James Fanning


In the summer of 1973, Miss O. P. Helier, a Yorkshire antiquarian, spent a few happy days rummaging through antiques shops in London. Among the items she unearthed was a small metal box with a label that read: "Ashes from ye gret London fyre, 1666". She bought the box for a few shillings and took it, unopened, home with her. Several months later, Miss Helier opened the box, expecting to nothing more than some bits of charcoal, and was amazed to find a heap of charred paper, evidently pages from a book. The largest of these fragments was no bigger than an ordinary postal card, but there was enough legible print to make it obvious that the text was that of a Shakespeare play -- Hamlet, Miss Helier guessed.