There are ghosts everywhere… not white-sheet-with-eyes kind of ghosts, but ghosts of times gone by.
I often come across a patch of cobbles, elbowing their way out of the tarmac, determined to remind us of the lives that were lived before ours. Apparently, when slums were demolished, only the top layers were erased in many cases… so cellars and underground passages remain. If we peeled back today’s layers of concrete, we would be able to see the paths and tracks and walls of our ancestors. I think I even recall reading an article where they actually did this in Manchester city centre and found an intact Victorian cellar complete with fireplace. It had just been quietly resting beneath us for decades and decades. A piece of history existing invisibly in our modern world. It kind of blows my mind.
It’s hard to comprehend that a huge amount of the buildings and streets that the ordinary people of one hundred (or even only fifty years ago) occupied do not exist anymore. They’ve been brutally demolished, knocked down, bulldozed. It’s been said that it’s not the physical structure that make the home, it’s the people who live in it, but the tightly packed houses and back alley mazes of Britain’s old slums did seem to breed a certain community feeling that is not around today. I’m romanticising again – something I tend to do when talking about the past (and something I know is not always helpful or objective). But, for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on, the past does seem very romantic to me. The fact that many physical objects from former times are not present anymore probably intensifies this, as it adds a sense of mystery and frustration.
I would love to go back in time for a day and explore the ghost streets of our cities. (Although I admit that I have a tendency to romanticise the past, I appreciate that life was very tough for the working class of Victorian Britain, and I don’t think I could hack more than a day.) Looking at census records and finding out the addresses of my ancestors do not exist anymore makes me long to find out what their homes and lives were like. My godmother told me that the back-to-back houses that dominated Birmingham’s slums were smelly horrible places, but I still would love to see them with my own eyes.
For now though, I’ll just keep on peeling back those layers of tarmac in my head.