Backyard treasure

Q. Have you ever found anything interesting while digging in the backyard of your home?

answered by Cynthia Fell, lives in The United Kingdom (1932-present)

Yes, I certainly did, well at the front actually!

Just married, we moved into our new home built on virgin woodland. By law we had to keep most of the trees and part of an acre of pure woodland at the back of the house. We needed more topsoil to make beds at the front of the house in which to grow roses, etc., which we ordered from a London firm specialising in topsoil.

Several tons of topsoil duly arrived and was summarily dumped on the drive. My husband (Matt) and his “labourer”, as Matt called him (actually my father lending a much needed hand) were busy removing the thick undergrowth from what was to be our new, very large, front garden. My mother, also there to lend a hand, was given the task of making the tea, while I was told to riddle the topsoil and get rid of bricks, stones and the like, that it might contain.

Oh, it contained bricks all right, so many, in fact, that we later incorporated them into a terrace we built at the back. It also contained items such as teaspoons, a brown teapot, minus lid, but strangely unbroken, several shoes, a chamber pot minus its handle, several chair legs, numerous kitchen utensils, some of which I washed and put into use in my new kitchen! We had spent every last penny on getting the land and the house, so anything that came along, we used!

It quickly became evident that the soil was from the bombed buildings in London, where new skyscrapers were being erected. (This was in 1956). It wasn’t the nice brown crumbly topsoil, we had envisaged, but clay. Little wonder that so many of the items I dug out were still whole and unbroken, embedded as they were, in heavy London clay!

It became quite exciting as the men abandoned their self-imposed task and also started digging. My mother came out with cups of tea and then joined in. I can’t possibly list all the things we found, but we spent our time digging furiously and laughing with delight as we discovered more and more “treasures”, as we called them. Then my mother abruptly stopped and gave us all one of her “looks”. “These things were someone’s “treasures” once, and no doubt their owners worked very hard to acquire them. I think we should show a little respect towards those people who probably died when their houses were bombed.” Whoops, she was right, of course! We sobered and actually decided to call it a day for now.

Over the next week or so, we continued to dig and move the soil, finding, of course, more and more articles, once proudly owned. I sorted them into piles – “Broken – unmendable”; “Broken – mendable”; “Whole – to be cleaned”, etc. What to do with them though? Some I mended, if necessary, cleaned and kept, but the rest? Fortunately, I learned that the Salvation Army would take things for the poor and needy, even things needing to be mended. They were delighted to do so, solving that problem and also, hopefully, helping some poor soul in need. There were no Charity (Thrift) shops in those days.

For years after though, well, actually right up to the time we sold the house, Matt or I when digging or hoeing, would occasionally find the odd bit of broken china or a bent teaspoon surfacing, bringing back sad memories of their former owners.

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