On 23 July 1856, around 60 boys from the Bath Workhouse, led by their schoolmaster Mr William Winkworth, completed a 16 mile walk from the Workhouse in Odd Down around the northern fringes of Bath. Sons of the city's poor, orphans, or whose parents were also Workhouse residents, through the summer of 2017 we will be retracing their steps.
The walks have been devised by Richard White and writer/historian John Payne. The walks are free and in retracing this epic walk we invite walkers on foot and on-line to join a conversation about poverty and welfare.
The walks are associated with the exhibition researched by John Payne: The Poor Man’s Friend?: Bath and the Workhouse 1836-2016 at the Museum of Bath at Work, Thursday 18 May and to October 1st. A number of the walks begin or finish at the Museum.
The forbidding structure of Bath Union Workhouse still stands over looking the city at Odd Down, a walled warning to the 19th century poor. It is now St Martin’s Hospital, largely operated by Richard Branson’s Virgin health care company a branded warning to the poor of the 21st century.
In his research on the evolution of the Workhouse John Payne came across the schoolmaster’s diary for 1856. William Winkworth led the school children on many local walks through that year, but by far the longest was the epic 16 miles with the boys on foot from Odd Down via Weston, Batheaston and Bathford across the River Avon and back via Bathampton. It was certainly an exhausting walk...but for what purpose? Here is the entry:
Wednesday 23 July. Took boys for a walk today 16 Miles distance more or less. Through parts of St. James's[?] Weston Langridge, Swainswick, St Catherine Batheaston Bathford Bathampton and Widcombe - took victuals with us. Met Mr J Bush at Weston. J Dew at Batheaston. Dined at Langridge. Haswell taken ill at Hampton left in charge of two boys was by some means taken to the Hospital. Several were over-tired and faint the heat being excessive. Started at 9 in morning back at 5. Girls went to Hampton Rocks.
Workhouse Walks are based on this epic day out. The first walk takes place on Wednesday 31 May from the former workhouse building to the exhibition. Register here:
In planning the routes Richard has made extensive use of maps and tools on Know Your Place West. This has enabled him to check tracks and trace paths and landscape features. The 2017 walks do not follow the exact 1856 route partly because there is so little information and partly because the more direct paths Winkworth probably took are now busy highways. The idea is to enable walkers to share something of the experience the boys had, and on the July 2017 walk to share something of the physical exhaustion.
Two significant features emerge from the use of KYPW, firstly at the beginning of the walk Richard and John wanted to pay respects to those who died in the workhouse. John’s research showed that over 3000 people were buried in unmarked graves in a nearby field, this burial ground does not show on contemporary maps but is clearly marked on the 1844-88 Ordnance Survey. Using the slider the old Workhouse Burial Ground is now located.
For the end of the walk Richard was trying to work out how they got across the River Avon. On the modern OS map a footbridge is shown across the river alongside the railway bridge, again viewing the old maps confirmed this was a possible crossing point in 1856. A spectacular one then especially if a train passed, as in 1856 the railway through Box tunnel to London had only been open just over 10 years.
The walks take place monthly on a Wednesday, the first, in May, coinciding with the Fringe Arts Bath 2017 walking arts theme, Embodied Cartography and the last, in September, linking up with the new Bath Walking Festival. These are not formal history walks more a long conversation over 5 months about poverty, welfare, well being, respect for the dead and responsibility for the living. Richard and John hope that the walks will raise awareness of the Workhouse burial ground, generate a remembering of those who died in poverty amidst the wealth of the City and whose bodies still lie unmarked in a field with no memorial.
Full details and registration for the walks here
Last few days for exhibit at Beaumont Galley featuring work produced for the Forced Walks:Honouring Esther exhibition. Paintings by Andrew Walworth responding to places and people devastated by war are juxtaposed with Lorna Brunstein's personal perspective on the inherited trauma of the Holocaust. Richard White's images and soundscapes using documentation and field footage from the Honouring Esther walking project contribute to a thought-provoking and challenging experience. Check gallery for opening times.
For the opening night I created a pop up installation projecting the short films made from the walk documentation through the window of a shed erected in the foyer. A found tea service juxtaposed with the shots of the forest and walkers creating shadows, picking up and further distorting the imagery. The continuing indifference of the tea drinkers.....
,To Keynsham from Bath
Walking the river bank, scoping Sweet Waters. From Salford to Keynsham one cold clear frosty November morning I walked from home down the linear park to the river. Linear walk nonlinear thoughts was the watchword for a week in which I had planned to do this 18 mile loop to the Chocolate factory and back, to visit a monastery and read a slave traders log, take part in a movement workshop and spend an hour with a serious economic historian researching the slave trade.
A challenging week begins with a good walk. Met Mike on the bridge by Lidl and as we walked autumn performed before us, cold still day damp by the river, steam and mist swirls around the rowers on dark black water. Blackbird calls and early morning traffic. Thoughts now on the river how much do I know, how much to share how much does it take over this half digested historical information that lodges in my brain, splinters of history, points pain felt empathetically. The place of the mills, the roar of the weir, here where once the pounding of hard wood hammered on metal would have been deafening.
Now memories merge as I observe that the Brass Mill is closed today and we hear the rush of the water unbeaten through the sluice gate, I am already reading Thomas Dwyer's Naval Journal of the journey of the good ship Snow Fox in 1773 and its trade in enslaved people. The Fox came out of Liverpool but it would have been the same story. innocuous names the Fox and the Badger, two boats off the coast of West Africa. No childrens story this, loading of slaves from one to the other, menslaves , ‘menboys’  and women  and girls  torn from homes, lovers and families. Dwyer records the women moaning and the ships carpenter constructing their floating prison.
In a pub field where the remains of the great Bonfire Night fire still smokes, sofa bed metal skeleton and filing cabinet carcase, burned bare beer cans and a muddy iPhone trodden into the soft ground, face cracked, still working,......
a message lights up “we’re by the bonfire S xx”
The sails on The Fox are up and down and trimmed and reefed, ‘necessary’ tasks are done but no mention of the human cargo until across the Atlantic and close to St Thomas, July 16, 1773 the first slave death is reported. " Buryed one man slave". Two more men die before the Fox makes it to St Thomas. We are walking again and I am back to the inexorable performance of autumn in the idyll that is Saltford today. Leaves of gold, copper and brass fall into the slow black tideless silent river. Beauty tinged with deep sadness, if oysters respond to the tide miles inland, is the tidal rise and fall of the river remembered and felt here. What do we remember so deeply. The last wet high tide. The incoming tide, however dry. Sun shines brightly on water meadows wet and we hear the heart beating processing station pump, a slight whiff of drains reveals what courses through its arteries
Another silenced mill across the river. An avenue of crack willows old enough to remember. When we were withies what was then? Along the tow path considering boats that came up on the tide, thinking abut the tide in the land…does the water table still rise and fall between Salford and Freshford. Did pigs ever cross at Swineford. Or do these place names play games with us like Fox and Badger.
Out of place boats above the wheels in the mill pond, a submarine with solar panels witnesses a new Noah preparing a make shift future as the melting comes. At the great railway bridge over the Avon where once Sam swam. Off the pontoon into the dark deep paralysing cold, drowning panic, cold hands no grip slipping on the river green slats, a moment of terror then walk of shame back to an imagined towel on the grass. I thought of bodies overboard, like damaged fruit, not worth keeping. Dumped into the cold sea so far away and no way back home.
Keynsham approached with talk turned chocolate: Fry’s and Cadbury’s and Quakers, deals done by developers and who is fooling who with plans for social housing conveniently dropped once the ink is dry and attention elsewhere. How did it get to this, once Quakers who ran the slave traders banking found a conscience and got out and got into chocolate and social conscience. Somewhere down the line even this washed out as Schweppes and Pepsico finally the great cheese company bought it all out and span hopes of work to get a deal before the whole thing was simply reduced to a shell. Repurposed, repacked and repackaged. The great building at Keynsham wrapped in plastic, Dairy Milk purple of the glass and a half haunts and connects. And I am in a converted Victorian mansion in Bristol drinking coffee in the sunshine talking ledgers and manifests. Should have been cocoa, I don’t take sugar, thank you.
A wall by the brass mill, topped with shiny black blocks of slag offer silent reminders, clues for those who know of the sounds and smells which once were here on the banks of the River Chew. Flowing down from the great half buried stone circle connecting walks and thoughts and lives. Crossing the sluices to find the toilet I imagine great mill wheels turning and creaking and water rushing and huge stone rollers uneven hard thundering and the hammers clattering rhythm. In the theme park heritage Harvester style bare wood, casually dressed Sunday diners find it hard to work out what is real, sepia photos on the walls could be generic photo stock but they are not. This is the Brass Mill that made the manillas, the currency of the slave trade.
Two walks feature in an upcoming micro published book and exhibition in Bath. Find another Bath 44AD November 15 -20. The Plaqued and the unPlaqued was a wayfaring experience in the enchanted city discovering who got tagged in Bath's late Victorian plaquing frenzy. We shared knowledge and quizzed passers by as to who these people were and what they did and why there were in Bath. We also explored some of those who didnt get plaques, many of Baths Last Legal Slaveowners were keen to be memorialised in death but even the infamous William Beckford although he gets the plaque it does not record the source of his vast wealth. Our addiction to sugar, obesity and diabetes could be considered a part of his legacy. Some strange neighbours for William Wilberforce and Jane Austen.
From the Unplaqued a further walk takes us To The Burial Grounds,: from a wooded and picturesque Victorian graveyard where more of Bath's great and good are buried and memorialised to the workhouse field on the edge of town. Here in the Bath Union Workhouse burial ground over 3000 men, women and children are buried without memorials or a even plaque on the site. Lumps in the grass mark last resting places. For the efficiency of the grasscutting even an evolving central cluster of random stones has recently been removed. Here Lorna Brunstein made a small and moving performance, "From Field to Plate' which is documented for FindanotherBath. as " such lovely earth to lie in" bearing witness at the end of the walk.
With January 2017 in sight I am starting to organise materials and prepare for the exhibition that will wrap up the Honouring Esther project. Just tidied up the two social media trails for a start, using the Combi Maps function on Social Hiking:.
The walk in Germany February 2016 below aggregated social media using Social Hiking. Zoom in and click on the blue icons to get thumbnails then click on the thumbnails to go to the media.
and the social media trail from Somerset April 2015
Thundering bridge where for years there were warning signs: men working below. The signs always troubled me. No one there as we walked through liminal Avonmouth. The river slow off to the estuary almost more mud than water.
We walked thinking about the river and what it carried and more and more I am thinking of the memory it holds. A legacy that is with us and part of us, blood and water. From the heady heights the road thundered at us, bars restrained us and coaches teased us. The lure of speed in its deadly spate, great chunks of metal hammering past. The past roaring at us from behind bars as we looked down to the river.
Smoothing down and out of that epic adrenaline enchantment to more overgrown tracks. The river drifted by its run slowing as the tide turned. An indifference.
Down this river went the brass and cloth from mills at Keynsham, Saltford and Bath; guns, gunpowder and more from Bristol. Where were the shackles made? Boats built, repaired, cleaned, loaded unloaded along this river. Here. We tried to imagine. Boats returning feeding the european addictions, sugar, tobacco, rum: wealth on one form or another. Wealth oozing, viscous, tarry old oil not smooth river mud.
We spirited up a galleon decked with flags first down river then motoring up against the current where teams of strong men would have heaved. A pirate ship, a heritage spectacle not even harnessed to the wind, an enchantment of adventure and enterprise materialised
So we walked on into the enchantment of neoliberalism and stumbled upon its shipwrecks. A contemporary epic of adventure, freedom and enterprise proclaiming who deserves, seizing ownership of shared assets and re-writing the story of collective mutual support. Those deemed undeserving are abandoned. Thrown overboard. Assets re-purposed. The legacy of slaveownership runs deep.
At last arriving at Bristol old wharves, great red brick boxes, the bonded warehouses in which I had once imagined the merchants counting their gold, loomed through the gorge. Under Leigh Woods, graffitti walls for years emblazoned with Hendrix Lives. Deeper and out of site another palladian mansion stands triumphant the origin of its wealthy statement barely challenged.
Revised start time.
11.00 at Avonmouth train station. Approx arrival Bristol 16.00
A new project beginning to shape up developing work on Bath's Last Legal Slave Owners and the idea of a larger river walk sense-ing the legacies of slavery and slaveownership.
A disenchanted walk in time, space and place.
The River Avon powered the brass mills between Bath and Bristol that produced the brass manillas that were the currency of the slave trade. Here in appalling conditions workers produced Guinea pots for sale in West Africa. The water drove hammers that the workers used to skillfully batter sheets of brass into shape.
...and more...those boats from Bristol did not set off for West Africa empty.
And neither did they return from the Caribbean just with sweet things and leaves to smoke. Recceing and working this out at the moment. Join me share what you know, lets work this out...contact me on the form below. No spam I promise.
Join me on foot or online on Sunday 1 May walking from Avonmouth to Bristol...up the gorge senseing the legacies of slavery and slaveownership
Meet 11.00 Avonmouth train station. All day walk approx 10 miles.
Follow and join the Honouring Esther walk.
live. without walking!
On Thursday and Friday 4 and 5 February I will be walking with a group of others retracing the route of a Nazi Death March 71 years to the day after it took place. Bath Spa University will be relaying the social media feed using Social Hiking to the giant mediawall at Newton Park campus.
other social media links will be bounced through twitter and facebook
please follow/share/like etc,
use and check out the following #tags #honouringesther #walknow
you can also follow the walk by following me on Viewranger http://my.viewranger.com/user/details/277417
draft route map: http://my.viewranger.com/route/details/ODAwODI=
More info here: https://forcedwalks.wordpress.com/the-walk-in-germany-2016/