Tom Mantell 1853 - 1928

Susan Drinkwater

Tom Mantell was born in 1853 and died on 18th February 1928. He was a Great Nephew of the famous Surgeon and Geologist Dr. Gideon Mantell of Lewes.

Tom Mantell Gravestone

Tom was christened at St John sub Castro on 21st August 1853; he never married, and is buried in the churchyard with his father Thomas Austin Mantell, his mother Fanny Mantell, and his sister Fanny Mantell.

He lived in West Street, and in the High Street, Lewes.
He was an auctioneer, and Chief bailiff of the Eastbourne County Court for 48 years.
He was also a member of the Sussex Archaeological Society, an Oddfellow, and well known locally with an interest in athletics, horse and greyhound racing and breeding.

Tom organised many athletic events at the Dripping Pan in Lewes. Many teams and athletes attended from other areas, and they were large events.

He was also a coach for many athletes, including Walter Goodall George who set numerous world records as an amateur and went professional in 1885. W. G. George set the one mile record and is now inducted into the England Athletics Hall of Fame.


In his younger days when Tom was running down School Hill, suddenly a horse drawn van emerged from an archway between some shops. Tom said, “I was so close to it and running so hard that is was impossible to stop myself, so I just jumped clean over the van”. On another occasion he cleared a double hedge with a five-foot fence beyond it. Often when out he would run from Lewes to Newhaven and would express that “He would take anything that came his way”

During a bank holiday sporting event held at Camden Park, Chislehurst, the then home of Empress Eugenie and Prince Imperial, Tom took part and came first in four open events. He was asked by the secretary “which prize he would take”. He replied, “he would take all of them”, but was informed that the rule is that only one prize could be taken. Tom had not been told this so declined to take any of the prizes.
The Empress was distributing the prizes but unable to proceed because Tom would not choose a prize. The Prince Imperial then sent for Tom and wanted to know all about it, so Tom told him. Afterwards Tom was sent a nice dressing case from the Prince.

During 1883 Tom promoted horse racing at Plumpton and used to sell horses and greyhounds by auction there. One of his prized possessions was a piece of Georgian plate inscribed with “Laughton Races The Lewes Plate, Won by T. Mantell’s Twenty-One, ridden by Sir James Duke Bart”.

In a newspaper article dated 1892 a child fell into the water at Newhaven when Tom was on board a vessel nearby, Tom instinctively jumped over into the water and rescued the child.

Tom’s funeral service took place at St John Sub Castro, and it was conducted by the Rector Rev. H. E. Langhorne assisted by the Rev. Bacon Phillips of Burgess Hill. In the concluding clause of Tom’s will it reads:
“I request that my trustees and the Mayor and Council of the Borough of Lewes will attend my funeral at the Church as I have no near relatives”.
This message was conveyed to the Mayor (Councillor Norman Innes) and His Worship and the majority of the council members attended the funeral.

Tom bequeathed some of his sporting trophies to the Lewes Borough Council and some to other beneficiaries in his will. Unfortunately, none of his trophies have been traced. It is noted in the Borough Council’s Finance and General-Purpose Committee minutes that some trophies were considered by the Council, but the bequest was declined as they had nowhere safe to keep them.

Tom Mantell with his many trophies

He made various requests in his will, but some were later revoked by him by codicils being added. Here are two requests that remained:

A marble memorial with family crest to be erected to him and his immediate family inside St John Sub Castro Church.

Mantell Memorial in St John sub Castro

and also:
A ward at Victoria Hospital Lewes to be named the “Tom Mantell ward”, and portraits of his late  mother and himself to be placed there.

These details give an insight into Tom’s character and life; he is described as a countryman, and in a newspaper article dated 1928 after his death it states: “He was a great athlete, and a fine type of sportsman, blunt and straightforward, yet he had the kindliest disposition.”

In recent years Lewes Athletic Club have created the annual “Masters Mantell Challenge Cup” running race.
The Trophy records the contribution made to the success of Lewes AC by the Chairman of the club Peter Masters. It is also in recognition of Tom Mantell, the Lewes athlete who made a significant contribution to athletics in Lewes during the 1880s.

Masters Mantell Challenge Trophy


Sources & Acknowledgements go to:

Edward Reeves photographers, Lewes – photograph of Tom Mantell and his trophies ©

Lewes History Group – online website

Lewes Athletic Club – online website

St John sub Castro Church

The Keep, East Sussex archives

West Sussex Gazette – Newspaper archive

Sussex Express & County Herald – Lewes edition


Document created by Susan Drinkwater – the Gt. Granddaughter of Tom Mantell’s housekeeper.

September 2022




This page was added on 19/04/2023.

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