John Tutcher (1858-1951)

Distinguished Bristol amateur geologist and photographer

John William Tutcher earned his living as a boot and shoe manufacturer, and his shop was at 34 Broad Street, beside St John on the Wall Church in the centre of Bristol. Apparently the front of the shop was used for the business, while the rear of the shop stored the fossils he found. He took the opportunity to collect fossils around the Bristol area whenever he could, for example cycling out to Dundry Hill to collect fossils from the Jurassic quarries there early in the morning, before he opened his shop. He wrote several papers, including Tutcher & Trueman (1925) on the local Early Jurassic, written with the future Head of the Geology Department, Arthur E. Trueman.

[Left] Tutcher’s shop on Broad Street, central Britol, looking north towards the archway attached to St John’s Church in theWall.  Visible business signs include, on the left, the premises of Henry Hill, tailors’ trimming merchant, the Full Moon Hotel and on the right, Tutcher and Co boot and shoe manufacturer, the offices of the Bristol Mercury and the Guildhall Commercial Hotel.

Tutcher was particularly interested in the Jurassic ammonites, and for many years he worked with the noted ammonite expert S.S. Buckman, providing specimens and photographs for his publications. Tutcher was one of the first researchers to build specialised equipment for the lighting and photography of fossils. He became very well known for these abilities, and from the 1930s he provided high quality photographs of fossils for publications by many authors. In his lifetime, Trueman (1951) estimates, Tutcher provided others with photographs of several thousand fossils.

For many years, John Tutcher was a prominent member of the Bristol Naturalists’ Society, of which he became president. He was also president of the South-Western Naturalists’ Union. Tom Fry recorded in his journals that John Tutcher provided him with kind support and advice, which was much appreciated by the younger working man.

Tutcher was awarded the Lyell Fund by the Geological Society in 1924, and the University of Bristol awarded him the honorary degree of Master of Science in 1927 in recognition of his many geological contributions.

Tutcher’s collection of fossils and glass plate slides was bequeathed to Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. The fossils include more than 20,000 specimens, all with details of locality and precise horizon.

As Trueman (1951) wrote, “His modesty and kindness will long be remembered by those who were privileged to work with him… He will be remembered particularly for his many contributions to the study of the palaeontology and stratigraphy of the Jurassic rocks of the Bristol district, and for his pioneer work in scientific photography.”

Some records and papers of Tutcher are in the archives of Bristol City Museum.

Read more

Trueman, A.E. 1951. Mr J. W. Tutcher. Nature 167, 795. Read the obituary here.

Tutcher, J.W. and Trueman, A.E. 1925. The Liassic Rocks of the Radstock District (Somerset).