Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Why does history hide in holes?

To get from our house into the City centre we go down the main London Road but for the last month it has been awash with cones and construction vehicles. The council are laying pipes down the centre of the road. 

We drove past yesterday and, looking into the hole, we saw the old tram lines exposed. The centre of London Road did once carry tram passengers so it came as little surprise to see the rails but why were they in a hole? How did our road and pavement levels become so much higher in such a short space of time? The houses along that stretch of road are Victorian and so does this mean that they had higher steps up to their front doors or were the pavements in those days raised up from the road? And what would happen if workmen continued to put new road surfaces on top of old ones? 

You only have to view an archaeological dig to see that this phenomenon does not only apply to newly tarmacked roads.  Over the other side of Leicester is The Jewry Wall with its excavation of an original Roman Bath. It’s considerably lower than the present pavement level so how did this come about? Is it true that workmen demolished old buildings and simply built on top of the rubble? Are we living on top of hundreds of years of dirt, rubbish and old bricks?

I did a bit of Googling and discovered that in the 1580s it was estimated that the streets of Rome were 30 feet above the level of the ancient Roman roads. How much higher would they be now? Apparently each year an inch of dust falls on Rome. This is made up of leaves, pollution, sand from the nearby coast and a stream of powder from hundreds of ruins dissolving steadily in the wind. It’s an amazing thought.

If our streets are so much higher than those of our ancestors then is the world getting fatter? Are we steadily rising up into space? Will we soon be able to reach for the moon? It’s a fanciful notion... or is it?


  1. Thinking logically, wouldn't pavements be higher because carriages are higher off the ground than cars?

  2. Archaeology is every day conversation here in Jerusalem - in fact only last month they dug up a coin and the inscription on it made it clear it was used in the Temple - it made headline news in 2012.

    Yes it seems that civilisations do continue to build on top of previous ones - so I guess the earth must be getting fatter - but I wouldn't worry thre's still plenty of room until we reach the moon :-)

  3. :o) I'd say you've taken "What if..?" to a whole new level today.
    BTW These thoughts are going to bug me on my afternoon walk.

  4. This is a subject I've thought about too.

    The BBC building where I work was only built five years ago...and some excavations were done before it was errected.

    Archaeologists went down to the Norman undercroft...and it' at least three to four feet below the ground level now.

    Cleverly, the architects have incorporated the is into the building...and put a glass cover over part of the excavation so we see what came before us.

  5. Does the ground only seem higher, because we're shrinking?! Very thought provoking post Rosalind! Julie

  6. They always say in Leicester you should look up to see the best of the City. So many beautiful buildings have been desecrated at ground level. But now Ros, I shall be looking down next time I'm on London Road. I'm giving away my age here but think I just remember trams on Oxford St. Leicester. Was that the last place they operated?
    Thanks for provoking that memory and getting me thinking about all those layers of history beneath my feet.

  7. A fascinating and thought provoking post. I shall be pondering these questions on this afternoon's dog walk.

  8. What I learned from this post is that I need to pay more attention. I'm sure I never would have looked into those holes as I drove by. I must tune into the world around me more!

  9. Interesting post. (But in a way, since most of US are getting fatter, it's only fitting that the world do the same.)

  10. It's amazing how seeing one thing can set of a whole lot of questions, I laughed out loud at the thought of us getting closer to the moon,maybe the tickets for the first moon flight will be cheaper after all.

  11. When I was little, I remember taking a tour of a city that was under a city. It was weird then and it's still odd now.

  12. Hi Ros .. great post and will have us all wondering - all areas are built over other things - as can be found 'everywhere' .. so I guess one we will be able to caress the moon - unless it's careened its ovaloid trajectory towards outer space ..

    The Roman roads would have been the parameters - so other roads would have been smoothed up - then as cars came in .. onwards and upwards.

    There was a tram in Hastings that we used to visit in the 50s as a treat from Bexhill where my grandmother moved to from Finchley ..

    Well glad you were looking down! Cheers Hilary

  13. Hi, Rosalind. I'm stopping by to check out your blog. I'm also participating in the A to Z challenge. I look forward to seeing what you blog about in April.


  14. Interesting questions! It's funny to think of us getting higher and higher up.. maybe one day we will be able to reach the moon!

  15. I love this post. I did archaeology at University (as a mature student) and believe it or not, Darwin did a study about how things get buried underground.

    He found out that earthworms bring literally tons of soil up to the surface overnight (As a team, you understand. Not each.)and that is how things get buried so quickly.

    All the dust does is settle on top of it.

    The earth isn't getting fatter - it's turning itself inside out!


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