Walking the Names online
Walking the Names goes online as the virus closes us down to isolation and social distancing. An informal trawl of those who had joined the first few monthly walks resulted in nearly twenty walkers interested in taking part on line. Each walker was issued with 20 names from either 1862 or 1863 entries in the Register of Burials at the Bath Union Workhouse Burial ground just off the Wells Way. This brings a whole new set of voices to the project and as they get stitched together it promises to be an interesting piece with contemporary voices and reflections.
In this time of the virus, overhearing dangerous eugenics talk of herd immunity and collatoral damage, it seems to me that the people of Bath who died of poverty in what was still one of the richest cities in the world are a presence worth remembering and reflecting on. From their unmarked graves in that unmemorialised burial ground they call on us not to forget. We reflect on their presence and the contemporary resonances: people who become defined as other, and then considered not to matter and are finally discarded.
Why walk and read the names aloud? For me its something about bringing those individuals to mind and body, even if we cant do it together at the site of their burial. As we move and breath and give sound to the names on the page we generate a deeper richer knowing of that individual. We are literally re-membering them. Its is a gentle and emotional act of witness for the othering of the poor and vulnerable, casualties of a system that generated the wealth and serviced the wealthy. Especially poignant and punitive at the time given the Victorian culture of death, they were denied a ‘decent’ funeral, a respectability in death rather than shame to be passed down the generations.There is no memorial to their lives and there was no one to mourn them in death. These people died not from a virus but from poverty. This field of bodies and each of those individual lives speaks and I reflect on the rise of homelessness and an underfunded and increasingly privatised state unable to care for its casualties.
Strange that in this moment of the virus the underpaid gig economy workers who deliver food, the bus drivers and public transport workers, the long overlooked hospital cleaners and canteen staff all become heroes. We cheer a health service crippled by underfunding that pulls out all the stops to save us, migrant workers who are doctors, nurses and support workers and all their colleagues are applauded even as they check their residency status. Walking the Names in this time of the virus urges a reappraisal of care and responsibility.
Today we walked and read names aloud in our back gardens and beyond, moments of exercise, carefully observing social distance and examining perhaps our historical distance from workhouse dead to virus dead. Layers of past in the present touch and a new knowing perhaps emerges. As the media comes in and comments other than mine surface I will post them here.