Day 92: William and the Early Romans

The facts

“I don’ see what use findin’ bits of broken pots is anyway,” said William scathingly. “I could give ’em lots of broken pots out of our dustbin if that’s all they want. Seems to me these ancient Romans wasn’t much use – spendin’ all their time breakin’ pots.”
“They didn’t,” said Henry, exasperated. “The pots only got broken with bein’ buried.”
“Well,” said William triumphantly, “think of that – buryin’ pots! ’S almost as silly as breakin’ ’em. Think of a race of men like what the ancient Romans is supposed to have been, spendin’ all their time buryin’ pots… I always knew there was something fishy about those Romans. Their langwidge is enough to put you off to start with.”

  • Number: 8.1
  • Published: 1927 (1925 in magazine form)
  • Book: William in Trouble
  • Synopsis: The Outlaws excavate.


“Let’s find a Roman villa ’f our own,” was William’s great idea in this story.

William then “chose the site for the Roman villa” (for that is, no doubt, how all great archaeologists go about their work) and the Outlaws set to digging. Like any good leader, he knew that he had to keep up the morale of his troops, so he had thoughtfully buried some halfpennies, and some broken pots, in advance to guarantee at least some ‘finds’ from the operation.

The next ‘discoveries’ followed thick and fast – a Roman hatpin, a Roman pipe, a Roman toasting fork and a Roman tennis ball. Upon all of these the excavator held forth eloquently with great empressement if little accuracy. The audience was warming to the game. Each ‘discovery’ was cheered loudly and the account of the excavator challenged at every detail. The excavator liked that. His eloquence thrived on contradiction.

In many ways this story foreshadows William the Fire-Fighter, 23.4, in which the Outlaws are so enraptured by a (wartime) auxiliary fire service station that they set up their own and precisely mirror, in real-time, whatever the real firemen are doing.

Their mock fire-station delighted the villagers, and the mock Roman dig certainly delights the Outlaws’ classmates, who flock to the site to hear William expound upon the historic nature of his finds: “This, ladies and gen’l’men, is part of an ole Roman teapot, prob’ly the very one what King Julius Cæsar drank out of when he was in England”, “This is the very tin what the Roman wolf drank out of – the one what sucked Romus an’ Remus”, etc. etc.

This section of the story is delightful, though more of a sketch and a little light on plot.

But then comes the inevitable great twist, when the Outlaws come into contact with the official dig. Another Williamesque accident of fate occurs, and the eminent but short-sighted professor of archaeology ends up giving a lecture to the villagers, but using (unknowingly) William’s finds, not his own, as his visual aids.

Fortunately, all’s well that ends well: the professor is pleased to recover his valuable finds, William is pleased to recover his ‘genuine’ artefacts (“better than his mouldy old things”)… and on his train home, the professor chuckles at how he had accidentally exhibited a toy goose and a toasting fork as Roman remains.