to the day of his death. He was a small man, of short stature and light build. There is a bust of him in Banwell churchyard, and an engraving representing him at the age of seventy-seven in Rutter's 'Delineations of Somersetshire.' His collection of bones was bought by the Somersetshire Archæological and Natural History Society, and is now in the museum at Taunton Castle. Some idea of its value may be gained from the fact that it includes a large number of the bones of the Felis spelæa, one skull being the most perfect that has been found in England.

[Information received from Mr. W. Edginton of Banwell; Rutter's Delineations of Somersetshire, 117-60; Soraersetshire Archæol. and Nat. Hist. Soc.s Proc. ii, 103, xiv, 160.]

W. H.