I’m standing looking at Katherine Mansfield’s birthplace in Tinakori Road in Wellington. https://www.katherinemansfield.com/ I go in and buy some cards for my daughter in law and have a look around. I really cannot say there is anything materially inspiring, but the walls hold her story which makes the place special to me. I am, so to speak, breathing her air. She may be long gone, but for a short time, as a child, her spirit was in that house, her laughter, tears, and hopes.
If walls had ears is an expression we are all familiar with but what if they really could tell us what they’ve see? Better still what if they could play it all back? We could untangle all those mysteries. Who killed the Princes in the Tower? Want to know what Jane Austen had for lunch? Just ask the walls to show us. Need to know what people wore in the 16th Century? Want to know what your parents were like when they were children? Ask the walls for a playback. On the other hand would you want to replay the Black Death? The WWI trenches? A concentration camp? I’d be for selective play back myself.
Perhaps, thankfully, walls cannot speak but they can still inspire us. Scottish Castles reminding us of feuds, battles, kilts and highlanders. Inanimate objects witnessing those who came before and – you know what? They were just like us. Loving, eating, worrying, working through disappointments and joys. Not forgetting bad teeth. The elite too – take the Tower of London – a spectacular edifice of law and order but think of those who spent their last moments there with the knowledge that tomorrow’s journey was to be to the scaffold.
A fanciful thought, I know, that walls could bring the past back to us but as a historian I am continually looking back. Fascinating how much the past shapes the present. I still can’t help but wonder to what extent the house on Tinakori Road shaped the young Katherine Mansfield.