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Fragments from Pompeii

Ancient Souvenirs from the Bay of Naples

These plaster fragments have a double history. Some are supposed souvenirs from a wall painting in Pompeii, while others are actually from a wall painting in Judley Hall. Given their condition, it is virtually impossible to differentiate between the two sets.

The first set were found in a small box in the Library at Judley Hall, together with a letter written by Tertius Judley in 1833. It recounts the time he spent in Naples, including a trip to the excavations at Pompeii, and his views on the archaeological remains. He says “very little of interest may be seen, owing to the villainous nature of the climate and the idleness of the Neapolitan labourers”. When an expert compared these fragments to those from the Roman period, he found them to be only 150 years old, and while from Pompeii, they were made as souvenirs for the nascent tourist trade.

The second set were found in a small bucket in the Old Kitchen at Judley Hall, together with several lead weights and an ancient peppercorn grinder. These are likely to have been part of a mural created by artist Bertie Smythson in the 1920s, which depicted an architectural folly besides the Ladies Lake which was never constructed. The mural itself was repainted over in the 1960s, and its original location is a matter of debate within Judley Hall. Both sets of fragments show us the varying qualities of archaeological remains, and how a seemingly insignificant object can provide a cultural context for the typical activities of a British upper-class family.