Did physical exertion kill a living memory?

In September I visited Gloucester cathedral and, after seeing most of the building with great delight, took the day’s last tour of the crypt. As part of his nineteenth-century restoration of the cathedral Sir George Gilbert Scott designed a red granite font which was installed in 1878. This font was moved to the crypt in 1986, when a Norman lead font was acquired. Our guide said that she had no idea how the solid stone structure was moved, down the narrow stairways and passages which would preclude the use of machinery. Now it is understandable that we do not know exactly how, say, the lantern at Ely cathedral was built after nearly seven hundred years have passed. But when it is still not quite thirty years since Scott’s font was moved, someone must know; someone must remember. Our guide had made it her business to be well informed, so the question is whether a record exists. Extraordinary that the matter is apparently a mystery, but it shows that even contemporary events, with today’s procedures and mechanisms for documenting them, may cause uncertainty as to facts as well as interpretation in future chroniclers.

If a record exists it should be brought into the currency of everyday discussion of the cathedral. Since oral testimony cannot last for ever, a record obviously should have been made if it wasn’t. And for the same reason, if there is no original written record oral testimony should be collected and preserved now.

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