Prehistorian and Jeweller

Obituary: Mr. Lewis Abbott

Arthur Keith

London Times August 12, 1933

Sir Arthur Keith writes–

Mr. William James Lewis Abbott, who died recently at St. Leonard-on-Sea, at the age of 80, made many valuable contributions to the prehistory of England.

Born in 1853, he was apprenticed as a jeweller, and soon recognized the need of applying scientific methods to the study of jewels–"Gemmology," as he named the subject. He approached the Polytechnic, and was permitted to establish classes, to which he lectured on Gemmology. For many years he was editor of the Watchmaker, Jeweller, Silversmith, and Optician.

The study of gems led him to study geology, particularly the more recent geological deposits of Southern England. He made a collection of fossil remains of animals found in these deposits, the collection passing ultimately to the British Museum, South Kensington. At the same time he began to collect and to study the flint implements found in these deposits, and it was his early contribution to this department of knowledge which made his name known to fellow-workers. In later life he opened a jeweller's business at St. Leonards-on-Sea, but it can be readily understood with so many scientific problems forever engaging his attention, that his worldly affairs must have suffered, and he died in reduced circumstances, leaving an invalid wife, aged 78.

He was bold and resolute in formulating scientific explanations of past events, and perhaps more occupied with the contributions which he himself had made to his favourite subjects of study than those made by his fellow-workers. Making all allowance on this score, a long series of discoveries must be placed to his credit. His discovery and exploration of the palaeolithic station of prehistoric man at Fairlight, Glea, Hastings, opened a new field of inquiry. The Pleistocene and Pliocene deposits of East Anglia have been explored by Mr. Reid Moir and proved by him to contain a sequence of flint cultures of prehistoric times. Mr. Lewis Abbott, in 1880 and again in 1888, had found objects showing definite evidence of human workmanship in these deposits. His important collection of flint and other prehistoric implements was acquired by the Wellcome Museum, London.

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