Weekend Reading: Walls, Holes and Buckets

Just a cursory post this week, I’m afraid, because I’m writing in haste – and no Comfort Classics interviews at all this week. Sorry! You see, we’ve been hit with a vomiting bug, and the last few days have not been pleasant. So I’ve barely been online at all; I’ve been in parenting Disaster Mode!

As it turns out, it may have been a good time to absent myself from Twitter for a few days. There seems to have been a lot of unpleasantness, set off by a comment of Mary Beard’s which upset a lot of people, and then the whole issue was swamped by an aggressive squad of non-classicists and trolls. Usually I like to observe the various arguments which swirl around ClassicsTwitter because I learn a lot, but this seems much nastier than usual, and I’m glad to have missed most of it. I hope things settle down soon. But it’s probably a good time to restate that this website is about Classics, and offers support and a safe space to everyone interested in Classics, without judgement or discrimination – and if anybody needs help, they can contact me in confidence through the Contact Form.

I may have spent much of the last few days holding a bucket, but I did find time to buy myself a book. I disappeared down a rabbit hole, earlier this week, when I started looking into the Percy Street Academy.

As part of my research into the 19th century excavations of Hadrian’s Wall, I was interested to note that the great populariser of the Wall, Rev. John Collingwood Bruce, was the proprietor of the Percy Street Academy in Newcastle, a school which had belonged to his father and where he himself had been educated. This interested me for the simple reason that I’d passed the site of the Academy (it’s no longer there: it was demolished and built over in the early 20th century) every day for seven years, on my way to Newcastle University, and never knew anything about it.

The Bruce Building on Percy Street, built on the site of the Percy Street Academy

The Academy was a school; but despite the involvement of the North’s most high-profile antiquarian, it wasn’t a school that prioritised History or Classics. Instead it had a vocational slant, preparing children for future employment, with a particular focus on engineering (Robert Stephenson was a pupil there). That contradiction intrigued me, so I did some more digging and found another interesting connection… When Bruce made his first significant trip to check out the Wall (he had been going to go to Rome, but a revolution inconveniently got in his way), he took with him several people, including the Art teacher from the Percy Street Academy, Henry Burdon Richardson – and Henry’s brother Charles, who was also an artist.

I found it interesting that both Bruce and Richardson – two teachers from this firmly vocational school – were so pivotal in the early history of the Wall discoveries. But mostly I was fascinated by the discovery that there were TWO artists from the same north-east family, neither of whom I’d ever heard of.

That’s when I started to fall down the rabbit hole. It turns out that there weren’t two artists from the same family: there were seven! An artist father, who had six artist sons.

Now, come on – you have to admit that that’s pretty extraordinary!

Luckily, before I disappeared too far down the rabbit hole of genealogy and local records, I discovered that there was Already A Book (this is an irritating feature of Classics when you’re planning a research project, but a lovely thing when you don’t really have time to research something). A few years ago, David Breeze must have fallen down the very same rabbit hole. He ended up compiling all the Hadrian’s Wall paintings of the Richardson family, and writing a bit about them too.

It’s fascinating to see the involvement of all these artists with Hadrian’s Wall, and the role that art played in attracting public attention and catching the imagination of the wider world. I’d love to find out more about the Remarkable Richardsons: but under the circumstances, that may have to be a rabbit hole for another day…!

I hope you’re all having a better week than I am, and have a pleasant Bank Holiday weekend in prospect!

This week from around the Classical Internet


Constantine gets his finger back – The Guardian

Marble head of Augustus found – IS News

Get involved – Network of Working-class Classicists

Comment and opinion

Homer and polysymphony – Sententiae Antiquae

Mything out in Reading and London – Autism and Classical Myth

The Spartans and Lego Masters – The Conversation

Working-Class Network report – CUCD-EDI

War and Lysistrata – Antigone

Virgil’s first Eclogue – Antigone

An outsider’s claim on Classics – Antigone

Socrates and conversation – Antigone

Via Stephen Jenkin

Podcasts, video and other media

The emperor Domitian, with Lindsey Davis – Travels Through Time

Who was Boudicca? – Ancient History Fangirl

Using coins as sources – CUP Archaeology

The stones that Rome was built with – CA Southwest

The truth about the Huns – The Ancients

About Sappho – Steve Simons

And this, from the Panoply Project, which is just lovely!

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