By Dr. Tim Campbell-Green from The Glossop Cabinet of Curiosities – a blog which explores the hidden parts of Glossop and its immediate surrounding area
As an archaeologist it can be difficult to turn off, particularly when we live in a town with such a rich and readily accessible history; it’s all around us… and often at our feet. An event a few weeks ago provides a good example of this. I was on my way to the shops on a crisp and clear, but very cold, day, with a lovely winter sun for company. I decided to take a shortcut through Harehills Park, alongside Glossop Brook by the market.
The park has interesting history. It has been known variously as Harehills Wood, Harehills, the People’s Park, the Sandhole, and Pinch Belly Park. These last two names are derived from the fact that during the ‘Cotton Famine‘ of the early 1860’s – a situation caused by the lack of imported cotton from America due to the ongoing Civil War there – men were employed there digging sand in order to provide work for them. In 1921 the park was given to the people of Glossop by Lord Howard in appreciation of the men of Glossop who served in the First World War, but also as a memorial to his son Philip Fitzalan Howard, a lieutenant in the Welsh Guards who died of wounds in France on 24th May 1918.
The park was extensively remodelled and landscaped at this time, including the construction of the bridge, and it was used as a recreation grounds and promenading area. Prior to this, though, the area was described as “hideously ugly; hen pens fenced with old fish boxes; old salmon tins, rhubarb roots, and a good quantity of other rubbish with plenty of muck and sludge thrown in”, and was known as a place for bare-knuckle prize fighting. It was also noted that “one part of it seemed to be nothing more than a vast tipping place”, and it is this part, one assumes, that that I now passed for, looking down, I saw a flash of white against the mud and leaves… a piece of pottery. I poked it with a stick and excavated a piece of blue and white transfer printed plate – the bottom of a plate dating to anywhere between 1840 and 1920.
It’s a common find, but the blue is quite beautiful against the browns and greys of winter, and the decoration showed a portion of a fence, a small part of the famous ‘Willow Pattern’ story set of two lovers, and set in a garden. I looked farther along the path and could see more pottery lying in the mud, and as regular readers of my blog will know, I couldn’t leave them there.
So I spent a happy, if muddy, 20 minutes looking, stooping, finding bits of pottery and glass, and putting them in a plastic bag I carry for just such an occasion (this is not a rare event for me!). Among the pieces – or sherds, as they are known to archaeologists – are part of a striped mug, a stoneware ink pot, a soup bowl, a glass medicine bottle – all of them Victorian or Edwardian, and all little pieces of the past.
But none were as pretty as the Willow Pattern plate. I cleaned it, and looking closely I could see scratches made by a knife in cutting up food. What conversations were had when those marks were made? What was the person eating? These questions are what made me become an archaeologist in the first place, and what keep inspiring me after all this time.
Eventually I reached the end of the path, and on I went to the shop, vowing to come back that way, and walk in the other direction to see what else I could find. But, such is the way of the world, I needed to be elsewhere in Glossop and other chores distracted me, and with the mundane crowding out the treasure, I didn’t come home that way. Who knows what I missed? Who knows what tiny fragments from the past await discovery, waiting for someone to pluck it from the ground and marvel over it, celebrating its form and colour, and invoking the past and the people who once used it.
Now, I am often asked “what do you do with the pottery you collect?” “Not a lot”, is the usual answer, they tend to sit in labelled bags, with a vague idea of doing something with them. Well, inspired by my wife’s Valentine’s gift, created from sherds from all over, I am going to be a lot more creative with the pottery pieces from now on, and I have a few craft ideas I want to try out.
So take a look at your feet next time you are out and about, particularly after a good rainfall, as even the most urban park can produce fascinating fragments of the past just waiting to be uncovered.