Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia –May 2021)
If you look at a map of Great Britain there is a narrow bit about half way up where it’s as if you’ve sucked your stomach in for a family photo. In AD 122, Emperor Hadrian of Rome decided to build a 73 mile wall from east to west (or west to east if you prefer metric) to separate Roman Britannia from Caledonia.
If you go about a hundred miles north to an even narrower bit (the belt buckle must have been really straining at this point) there is another lesser known wall built by Hadrian’s successor, Emperor Antonine in AD 142 .
It is 39 miles long and runs from Old Kilpatrick in West Dunbartonshire to Carriden on the Firth of Forth. It took 12 years to build which is not surprising as my Dad had to wait months to get permission from the East Dunbartonshire Council just to build a small porch over the back steps.
By my calculations the house I lived in in the 60s and 70s was bang on top of the wall. Not that our house was precariously balanced on a solid structure, the wall was pretty much flattened long before we got there.
Across the road from us was a wooded area known locally as “The Woods” where sometime in the late 60s Tony Robinson and the Time Team excavated a section of Antonine’s wall. (Not 100% sure it was TT but some archaeologist unearthed it)
To a young kid it was just a heap of stones and a ditch but there was an iron railing fence around it that made it an ideal football goal. There were also concrete markers about a goal’s width dotted along the length of the large grassed area, ideal for numerous games of the national sport. Inevitably the football would sail over the railings and one of us smaller kids would squeeze through the widened gap to retrieve the ball. Never did it occur to me that I was traipsing on the same ground some Roman centurion’s sandal might have tread some 1,800 years ago – although I doubt he would be looking for a Mitre Mouldmaster.
Many Roman coins were dug up in the rhubarb patch and I would compare them with my mates haul. They must have ended up in museums at some point. We lived in Castlehill but I could never figure what hill it referred to never mind find any trace of a castle.
History was fun at primary school as it seemed to involve making things and dressing up, usually as a Roman soldier looking like a right Biggus Dickus no doubt.
I won a prize for a history project about the Romans. I got W.E. Johns’ Biggles Flies Undone for my efforts. We also studied ancient Egypt I seem to remember as Tutankhamun was all the rage then. My Dad thought it was driving etiquette ‘Toot and come on ‘.
Secondary school history was a different experience. Certainly no colouring in and no fancy dress apart from the teacher Mr Brodie. He wore a kilt and a dishevelled jacket. He looked like a homeless gillie. His sporran was some indiscriminate dog like mammal with mange whose plastic beady eyes followed you around the room. All we ever got was Scottish history and tales of battles won against ‘those bastard English’. Truth be told I think there were far more massacres than victories but Brodie seemed to gloss over those bits. It was just endless essay writing and the subject quickly lost it’s appeal.
In 3rd year I had to choose between History and Geography and the latter won hands down. Our teacher Mr McCoach was previously a bus driver believe it or not and was quite ‘cool’ for a teacher in the 70s. He introduced me to The Band which remains one of my favourites to this day. One day he handed out photocopied sheets on the geological feature of ‘CLINTS’. Unfortunately the gap between the ‘L’ and the ‘I’ was indistinguishable. He couldn’t work out why the class of pubescent teenagers were giggling. History was never this much fun.
In the land that is now my home, 70s school kids were still being taught that Australia’s history started in 1788 with the arrival of the first fleet from Great Britain. That the land was terra nullius (nobody’s land) totally disregarding and disrespecting the first nation peoples’ continuous 60,000 year occupancy. They have been and continue to be guardians of this country.
‘History is the distillation of rumour’ …… Thomas Carlyle.