A shard of pottery in a field reminds me of something in the history of the valley I live in.
Market gardening in the Tamar Valley (Devon and Cornwall, UK) has a rich tradition of growing anything from snowdrops and daffodils to soft fruit and apples. The industrial revolution brought on the intensification of horticulture, with higher demands on the maintenance of soil fertility.
This is where ‘night soil’ came in handy: human excreta, collected by the night soil men from buckets, cesspools and privies in Plymouth and Devonport Dockyards. It used to be transported in barges upstream with the tide and spread around the fields (I just hope that the same barges were not used to transport the food downstream …)
What is the significance of this shard of pottery in this story?
Night soil also contained other wastes: discarded pots, plates and bottles thrown out and broken when no longer useful. If you are lucky enough to have a garden in the Tamar Valley, you are as likely to find a beautiful glass medicine bottle, a clay orange marmalade jar or any number bits of patterned dinner plates, as you are to pierce your fingers on sharp pieces of broken greenhouse glass.
I fancy this as a piece of traditional Cornish blue and white striped crockery from many decades ago…but that’s just a fancy guess.
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