Monday, 13 May 2013

To the Fens

The middle if nowhere depends, of course, on where you start from.

Early maps (like the Mappa Mundi) had Jerusalem at the centre of the map. Having built an empire we decided that England should be at the centre of our maps.

It's argued, with some reason, that there has been an unintended but clear divide building between London and the rest of the country. London has wealth, power, a rampant property market and a disproportionate number of our cultural institutions. We tend to think it's always been like this.

But that's not quite true.

In Saxon times the capital of England was briefly Winchester, and in the 14th century King's Lynn was the most important port in England. Times changed and sea levels fell, and Kings Lynn found itself a backwater as Liverpool and London took precedence.

But great buildings of that time remain, and Oxburgh Hall is one, now in the care of the National Trust.

I was there to look at a selection of wallpapers the family had kept since the early 18th century. Most of  us keep the odd length of wallpaper or spare bathroom tile in our attic, but this looked more deliberate. More a case of keeping a record rather than being able to re-paper a damaged section.

Old families often think in this way. The regard for the future is as keen as that for the present. They are aware, all the time, of their custodianship of a house rather than ownership, their sense of obligation to unborn descendants.

In a little room, with the spring sunshine streaming in, we gathered round a small table and looked at the scraps and fragments and wondered at the mistress of the house carefully boxing up these remnants after the decorators had left. For the future. As it transpires, and how impossible for her to conceive this, for us.