THERE'S A FASCINATION that is frantic / In a ruin that's romantic', went a Thirties song. There is something both fascinating and romantic in the lives of the lonely, eccentric scholars who during the eighteenth century created a taste for the remains of Britain's past. In an age of turnpikes and steam, antiquaries explored abbeys which had become cowsheds, manuscripts which had been rolled up for centuries, and Roman roads which had deteriorated to faint tracks in the cornfields.
William Stukeley is the best-known of eighteenth- century antiquaries, thanks to Stuart Piggott's wondefull biography (1 985). Born in 1687, he was the best hope of an impoverished genteel family and went up to Cambridge to study medicine. There he was seduced by the past, walking across the Fens to