Surprises from the past

Whilst undertaking a recent project involving masonry repairs to an historic building, the Contractor uncovered some unexpected finds hidden within the depths of the walls. On removal of stones which were infilling original the putlog holes (holes in the wall into which short timber bearers were built to support the scaffolding during construction) we discovered that one was very ornately carved on the inner face, therefore completely hidden from view. This suggests that the stone was salvaged, probably either from an older building on the site, or close by.

Marshwood CoverInside the putlog holes were the bowl of a clay pipe, and two glass bottles (one of which was corked and still half full of yellow liquid). It was tempting to taste the liquid in case the masons of the past had left a nip of whisky as a treat for future generations. However, the other bottle was for a linctus which had poisonous ingredients and we have also heard that bottles of pee have been found built into other walls. In any case, we thought better of tasting the liquid. As they say, curiosity killed the cat! Speaking of which; dead cats, old shoes and other odd things were built into old buildings in the past, apparently for luck, or to ward off evil.

Although these findings were not of great archaeological or monetary value, it was very exciting to find them and they are a tangible connection to our forebears. The findings date from around the late 1800’s. From them we can tell a little about the people that undertook the work at that time: at least one of them had a cold or other ailment, but rather than languish at home, took his medicine and turned up at work. Smoking on site was acceptable (unless perhaps the pipe ended up in the wall as it had to be hurriedly hidden from the foreman). Drinking at work was probably the norm. Halcyon days!

The findings have been recorded, and put back from where they came, accompanied by a memento from the masons undertaking the current repairs.