Tuesday, 19 June 2012
My grandfather's axe
Take, as way of example, Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory. Many thousand of people visit the ship every year and, as they duck below the beams on the gun deck, marvel at the way seamen lived and fought this ship at the Battle of Trafalgar way back in 1805. But just how much of the ship was actually at Trafalgar? i rather suspect that the rigging (and possibly the masts and spars as well) has been replaced and almost certainly there have been timbers scarfed into the hull where the original had rotted.
And what about Anne Hathaway's cottage at Stratford-on-Avon? You can't expect me to believe that is the original thatched roof! And the stonework of our medieval cathedrals is a patchwork of original stone and replacement. Eventually all the original stone will have been replaced! And that is where my title comes in. "This is my grandfather's axe. My father replaced the head and I have replaced the haft."
But does it matter that what we see is not original? I suppose to answer that question we need to consider the purpose of these objects. The doors of the baptistry at Florence (Firenze to the Italians) were not created for tourist to gawp at; they are intended to glorify God and whether they be several hundred years old or modern replacements is of no importance. A work of art is a work of art no matter how old - and those doors are a work of art!
HMS Victory, however, is a bit different. The principal raison d'etre of this preserved ship must be as a museum and therefore instructional or as place of entertainment (to put it crudely). That being so, does it really matter whether it is entirely original or if bits have been replaced? OK, so it might be pushing things a bit to claim this as the ship that fought at Trafalgar, but does it really matter?
The Battle of Britain Flight, consisting of Spitfire and Hurricane fighters and a Lancaster bomber from the Second World War, is another example. I strongly suspect that there are parts of those planes which are modern replacements necessary if the planes are to fly at all. But who cares? Like the Victory, they remind those who see them of our country's history, our common British heritage, and that surely is important.