Saturday, September 26, 2009

Remembrance of Things Past

Looking at old photographs of places you have known is like seeing pictures of friends as children- you have a sense of familiarity but it doesn't quite fit your ideas. Comparing old photos and old maps with the present state of things is a temptation very hard to resist (I am, for once, with Oscar on this).

Returning to the point (for there is one) I discovered a collection of 19thC maps of my old home town that I'd forgotten I had, and that was the afternoon gone, of course. It is fascinating to discover which roads are no more, where people used to think it mattered to get to on foot, and how many brick factories there are (there's no stone in that area, and the brickworks go back to the Romans).

There are old railway lines, old factories, old farms, old wildernesses, old houses which have been replaced by newer shops, old churches destroyed by Philistines and, in this particular case, an old swimming pool in the bend of the river which I am not quite old enough (or lucky enough) to remember.

There are those who do not become excited by the sight of what once was beside (even if only mentally; in fact, especially if mentally) what is now, but such people are hard to understand. The comparison of what those who came before us thought they needed with what we think we need now is quite extraordinarily fascinating. How did people construct their mental world when, physically, it was different from ours?

The place to go for old photos around England seems to be Francis Frith, who sells books and individual prints, and for old maps Alan Godfrey is a good source.

2 comments:

Vincent said...

O indeed follow temptation, it is the only way. Yes, I love the old maps, though where I live it's not necessary - we are right in the middle of the Victorian factories and terraced cottages of a town in South Bucks.

George Orwell's novel, Coming Up for Air, written in 1939, has a man returning to the home town he left in 1914. He mentally superimposes what he left on what is there now. It's almost impossible. Ver worthwhile to read.

CIngram said...

I haven't read that one. I shall look for it.