She was really surprised when I pointed out to her that it is part of a headstone from the cemetery across the street. No, the previous owners weren’t stealing paving material, or not deliberately. The most likely explanation is that it blew across the street when three bombs dropped on the cemetery in 1941. Some accounts maintain that the fronts of our terrace were blown off in those blasts, though we were fortunate enough to avoid any direct hits, as this excerpt from the bomb map for Portsmouth shows.
You can see the effects of the bombs in the cemetery too, the area that was hit has far fewer headstones and is slightly lower in level than the rest of the cemetery.
But there is no marking of the affected area and I have yet to find any photos of the bomb site. The Friends of Highland Rd cemetery website (http://www.friendsofhighlandroadcemetery.org.uk/history.htm) makes no reference to the bombs, though it does mention graves being moved from another bombed cemetery to this one. This is in keeping with the general response to bomb sites here, tidy up, rebuild, move on. There’s a lot to be said for that response, but at this distance there is room for others (see my earlier post on resilience).
We tend to think of cemeteries in terms of who is buried there, and sometimes how their memorials etc reflect changing attitudes to life and death (for some subtle explorations see Archaeodeath). But the cemetery is also an urban space with a history of its own, and that history also includes damage and decay. The fragment of a headstone in my neighbours garden has sent me looking for that more complex history – so watch this space.