History Written in Ink

Ink Bottle
Ink bottle and plate fragment found under the Trinity College rugby pitch

Geography is layered and it sometimes takes a fortuitous piercing of historical skins to unveil deeper meaning to landscapes we often take for granted.

Take for example the grounds-men in Trinity College Dublin (home of this blog) who recently unwittingly revealed one of these recent pasts while prospecting for a lost water main under the college rugby pitch. Just beneath the veneer of well-manicured grass were found numerous oyster shells (indicative of the well-heeled diet of Trinity’s historical elite) and broken masonry, from a seemingly unidentified period.

However, also among the rubble was a clay ink bottle, in almost the exact same condition as it was when discarded, which presented an opportunity to date this historical rubbish tip. Trinity College presents an excellent opportunity for this kind of proxy dating, as its landscaping has remained largely unchanged for centuries and, being part of a well-surveyed city, can be traced back with the history of the city. Given this, a brand mark on the bottle and some Googling, we discovered that this unassuming ink bottle was from a company called Blackwood & Co. of 18 Bread Hill Street, London.

This company, founded in 1843, evidently provided ink for the University. When this was triangulated with historical city maps (of 1840 and 1863) we discovered that the well-manicured lawn of this area appeared some time before 1863, giving us a window of less than 20 years for when this rubbish was used to fill a marshy area of the college (lying below the water table as it still does to this day). And how do we know that it was Trinity rubbish? Well, along with the ink pot, we found a piece of broken plate, inscribed with the Trinity crest!

So, with a keen eye, the power of the internet and 5 minutes of spare time, we have obtained an interesting peek into the world that was, just below the studs of today’s athletes.

The 1840 map of Dublin City, showing Trinity College Dublin and the location of the recent digging on what is now the rugby pitch (red cross).

By: Shane Mc Guinness, postgraduate student, TCD

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