History can vanish in an instant. Does it matter ?
Walking to the Royal Observatory from my house I start along Lover’s Loan. Where it ends, there is a strange pillar topped by a winged dragon. At the weekend I read that this is not a dragon, or a gryphon, but a wyvern. The pillar is a tiny saved piece of the grand house that stood here for centuries before the ground was washed over by a sea of Victorian villas. I also read that its matching twin is further along Grange Loan, so on the walk home I diverted and found it. The house was scrubbed from the surface of the earth in 1936, apart from the wyvern pillars. The once powerful families that owned the house – the Dicks and the Lauders – still have a ghostly presence in the names of streets. Nothing beside remains.
So thats the Grange. Further north, where I live, is Sciennes, pronounced “Sheens”. I had long heard that this is a corruption of “St Catherine of Siena”, the name of a convent founded after the Battle of Flodden. Like Grange House, it is now utterly vanished apart from the muffled resonance of place names. My weekend reading however told me that the convent was commemorated at 16 St Catherine’s Place, so I took another arc to look for this. There was nothing on the street, nothing on the side of the house. Then, as I peered along the driveway, I saw it – an eighteen inch plaque on a rock in the middle of the garden. I didn’t feel bold enough to walk into somebody else’s garden, so I don’t know what it says.
After a brief stay at home, I walked in to Old College, where the Principal was hosting a reception for all the boys and girls who worked so hard on our submission to the Research Assessment Exercise. From there I kinda drifted to the Royal Oak, and finally, late at night and somewhat stoatered, found myself buying a bag of chips at Luciano’s, opposite the Dick Vet School. Until a few years ago, Luciano’s, in an astonishing five hundred year chain of unbroken memory from the Battle of Flodden to Blair’s Britain, was called the Siena Fish Bar. Then some random guy buys it up, thinks huh, dumb name, and crunch – history snapped.
Some days, working at the Royal Observatory on Blackford Hill I can feel the history oozing out of the stones. The nightmare scenario is that if the ATC reduces in half, it becomes unviable and closes anyway; then the University can’t afford to keep a medium sized astronomy research group on a large ancient site, and finally we all get shifted down to Kings Buildings. History snapped again.
By the way, it ain’t happening.