Over the summer I went through some very old pictures that I’d drawn – things from the age of seven upwards – I make no apology for these unhappy crimes against art that I now present.
Adieu, my dear Reader.
Yes, wintery can be spelled that way.
The Reader will allow me pause to put my odd attempts at poetic creativity here – not every blog post can be as interesting as others – and, now that I’ve been allowed this dull pause in interesting content, go and find something more interesting to read.
I wandered by the waves last night
In many a pleasant dream;
A youthful moon shone proud and bright
And I within his beam
But it was just a dream.
I felt the salt air in my heart
And breathed the winter shore.
And thought that time would never part
Those happy days before
That stand up here no more.
The happy west, the conq’ring sea –
These things I’ll breath again –
But there are hearts of lads like me
That pine for them in vane
And shall not come again.
Their hearts were willing long ago
But clay makes good men still:
These dancing spirits wander so
But time will cure what’s ill
When I’ll go west and still.
The sheen of dawn
That ran aground
On the high idle mountain
Coloured the waiting room of stars
For a moment red
And the banners of darling things:
The diamond starlight
And baleful moon
And, done into nothing,
Poured down bronze
From out the autumn of the night
Into the bright rising spring
“That rhyme’s as broken as the rest of the world.”
Big Ben strikes
Four and five and six.
He showers the evening down
And mocks at England’s politics:
The thorn of state and crown.
The world shakes –
Another modern fear –
And happy news a tinderbox
To help it burn more clear.
Still turn those senseless clocks.
Time and time again
Repeats old history
Philosophers mock at societies lot
And says’t no mystery –
Who wins or not.
No, for sure
‘Tis clear as Bow bell’s chime
Evil asks only good does naught
And now’s its time –
How joy was short.
But hope –
Lads, that’s an honest cure
Let’s not forget our friends
And when the world lays all unsure
We’ll work for better ends.
Crouched over a void of tears
That dribbled out
Towards the hue-forsaken west
And into a colourless tribute
Among newborn stars.
“There comes, you know,”
Spoke those time agnostic lights
“A day when dawns will be made of ash
“And dreams counted out
“When all things are up and done.”
The west sighed
And breezes from the bosom of home
Trembled forgotten things.
Charging good health
And happy days
And ignorant joys.
And starlight distant
Employed in their immaculate heaven
Mocked the quiet ambitions of man.
The trees breathed out together
And under the quiet reigns of night
And happy chords of heaven
Echoed those night wind stars again
“Beds of mould
And finite smiles
Are no comfort in this bleak eternity.
And empty lungs
Tell no histories here.”
Adieu, dearest Reader.
I had access to far too many Victorian tips as a child, and spent far too long wandering around them picking up odd things. With my grandparents living in an 18th century farm house, there were also always things appearing in their flowerbeds. There were plenty of other places too that I found the most unexpected things, here we go:
As a kid I had an obsession with collecting clay pipe and taking apart the shed uncovered my collection, some two and a half thousand pieces of stems and bowls of varyingly complete pipes, a few of them dating back into the 17th century. The novelty bowls were the best, and there were plenty of interesting ones including animals, faces, and even one celebrating the opening of Crystal Palace.
And that is it! The shed is clear, and I managed to stop myself from hoarding away too much of it again. These few things that I’ve featured here, though, along with several boxes of Roman, Medieval, and more modern things I will now have to try and find a place for, or rehome…
Adieu, happy Reader!
My main area of historical interest, especially as a kid, was the middle ages – castles, knights, battles – all the sorts of things that the sensationalised parts of history encourage in the imagination of young children. So the shed just might have been full of a lot of stuff from then.
Ironwork is a tricky thing to look after – it degrades quickly in the wrong conditions (similar to decayed glass) and what state it might be in was a bit of a worry, but I was very happy and impressed that the metal had actually lasted perfectly where it had been sat for the last ten years.
Good quality building materials are often scarce especially on medieval Essex sites, where a lack of stone means that pretty much everything that could be taken away and reused was. Bicknacre Priory for example, after that burned down at the start of the 19th century, was almost completely pulled down over the subsequent twenty years and used to build roads.
On one site we dug on the owner of the medieval house that stood nearby came and asked if anyone would need the bricks when the dig was over. There were so many bags of them that we’d just weigh them and put that in the report, so after that they went off and were used to repair his house!
Danbury was of course a famous centre of tilemaking in the Medieval period, and since these tiles were found locally they may well have been made not far from my back garden where they now (or at least did until now) reside.
Adieu, Happy Reader!
If you weren’t aware, the shed is now knocked down.
I figured I’d do three further small posts on what I found, starting with the very old stuff.
I’ll start with this rooftile – it’s classic L-shape and rather imperfect matrix are immediately recognisable as Roman, and in fact this could well be my first ever Roman find. I picked it up when I was about eight and for a long time was the pride of my shelf-of-very-old-things when I was a kid. It comes from Colchester, that noble capital of Cymbeline’s, and turned up in a playground that I happened to be at. (This piece was found on the same day that I picked up a beautiful piece of a coat of arms off of a Belarmine jar, which I have not seen in about fifteen years and had hoped, in vain, would appear from the shed.)
Then, from out of a plastic bag not far away, appeared these wonderful little shaped stones – several still with the white mortar adhering to one side – Tesserae. These would have once been a part of a very fine Roman mosaic since they were very small, very well cut, and made from stone rather than broken up tile or brick.
These will have been from one of my childhood trips to Caerwent, where there are more Roman finds laying on the ground than flowers.
The fine-ness of the previous Tesserae was all the clearer when a second bag revealed these pieces, much cruder and therefore probably from a much cheaper mosaic.
There was a lot of old pot in the shed. A real lot. These two above pieces were a particularly nice find, though, being probably 1st or 2nd century and fitting together.
I am definitely giving the impression that my archaeological collections here started with the Romans – of course that’s not true, there are plenty of older things than the odd bit of Roman pot. (I’ve already blogged about that.) The above pieces are two lovely flints, probably Mesolithic or Neolithic, which came off of a spoil heap from some building works that I happened to do some climbing over as a kid.
Some things were even older – and I did spend a few years when I was really young hunting for fossils. The above is one of my favourites and I actually thought I’d got it stored somewhere safer than down the bottom of the garden. It’s a fish head, and one of the finds that when I was about nine I was encouraged to send to a local museum along with some other things to get identified. I got a note back simply confirming that I had sent them a rock – apparently they weren’t particularly knowledgeable on fossils.
And it wouldn’t be a post on fossils if an ammonite or two didn’t make an appearance, somewhere I’ve got a few fools gold ammonites that I picked up. Not in the shed though, so no photos of them here.
I suppose I’ll do a post on the medieval things I found next.
Adieu, happy Reader!
Like your own constitution, the fiery nature of the summer has taken my time away from my keyboard and away from this blog. At least I claim this, but I am redesigning my personal website so that may also have kept me busy. Although – happy Reader – let me blog a upon a little (now vanished) shed.
This year marks a whole 15 others since I joined my first ever archaeology club, aged 9, and it’s been over 20 years now since I started surprising relatives by digging toddler sized holes in their back gardens.
This summer was, however, the last summer for a little shed that has been sat at the bottom of our garden since me and my brother got it as a birthday present back in 1998. It started life as just a place to play in, but quickly had shelves added where odd finds appeared on display – and by the time I was ten it was basically my own museum.
When I moved bedrooms at about 14 I turfed a lot more odd finds out of my old room and into the shed, and since then it has sat pretty much undisturbed at the bottom of the garden. I moved out for university, came back, and left again – and the shed slowly began to fall down; this summer was time for the ruinous thing to go, and at last nearly two decades worth of pot, nails, tiles, bottles, and more to be sorted through.
There was a lot. Hence the title part one.
Collapsed shelves were the first problem to be worked out before finds could be sorted through. Ivy had pushed through the back of the shed and forced a whole load of shelves over, miraculously with nothing breaking – probably because everything had fallen off slowly together.
A hole in the roof had also let in leaves and water, so a season’s worth of dead leaves needed clearing off of things. I won’t go into the re-homing of a decade’s worth of spiders.
How did I come by all these things? Well, a lot were scavenged from gardens of friends or relatives (I had one friend as a child whose garden was full of Roman pot, and we never found out why). Other bits come from beach trips, there’s some from just along local footpaths, and more bottles than I can count from a local 19th century tip. But the real wealth of things came from spoil heaps, which my child-self was allowed to climb over and keep whatever was found since it was out of context. This was at least until on one site I found part of a Norman font dropped onto the spoil by a digger – I did report that to the dig director and for some reason he didn’t want me to keep it.
I was very careful from a very young age to label every single thing that I found as to where it came from – hence each box or in some cases even individual finds were accompanied by little labels, and my far too precise memory of my childhood adventures filled in any unclear gaps.
The happy Reader can kindly learn that I intend to post a few more of these little snapshots of the shed and its peculiar contents, and the little highlights – many of which I certainly had not expected to find.
Adieu, dear Reader!
I’d thought hard enough on the long journey home tonight (I was clever enough to move out having registered to vote back in Essex) to produce a poem upon the odd predicament, with more rain running than trains. Which I certainly have never done before, and never about flooding.
23rd June 2016
It was a Thursday, dull and grey,
(A soggy referendum day)
When I was walking down the Strand
And saw a swimming pool at hand –
I was surprised, for though quite clean,
T’was where the underground had been.
The station master, rather wet,
Gave a speech I shan’t forget:
He calmly said, though unsure how,
That “Essex is aquatic now.
“For those of you who might have voted,
“We don’t know where your paper’s floated.”
The county, high in disarray,
Was fathoms now, not miles away.
Platform four and five were clear
And had become a working pier,
While on the route to Bethnal Green
There sat a stranded submarine.
Commuters, ragged from the stress,
Had donned more ‘buccaneering’ dress
And taken out the Cutty Sark
For ‘pleasure boating’ in Hyde Park;
(But sadly – t’was unlucky chance –
The wind had pushed them out to France.)
I think before next time it rains
We’ll need a vote upon the drains,
And hopefully, though wisdom’s thin,
We’ll have more votes to take ‘Eau’ in;
What good can ‘go alone’ pretend
And who would vote to lose a friend?
Allow me, after an unexpectedly busy day of archery and then wandering around London looking for a flat, to introduce this little pile of poems that Spring has happily brought out of me. For their quality I apologise, but the necessity for content on this blog commands them to be presented immediately:
The gold-red dawn that rang with fire
Blew out from farm to wood and spire,
And through the valley hills alone
Tumbled down on moss and stone.
I trespassed on those care-free scenes,
A gleaner searching golden dreams,
Collecting dawns that rise and lay
Among the cherry tints of day.
It fell like this in years gone by,
Each sunbeam, every winter sigh,
When Arthur, Cranmer, or King James
Wandered through these peaceful lanes.
Here the Norman, sins confessed,
Stooped his way to home and rest,
Or the Roundhead, hot with wars,
Preached to others for his cause.
The quiet serf, or noble king
Crossed these paths now rich with Spring,
And by the wood or through the vale
Heard the pebble stones inhale.
The ancient breeze my carry still
The new-cut grass from Danbury Hill,
And while we gleaners pass and fade,
Each Spring sees those passed hearts remade.
It was an age and acre distant
When learned stone was met with sword
When kings were dashed in but an instant
And royal blood enriched the sward.
When here, just where you stand, the yeoman,
Glad of heart and topped with zeal,
Flew arrows out ‘gainst Viking rowmen,
And Saxons bloodied Norse-made steel.
The cry went up, the landers came,
There roared from hell the hate of years,
A blood-red firmament of flame
Filled with shouts and taunts and cheers.
All silent now, the grass is green;
The spring has tickled out the bloom,
And now we think, and fear to dream,
Of men whom here once met their doom.
On Sunday after half past two
I went to town as people do
To ‘take the air’ and ‘chase the geese’
And buy myself a bright blue fleece.
And getting there in healthy time
I thought I’d hear the church clock chime.
Those noble bells clucked loudly when
I realised it was just a hen,
And climbing to inspect the spire
I found it made of chicken wire.
I thought it was a little much
To fit the church inside a hutch.
The highstreet was knee-high with straw
Which seemed a quite tremendous flaw,
I thought “How will the cars get through” –
There was no parking space, it’s true,
For shops ‘t’weren’t even space for one
Which might explain why there were none.
And even the electric lights
Illuminated farmyard sights.
It seemed that on my way to town
I’d had my map held upside down,
And being lost, I had instead
Locked myself inside a shed.
Adieu, my Dearest Reader.
Most weekends I go out for a good long walk around the woods, especially during the winter when they’re quiet and the atmosphere is crisp and dramatic. Living on top of an ironage hill fort, with bronze age and earlier earthworks in the woods around it, I often find myself picking up worked flints – blades, scrapers, and arrowheads. I would even kindly admit, with complete acceptance of my failure at understanding fashion for some years now, that for a brief while when I was in Aberystwyth I had a Mesolithic arrowhead hung on a leather necklace round my neck, which I’d put together after finding the arrowhead on a Welsh hill.
I’d always thought that our modern affection for these beautiful flint tools was a product of our advancing understanding of history and science over the last two hundred years, which had proved these were not chance broken stones, but in fact the work of people who had lived thousands and thousands of years ago. How wrong I was.
In fact, people have been finding worked flints on the ground for as long as history can remember, and for centuries there were far more fantastic legends surrounding them than just a tale of some five-thousand year old hunting party.
In pagan Scandinavia over a thousand years ago they were referred to as Thunderstones, and supposedly were the remains of thunderbolts fallen to earth. There they were worshipped as family Gods, and well after the Christian conversion of that country they were still seen as a protector against thunder storms.
The church quickly caught onto this worryingly pagan practice, and at least by the 11th century were spreading their own story that these worked flints were the left over weapons of angels that had fallen to earth when they drove the Devil out of heaven. Elsewhere in Europe and even beyond they are believed to have healing or protective properties, seen tokens of luck, and even supposedly to protect the carrier against witchcraft.
It is this protection against witchcraft that brings me on to British folklore around these flints, and the tale of Elf Shot.
For an unknown reason, even Roman Britons had a fascination with flints, and they occasionally turn up in burial urns. The British legend surrounding these stones, however, dates from a little later – with the excellent people who brought in the birth of our Britain – the Saxons.
Earliest written evidence of the story is found in the Wið færstice, a fragmentary Saxon medical text written some hundred years before the Norman conquest, it names the flints as the arrows of Elves, invisible creatures who follow people around and at any moment fire an arrow at them, causing severe pain. This was used to explain the cause of arthritis, aching joints, and other odd pains that people may have felt.
To ward off this pain, then, a person would have to go out and find a piece of Elf Shot and wear it – remaining archaeological evidence suggests as a pendant – which would deflect any further elf arrows. The original date of this legend is unclear, but a viking pendant found in the UK is one of the oldest extant examples of a piece of Elf Shot that someone has worn, and likely dates no earlier than the 9th century.
It is possible, then, that this practice of wearing elf shot to ward off pain is somehow descended from an earlier Scandinavian tradition brought over by the vikings. Later on in the legend’s history in Britain, wearing Elf Shot was seen as a protection against witchcraft in general, elves traditionally being one of the most mischievous magical creatures around according to British folklore.
The practice was still going on in more rural parts of Britain well into the 17th century, and it wasn’t until the mid-18th century when examples of Native American stone weapons were brought back to Europe that a connection began to be made between the stones and possibly an origin in earlier civilizations. With the church strongly against this view, since it would suggest that the world was older than the bible claimed, it did not gain much popular notoriety, and it wasn’t until at last in 1847 that a book was finally published proposing the idea, and, after significant opposition, the myth of thunderstones and Elf Shot finally vanished into the dusts of disproved myth at the end of the 19th century.
Have no fear, though, kind reader – for though the legend may have quietly fallen out of our folklore, you can still happily wander the fields and hillsides and pick up the flint tools that have fascinated mankind for well over a thousand years, and will certainly continue to be beautiful objects for millennia to come.
Adieu, dearest reader!
*if inaccurate, try checking lost property.
** All out of context of any archaeological layers, of course
I put together a tall tale about Danbury’s finest ghost story last Christmas, and this year (although I should and hope to put together a proper good old tale for this year’s fireside) I hope to drag on my incompetent prose with a short rhyme upon it.
Basically I went for a foggy-sunset walk and some verses popped up, so here they are.
High in Danbury wood there stands
A kingdom of bone fingered hands
Stretched in winter’s haze
Fog-lit moonlight holds the wind –
Opal vapours curl and grin,
A raindrop patter plays.
It’s here they say in olden times
That when the church was ringing chimes
The devil stole the bell
He ran it down that hill toward
The copse where winter keeps accord
(What secrets seasons tell).
For where the frost comes down to sleep
In their depths the snowdrifts keep
A hidden secret too
For when the bell fell down that climb
It bounced and called out one last chime
Then tumbled out of view.
The devil, starting with surprise
Found the bell was twice his size
His strength no more sustained
And so he fled that ancient hill
(The one that stands so stalwart still)
But yet the bell remained.
So now if walking Danbury wood
In winter’s beauty – which you should –
You here a distant bell
You stand where once the devil’s feet
Tripped and fell at his defeat
And that’s devil’s knell.
And when the folk in ages old
Would tell the story I’ve just told
Young men would up and go
And climb their way through wood and vale
To search the truth from out the tale;
They found but empty snow.