Tuesday 20 November 2018

Relics of the past

Victorian-style dresser in old kitchen
What secrets does our house keep?
Credit: William Lam
Archaeologists recently found a fragment of Roman pottery in my home town, in the car park near our local Waitrose supermarket. My first thought was that the discovery would make a nice premise for a Latin text book: 
Metella and her slave Grumio visit the fish counter at Waitrose. Ever mindful of landfill, Metella brings her clay cooking pot to carry the fresh salmon home, but on the way back to their villa, naughty Grumio drops his mistress' pot and it shatters on the ground... Heu!
The pottery was was uncovered on a building site, being re-developed for new flats and shops. As a condition of planning, archaeologists were called in to sift through the layers of mud. They also found fragments of a 17th century dish, decorated with pomegranates, and lots of tobacco pipes. But here's the spoiler - despite the presence of Roman pottery, the archaeologists don't believe there were any Roman settlements here in Henley because otherwise more stuff would have been found over the years.

So there genuinely is a quirky story behind that piece of Roman pottery. How on earth (excuse the pun) did it end up buried beneath the Waitrose car park? I expect we'll never know. This debris from previous generations - humdrum odds and sods lost in the mud - is fascinating. It provides tantalising clues about the people who lived here before us.

If walls could talk...

We've recently moved and coincidentally the man who came round last week to evaluate the state of our windows used to live in our house during the 1970s. He was full of tales of his childhood - secret tunnels, babies born upstairs and windows he climbed through as a teenager after a night out on the razzle. 

This house of ours is hundreds of years old - no doubt its walls are teeming with similar stories though it's unlikely I'll ever get to hear them. Through chance, history preserves the odd tobacco pipe or broken pottery for future generations to find, but so much is lost in the layers of time. Memories can be handed down, but ultimately they only last a couple of lifetimes. The rest is left to supposition and the wonder of our imagination.

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