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Essex Field Club
Essex Field Club
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Noteworthy naturalist

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Richard Payne Cotton (1820-1877) Collector of Ilford fossils.

Dr. Richard Payne Cotton was born at 10, Kensington Square and baptised on 13th June 1820 at St. Mary Abbots Church, Kensington. He died at 33 Cavendish Square, London on 26th December 1877 of cardiac disease and dropsy. Cotton was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, London in the family plot. Cotton was a simple, truthful and gentle character who paid close attention to detail. He had connections with both Kensington and Westminster.

Cotton’s father was Richard Pretyman Cotton (1782-1855), formerly a Captain in the Suffolk Militia. His mother was Mary Ann Payne who died in 1860. His parents were married in 1816 in Kensington. He had an elder sister, Mary Ann Harriet Cotton, who was born in 1818. A younger sister, Sarah Elizabeth Cotton, was buried in October 1822, aged 11 weeks. Richard Payne Cotton married twice. Firstly to Elizabeth Liggins (1822-1869) in 1844 who died, aged 49, in 1869. Secondly he married Eliza Crane, nee Wood, in 1872 at Cheltenham, Gloucester. She died in 1897. Richard Payne Cotton and his first wife had six children. His second wife already had five children, born in New Brunswick, when she became Cotton’s second wife.

Dr. Richard Payne Cotton trained for the medical profession at St. George’s Hospital London and in Paris. He qualified in 1841. He specialised in the treatment of consumption and was on the staff of the Brompton Hospital for 27 years. In 1855 he was elected Fellow and in 1868 one of the Council of the Royal College of Physicians. He was a Fellow and Vice-President of the Royal Medical and Surgical Society and of the Medical Society of London. He developed a large and lucrative London practice which “was as large as was possible short of drudgery, and as lucrative as he desired”. Cotton wrote widely on the subject of consumption. Cotton was a member of the Church of England. His son James became a clergyman, while his daughter Laura married a clergyman. Geology was Cotton’s lifelong hobby and at the age of 19 he formed a valuable collection of fossil mammalian remains discovered at Ilford. His paper “On the Pliocene Deposits of the Thames at Ilford” was however not published in the Geological Magazine until 1847. In this he gave measured sections of Mr. Curtis’s brickfield on the north of the London Road and of Mr. Kilverton’s pit to the west of Ilford Lane. His methodology; interdisciplinary approach; interpretation and conclusions were very modern for a paper written in 1847. His discussion of the sites was far superior to that of Sir Antonio Brady (1811-1881) published nearly 30 years later. Cotton’s fabulous Ilford collection contained 246 specimens of vertebrate remains including mammoth and elephant (59); rhinoceros (42), oxen (66); aurochs (6); hippopotamus (1) [this is an error]; horse (18); deer (28); Irish deer (5); lion (1); bear (2); beaver (13 including a perfect lower jaw); water rat (1 probably from an upper deposit); wolf (1); and several kinds of birds (3). In addition Cotton collected abundant remains of fossil wood and shells. Although Dr. Cotton probably collected some of the specimens personally it would seem likely that he purchased most of his magnificent collection from workmen employed at the brick pits or possibly from London dealers. He bequeathed his collection to the Geological Museum. It is now housed in the British Geological Survey collection at Keyworth, Nottinghamshire. Cotton’s geological Ilford sections of Uphall Pit and Cauliflower Pit drawn up in 1847 are still being used today to interpret the Mucking and Corbets Tey Formations. It has been argued the Cauliflower Pit section is part of the Corbets Tey formation and dates to the Hoxnian Interglacial (Oxygen Issotope Stage 9 about 325,000 years old) while the Uphall Pit section is part of the Mucking Formation and dates to the “Ilfordian” Interglacial (Oxygen Isotope Stage 7 about 210,000 years old).

D.R. Bridgland. 1994. Quaternary of the Thames. Geological Conservation Review Series. ISBN 0 412 48830 2. 441 pages.

W.H. George. 2000. Dr. Richard Payne Cotton (1820-1877) Physician and collector of Ilford Fossils. ISBN 0 9534092 2 8. 24 pages.

His personal estate was valued at £16,000 at his death.

Account provided by Mr William George
page last edited on Thu Jun 21st 2018 by site user 68