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A Bargeman’s Blunder Remembered

Who’d have thought that a stupid mistake way back in Roman times would be brought back to life in the hustle and bustle of today’s South London?

 That’s what this statue is all about. At first glance, it looks like some kind of weird whiskey-making copper container or an imaginary out-of-this-world pre-historic animal. But this sculpture, which I’ve rushed past many times without giving it a second glance, has a very human story to tell.

 It is outside Guy’s Hospital in Southwark and actually represents a boat that ran aground when the area was mostly marshy, shallow water and is still in situ many metres below it.

 At the time, the area was a series of little islands – in a way the Venice of its day – so the only way to get around was to hop on the Roman version of the public waterbus we all know and love in modern-day La Serenissima.

 But this captain was an incompetent fool and let his boat run aground with all its occupants no doubt cursing and swearing.

 Attempts to re-float it failed, and in the end, you can just imagine them all giving up in frustration, abandoning ship as it were, and wading to their next destination.

 Now fast forward to 1958. Archaeologists are working in that area and come across the remains of this boat in fairly good shape considering, perhaps aided by the fact that lack of oxygen has preserved it. 

 They try to lift it out, but it’s just too fragile, and they know once it hits daylight it’ll decay. So they decide instead to leave it where it is, secure and catalogue it in case it’s ever discovered again – then cover it up and let modern life continue.

 When our careers get going again, we’ll pass by many monuments, classical and modern, seeing them without really seeing them, using them perhaps as a landmark as we get our groups from A to B. But just remember – every statue has a story. 

 This lockdown has allowed me to share with you the one that raised my curiosity- antennae sky high!

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