The day Bristol Museum and Art Gallery’s Chinese Room disappeared, was the day I first realised that places, like people, can change.
To my childhood self, the idea that a place wasn’t fixed, that it wouldn’t necessarily always be the same and might even vanish, came as a shock.
For the young me, the ghost stories and folklore of Britain had a powerful effect. Odd to think of it now, but reading about the dead as a child, brought the wider world to a rich and vivid life.
Out there, it seemed, was a land, far older, stranger and deeper than my limited experience. A world where multiple layers of history could still be seen, or felt, not only in old houses, ruined castles and abbeys, but also in and around more ordinary sites such as shops, factories, pubs and suburban streets.
Dead rats aside, there was one area of the garden that always made me feel a little uneasy. As the name suggests, there was once a mill here.
In the late 18th century it was a paper mill, but by the 1820s had become a cloth-mill. By the end of the Victorian era, the mill was gone, but perhaps something else lingered in the grounds.
For a long time it didn’t have a name. It was just the lane that ran along the back of Mum and Dad’s bookshop…Sometimes I’d dare a peek over the top of the wall, but all that could easily be seen was an area thick with buddleia and other wild flowerings.
My imagination was quick to populate the space further with various other unnamed horrors and I’d quickly scramble back down to the ground and in through the door before sliding the bolts back across in delicious relief.