I recall my sorrow when I learned that the enchantingly named Nonsuch Palace vanished almost without trace, morphing from a splendid Tudor dream of None Such As This to a demolished No Such Place. All the more so when I saw the few extant magical castle images of it. Particularly upsetting is the fact that it survived only a little over a century because Charles II gave it to a mistress who demolished it to sell the building materials in payment of gambling debts.
A similar sense of regret affects me when I read of Roman villas or other buildings falling down or being dismantled for building materials in the decades following the Roman withdrawal from Britain. Or when I pore over faded photographs of glorious country houses torn or burned down by subsequent generations, wading through Lost Heritage. What happened to their contents? Their hidden nooks and crannies? The people who lived or worked there?
I was therefore struck by Bowen’s comment on the study of things that have disappeared and I admire archaeologists for piecing together fragments, shards, and hints to try re-creating lost cities and civilizations.
To recreate, even for an instant, what is laid low, dishevelled, or altogether gone into thin air is exciting. The study of anything that has disappeared is a call on faith.
Source: Elizabeth Bowen, A Time in Rome (London: Vintage Books, 2010), p. 64
Photo credit: Tim Mossholder at unsplash
Image credit: Detail of Georg Hoefnagel’s 1568 watercolour of the south frontage of Nonsuch Palace