While out walking the same streets day in, day out one starts noticing increasingly minor details. I have been discovering the world of street furniture, the access ports to gas, water and drains – the underground utilities, the silent world beneath our feet. I’ve been enchanted by the water mains, the individual covers of many have been cast with a specific date and the initials of the water works – the Gravesend & Milton Water Works Company, the Chatham & District Water Company, the Higham & Hundred of Hoo Water Company and others that I can’t work out.
The earliest I have found so far is outside Rochester Cathedral and dates from 1902. Beautifully worn by the relentless scuffing of tourists’ feet, the letters softened from municipal utility into a new life of beauty.
Enthralled by this I have begun to scour the streets of the Medway Towns for more examples. The 1930’s were a boom time with many examples readily available. I had begun to formulate a romantic notion that they revealed the tragedy of everyday life – I haven’t been able so far to discover any dated during the Great War, 1912 and 1913 then the gaping hole through which nearly a million British lives were poured into the sewer of war. I have however found evidence that the Second World War still saw the installation of water mains with the 1944 specimen I found on Rochester’s Love Lane.
This presents the perfect opportunity for urban drifting – roads taken at random for what the might provide – routes planned and abandoned on whim while searching for ideal streets to provide new cast-iron gems.
I read recently (on the excellent http://www.megalithic.co.uk site) of the possibility that a Turf Maze once existed in Rochester. The location suggested is The Vines, where the Cathedral’s monks kept a vinyard. The following photographs are of an area which evidences some lumps and striations in the ground – due to shadow from trees, this might not be entirely evident in the images. Only a handful of these mazes, or labyrinths, remain in England – their origins remain obscure, but I have read that pilgrims and penitents would recite the rosary while navigating the pathways in a form of spiritual meditation.
The Vines today is more likely a venue for street drinkers than spiritual meditation. Someone exposed their genitals to me and a companion in the Vines one evening, the only time this has ever happened – I didn’t notice anything and only discovered it from the shocked whispers that followed the event.
It is interesting to note that the nearby Troy Town area of Rochester – now comprehensively built-over – may contain a clue to this lost site.
The following comes from Wikipedia:
Many turf mazes in England were named Troy Town, Troy-town or variations on that theme (such as Troy, The City of Troy, Troy’s Walls or The Walls of Troy) presumably because, in popular legend, the walls of the city of Troy were constructed in such a confusing and complex way that any enemy who entered them would be unable to find his way out. Welsh hilltop turf mazes (none of which now exist) were called “Caerdroia”, which can be translated as “City of Troy” (or perhaps “castle of turns”).
The name “Troy” has been associated with labyrinths from ancient times. An Etruscan terracotta wine-jar from Tragliatella, Italy, shows a seven-ring labyrinth marked with the word TRUIA (Troy). To its left, two armed soldiers appear to be riding out of the labyrinth on horseback, while on the right two couples are shown copulating. The vase dates from about 630 BC.
The Troy connection is also found in the names of Scandinavian stone-lined mazes of the classical labyrinth pattern: for instance, Trojaburg near Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland. In Denmark, which once had dozens of turf mazes, the name “Trojborg” or “Trelleborg” was commonly used: no historic examples survive but replicas have been made. At Grothornet, in Vartdal in the Sunnmore Province of Norway there is a stone-lined labyrinth called “Den Julianske Borg” (“Julian’s castle”).”
Further reading: Marilyn Clark on Turf Labyrinths