We met without incident on the road back, with a short stopover still to be related. All the same, G. heaved a sigh of relief as he pulled into the space before the house. We stepped out and locked up and made our way through the tunnel, its nickname still good for a laugh. The back door thrown open, we lugged our things through the kitchen before dropping mine in the house’s front room and my companion’s upstairs. Unburdened, we returned to the kitchen and proceeded to retrace the path by which we had come in.
Once again outside, G. took notice of my interest in the low brick wall enclosing before the house and the iron nubs evenly spaced along its top. He asked me what I thought they might be and why. At a glance, I was able to determine that they survived from some wrought-iron structure, perhaps a fence or railing. As to the why, I felt myself at something of a loss, and I said as much.
G. drew nearer the wall so as to point a few key clues out. First, the nubs were not of uniform height. Nor were their tops completely flat. This suggested that the nubs had been cut, though not all at once but, instead by individual hands and machines. Moreover, the considerable rust build-up suggested that the cutting went back a good number of years. Lastly, the location gave a strong hint, as well, for iron structures typically ran along the top of a garden wall with the sole purpose of closing it off.
At this point, he turned and asked, in his quiet way, whether there came to mind any events of the past century necessitating the removal of wrought-iron railings from gardens public and private. Only then did the pieces fall into place for me. Naturally, during the Second World War, these garden railings had joined so many others as scrap metal at the foundry with the sole purpose of becoming munitions. So had a nation made weapons of the mundane and the purely habitual.
I had, of course, come across London gardens which the scrappers had similarly plundered. Yet those showed one key difference with the garden then before me: civil authorities had since replaced the former, with the only clue to their one-time disappearance a paragraph of text that few bothered to read. From what I had seen, all scrapped London railings had undergone replacement, as nowhere were nubs to be found.
Looking up the road and down, I could see that Sheffield’s private citizens, civil authorities, or both had not seen fit to follow London’s example and had left nubs as were. G. would later point out, in other parts of the city, still more extensive remnants of the scrapping effort. Such as it is, I cannot say with any assurance whether the decision not to replace owed to a historical movement or to a cost-saving measure. The nubs seemed, however, to provide a certain unintended memorialization, as so many wounds having closed with the years though still visible for all those who would care to look. There could be no swapping one wound for another.