Today I’m working on creating an album of photographs I took on a “canal camp” for which I volunteered a couple of weeks ago, and I’ll upload it to my my web site in the next couple of days . The aim of the Waterway Recovery Group project is to help to restore the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal as it wriggles through South Wales towards Newport.
I go on these camps because they offer a great mix of the outdoors, exercise, team-building, learning, fun and industrial archaeology. I learn a lot about how the canals were constructed, and a little about who constructed them and operated them. This year,as we worked on Drapers Lock, near Cwmbran, Monmouthshire, we discovered the foundations of the lock-keeper’s cottage. Since the canal has been decaying for a century or so (the last boats travelled along it over 70 years ago), not much remains of the small stone-built cottage.
But by the end of the week I’d hacked away at enough jungle to discover the cottage fireplace and chimney-base, together with a scatter of sherds of transfer-printed ceramics (see below). These appear to underline our growing understanding that even the most “humble” working people, in this case a lock-keeper, often owned and discarded quite “fine” wares. I especially like the design that includes an Oriental man (a musician?) with his long moustache. These tiny sherds give me a glimpse of the tastes of the long-gone cottage occupants, and I like to imagine these ceramics standing on a dresser bright with blue-and-white pottery as, outside, barges full of coal worked their way through the adjacent lock on their way from the mines up the valleys down to the docks at Newport.
And here I am, sitting proudly on “my” cottage!