Archaeology diary

ImageThis piece of pottery (both sides shown) turned up near the columbine by the south edge of the lawn. My guess is that it is salt-glazed, maybe German, c. late 16th or early 17th century.

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Off to the seaside

In the unlikely event that anyone out there misses Fugitive Ink, there’s a sort of diffusion-range micro-blog here — Fugitive Ink goes to the seaside, as it were.

Expect incompetent photography, punctuated with amateurish gleanings from north Norfolk local history and the odd banal reflection — as well as the usual infrequent posting.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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Envoi

There are times for writing, and then there are times when writing simply isn’t possible.

As regular readers of Fugitive Ink may have noticed, more and more often over the past year or two, there hasn’t really been much time for writing hereabouts. Months pass between posts. When I’ve tried the sort of solution to this that seems to work for some bloggers — a random photograph, a word of explanation — the result has rarely been satisfactory.

Probably readers find this on-again, off-again business frustrating. Certainly, I find it frustrating.

And yet there’s something unsurprising about it, too. In truth, writing isn’t the main focus of my life, for the simple reason that I’ve never really wanted it to be the main focus of my life. Other things matter more. At the moment, those ‘other things’ simply don’t allow time for writing — let alone for the reading, thinking and intuition that really ought to underpin any worthwhile writing. Also, politics at the moment has taken on a strangely bitter taste. Picking fights can be fun when doing so is a matter of choice — but when it becomes a matter of inevitability, the fun tends to fade.

So for the moment, anyway, I am going to turn my attention elsewhere. At some point in the future, I may be back. In the meantime, however, many thanks to all the friends of Fugitive Ink for the encouragement and enlightenment you have provided over the past three years.

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On Robin Fleming’s ‘Britain After Rome’

Britain After Rome: The Fall and Rise, 400 to 1070 should perhaps have been a different book altogether.

The product of ten years’ work on the part of Robin Fleming, a professor at Boston College (Boston, Massachusetts, USA), Britain After Rome was commissioned by David Cannadine within the Penguin History of Britain series. It covers the huge span of time — nearly seven centuries — that elapsed between the departure of the Roman legions and the arrival of William the Conqueror. As such, it follows in the footsteps of at least two other Penguin volumes: The Anglo-Saxons (James Campbell et al, 1991) and The Beginnings of English Society (Dorothy Whitelock, 1963).

Based on all this, it would not be unreasonable to assume that Britain After Rome was intended as a general introduction to this large, complex and in many ways intractable subject — a book for students, clearly, but perhaps also for the casual museum visitor who has been stunned by the splendour of the Staffordshire Hoard and wants to know more, the casual reader wondering to what degree The Lantern Bearers (1959) makes any sort of historical sense, the anxious observer of current affairs hoping acquire a longer view regarding the challenges, curiosities and catastrophes of our own time.

Yet Britain After Rome in fact strongest precisely at the point where it stops trying to pass itself off as a generalist introduction. Far and away the best thing about the book is the final chapter, “Living and Dying in Early Medieval Britain: The Fifth to Eleventh Century” [sic]. Here, with the end in sight, as it were, Professor Fleming is at last able to bypass aspects of human experience that don’t seem to engage her quite so fully — religion, politics, warfare, agriculture, craftsmanship, linguistics — and can concentrate fully on the part of her subject to which she brings the most obvious energy.

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A rainbow

On the way back from the British Museum yesterday, this was the scene over Soho.

(Yes, it’s school half-term again — light blogging predicted for the duration.)

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Restorations: on the sadness of the Ashdown House sale

 

Ashdown House, near Lambourn, Berkshire

 

Rather a long time ago now, early in the 1990s, walking along the ridge of a hill in Berkshire, I more or less stumbled across Ashdown House, that famous collision of classicised architecture with historical melodrama, now owned by the National Trust, some of the contents of which will be auctioned by Sotheby’s in London in a couple of weeks’ time.

At this distance the context is hard to recapture. Looking at the online map today in the hope of reconstructing that journey, I suppose we must have been walking from Ashbury to Lambourn. Certainly, I remember climbing up to see the bell tower of Lambourn’s ancient parish church, assisted in this project by a similarly ancient sexton seemingly on leave from a Thomas Hardy novel. Reconstructing further, I suspect the reason we were in the area in the first place was to visit the White Horse of Uffington, Wayland’s Smithy and other prehistoric sites. The Berkshire Downs are, after all, a part of England at once casually beautiful and imaginatively liberating. One gets the sense that man and nature have operated there for so long together, working in such close proximity, that the boundaries which elsewhere separate their legacies start to blur a little. It’s an enchanted landscape.

In any event, I certainly shan’t forget the shock of rounding a bend onto the top of that chalk ridge and then seeing — with all the weird emphasis of an hallucination — the tall trim cupola, detached flanking pavilions and formal parterres of Ashdown House laid out in the valley below me. What could this apparition possibly mean?

The conventional thing to say about Ashdown House is that it looks like a dolls’ house — a comparison made by Pevsner, amongst others. Yet this hardly does justice to the force of its formidable strangeness.

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Soho Society versus Rector: a parochial digression

 

The tower of St. Anne's Church, Soho, London W1

 

It’s not hard to imagine the quirky little independent film — almost too full of character roles, perhaps racking up a critical prize or two on its journey to modest box office success — that could be developed out of the West End Extra‘s headline this morning: ‘CONSERVATION GROUP FACING CHURCH BOOT’.

Soho residents awoke today to the shocking revelation that the Revd David Gilmore, rector of our local parish church, is apparently ejecting the Soho Society — the local residents’ group which, since its foundation in 1972, has worked tirelessly to protect this historic, pungently characterful London quartier — from the small room in the church tower which it has occupied for the past three decades. According to Fr Gilmore,

‘The Soho Society’s license has ended and they must be treated like all other tenants, and in line with all other leases. Unfortunately, their historic connection with the church and the community, while valuable, does not remove them from this process.’

Fr Gilmore’s wish, he has stated, is to ‘maximise full market value’ for the tower room.

Unless I’m missing something, the room measures 4.8m by 3.2m — it’s located directly above another room already available for hire, hence the otherwise eerie specificity of that description — and is reached by climbing a very steep and narrow flight of stairs with no disabled access whatsoever. I’m not even sure it has any windows. Furthermore Soho, like much of the UK at present, isn’t exactly short of commercial premises languishing in the long wait for paying occupants.

In short, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that what we are seeing here is a conflict far more simple and visceral, and at the same time more completely unnecessary, than the reported facts of the story suggest. Think of it as Barchester Towers meets Night and the City, with extra added heritage campaigners, Groucho Club hangers-on and multivalent sexualities galore, a modern jazz score and a walk-on part for the ghost of Paul Raymond. Yes, I’m sure your agent will be in touch any day now. Continue reading

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