A paste diamanté ring, awabi, a big and a small Southbourne beach shell, a Guy Fawkes nite rocket cone, an aluminum (sic) cocktail stick, a fractured quartz crystal, a Psion Organiser motherboard, and all these are supporting cast to a precious shard of circa Victorian china with partial inscription.
62 years ago, two friends used to delve into a Victorian rubbish heap. This communal midden was only about two yards long by one yard wide. I never revisited it again. But I still know its precise location.
We discovered it on a field edge just over the hedge from a freshwater spring in a farm labourer’s thatched cottage vegetable garden. This freshwater spring served the households in two cottages across from my parents cottage. It was one of six or seven thatched cottages which are shown on the map in the Domesday Book completed in 1086AD.
It is in a hamlet whose signposted name “Sedrup” is suffixed by the intriguing word “Only”. It is at the end of a winding single track lane, marked as a No Through Road where it branches off the A-road at a historic coaching inn.
The Lane, as we affectionately referred to it, is this No Through Road. It was where a flock of sheep were driven the half mile from the farm at the top to the grazing pasture of the lower farm. It used to be bordered by bountiful hazel bushes that filled the cottage wives’ wicker baskets in the autumn. It ends at a large, roughly oval open green, with the thatched dwellings scattered around it.
That green space, removed from traffic, much munched by comfortably bulky milking cows, used to be Commonland. The cottagers had the right to graze their donkey, horse or goats on it. We’d been told a donkey used to live in the barn portion of our own cottage. I remember the beaten earth floor and the faint smell of hay. In the early 1950’s my parents converted it into living space. The architect for the plans was my father’s brother, an FRIBA.
In the 1960’s, the farmer put up a barbed wire fence. The cows were thus prevented from accidentally wandering into the garden, a cause of high drama. And the small boys and girls of this sleepy hamlet found they were cut off from the delights of insect-filled flowering grasses.
My Father petitioned and lost a well-argued claim to have this ancient Right Of Commons preserved. I still have the judgement document.
There is no vehicular way beyond the small collection of cottages. But a long straight Bridle path bordered by arable lands leads away towards views of the distant Chiltern Hills.
Fantastic adventures on this path! Discovery of sun-smelted cornfields, and mad March hares, incredible coloured butterflies, wonderful complicated hedge tangles, and cornflowers, crickets, small limestone fossils. My own voice and I, chatting to one another, and singing songs out loud, as loud as I pleased, singing out loud to the four winds!
In one of the thatches, with yardthick mud and wattle walls, I spent some of my earliest and most formative years. There was no electricity, no gas, and no running water. We drew water up in galvanised buckets from our garden well. My parents bought the pair of cottages in 1936.
Electricity arrived in early 1960. Mains gas and running water had still not been laid when I came to sell the cottages in 1982.
My older pal, next door neighbour Graham, and I would search by hand for pretty pieces of broken crockery in the Victorian midden. Among these we found many fragments of blue Willow Pattern, a few mysterious mauve pieces whose colour deeply moved my boyish mind.
There were broken stems of clay tobacco pipes, and decorative opaline glass shards.
But what we were both concentrated on unearthing was Gold! A very few broken plates, cups and saucers bore gold leaf trim. These and the other windfall were our currency and our Treasure Trove.
The name my ‘Splendid’ Graham friend and I gave to this old midden was “The Gold Field”.
We boxed our finds. We kept them close. I came across my hoard recently in an old SMA baby milk powder tin. It had remained close through at least six home relocations over six decades.
Until the day of Heike Jenkin’s art workshop “Recreating Reality” on December 10th 2016, in Southbourne-on-Sea, I had not set eyes on the inscribed fragment (pictured) for 62 years.
As I glued it in place on my canvas, my heart did beat with the same exquisite archeologist’s excitement of that young boy so very many brilliant summers gone by
~ Love is present EveryNow