Roman Nail Necklace



In the autumn of 1979 I paid a visit to my brother who is an antique dealer and his wife in England. He then lived within easy striking distance of the remains of the many Roman settlements made during their 400 year occupation. In his capacity as an antiques buyer and seller he had access to a "grapevine" that kept him aware of objects, legal and illegal that were available to anyone who wished to take advantage of their status.

Because of the fact that my ancestors came from that region I was at first dismayed and then fascinated by the idea that, after 400 years of occupation, most of the population were probably running around with more than a drop of Roman blood to say nothing of their savage and rapacious genes in their bodies!

Being married to a migrant tradesman and working only part-time, travelling was an expensive business for me and the taking home of an appropriate souvenir, certainly not of the kind my brother sold was proving problematical.

Wickedly he took me to Bath and showed me a quite wonderful necklace of Roman glass fragments made by an associate of his and though I lusted over it, it's price put it out of the question.

Finally one day he told me to get into the car as he had something of great interest to show me - something that could solve my souvenir problem but that I must ask no questions about.

I think we drove into the direction of Dorchester and pulled into the gates of what appeared to be an old farm. He spoke to a man in the farm house who came out and took us both into a large dilapidated barn. Under cover was approximately two thirds of the remains of a Roman chariot. He had unearthed it while ploughing and instead of informing authorities had been flogging off bits of it to interested buyers and making himself a nice little packet in the process. As the one remaining wheel wouldn't fit into my suitcase, I settled for one of the nails used in its construction instead.

It arrived back in Australia with me and for eleven years languished in a drawer, occasionally being brought out to show to friends some interested , most sceptical.

I mentioned it to the owner of a wonderful craft shop at Bardon called Virtu and he suggested I take it to Barbara Heath who 'would know what to do with it if anyone would'.

Still I procrastinated until in 1990 I knew I had one year of paid work left and that if the nail were to be paid some attention time was running out for this to happen. By lucky chance Barbara was then working at the top of our street, so one Saturday morning I took it to show her. The rest you know ... except for the fact that my brother also bought me the Roman glass necklace (which I hardly ever wear!)

Footnote: In 1996, after seventeen years, I returned and spent three months with him in Bath where he now lives. He couldn't even remember getting me the nail all those years ago. Much more muddy water has flowed under the bridge since then!

Bath is a great city but it was summer time, jam packed with tourists and one lost enthusiasm for it's Roman relics and past when they were pushed unrelentingly from every vantage point. I escaped as often as I could and on one of these 'breathers' I found myself once more in Dorchester - on a Thomas Hardy pilgrimage - ostensibly. I was in its curiously eclectic museum when I came upon a moving exhibit of the bones of two young defenders of the area against the Roman invaders led by Vespasian. Their bodies had been buried where they fell, still with the weapons and the implements that caused their deaths embedded in their bodies. They lie together in death as touchingly as they probably lived together in life - I'm an incurable romantic - and it said to me more about those times than all the beautiful mosaics and impressive bathing facilities. Next time ha! ha! - I am going to return to that area and stay, hopefully to absorb more of what went on in what must have been truly terrible times.

Lenore Laizans

the brief - the task was to both make precious (add value) as well as to mystify/conceal the object.

Barbara Heath


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1997-2001 Barbara Heath