Walking the Names
scroll down for more short films assembled from the readings and images contributed: Walking the Names in the time of the virus
Bath Union Workhouse Burial Ground
A field just off the Wellsway, Bath.
A burial ground that does not exist on a current map.
Here over 3100 bodies lie in unmarked graves, the last remains of those who died of poverty in the Bath workhouse between 1858 and 1899.
In the low winter sun you can make out the mounds and depressions of the burials.
A makeshift memorial comes and goes in a place that once may have had something more permanent.
Visitors add flowers occasionally. We add to them.
A regular monthly virtual walk, click here for latest details
A further 1100 bodies of those who died between 1838 and 1858 lie in unmarked graves in a small triangle behind the old Workhouse Chapel on Frome Road, Bath.
The only memorial there is to Rock 'n' Roll hero, Eddie Cochran who died there following a car crash near Chippenham in 1960.
Eddie's body was flown to the US and buried in California, three steps to heaven, with step one taken in Bath's former Workhouse.
There are no memorials to the Workhouse dead.
Walking the Names
By 2019 the names of the Workhouse dead had been digitised we now at least have the names from the old register opening up a far easier way of finding out more about them. At the end of the year I hosted a first slow walk, walking and reading out the names, day by day, week by week and year by year of their burial. This will continue throughout 2020 as part of a slow walk, in principal on the first Sunday of the month from 11.00-12.00.. There will be a moment for sharing and conversation at the end of each walk, music and poetry welcome, a continuing improvised memorial and poor requiem. In April 2020 as a result of virus restrictions this part of the project went online, scroll down for reports on Walking the Namesonline
After more than a year of walking, reading and questioning, slow listening to the names of those buried in the field and the thoughts evoked, the final slow walk for Walking the Names took place in April 2021. Respecting the continuing lockdown restrictions walkers were invited to walk alone, reading the last set of names from the Workhouse Burial Register. Richard White walked with edited recordings from the Burial Register from other walkers and a recording of the workhouse bell tolling.
Scroll down to see and hear what was produced earlier in the year.
As this we have begun to learn more about those whose remains lie under the soil of this field behind that grim wall just off Bath's Wellsway.
Bath Union Workhouse, Odd Down, Bath. Over 4000 Bath residents died in poverty 1838- 1899 they were buried in the land alongside the building and most in a nearby field. There is no memorial to them.
An aerial photo a hot summer ago faintly shows the ragged teeth of the burial plots jammed in over a period of forty years.
Here in this field a rich city in a rich country at the centre of the richest Empire dumped the bodies of its poor.
The dead were officially and punitively denied the dignity of a 'decent' funeral, bodies were taken in a tunnel under the road and buried behind high stone walls. The authorities were consoled that at least they were buried in consecrated ground.
The ground is still consecrated.
Bath and NE Somerset Council still cut the grass.
In a series of performative walks in collaboration with historian and poet Dr John Payne 2017 coinciding with his exhibition about the Workhouse at the Museum of Bath at Work we hosted conversations about poverty and welfare. There were further walks to the burial ground in 2018, as part of the Bathscape Walking Festival where we improvised a poor requiem in the rain. Paying our respects to the forgotten poor of the enchanted city. More about the 2017 walking project here.
The resonances from these walks continues, opening conversations on poverty, welfare and civic responsibility. Many questions are unanswered about who the dead were and where they came from, as well as the practicalities of their burials and how this space might memorialise them appropriately. We learned about the Workhouse school and the love-struck school master walker Mr Winkworth, In 2017 we retraced the epic walk he led the Workhouse boys on around the parishes of Bath. Perhaps here lie the parents or grandparents of the boys, perhaps some of the boys themselves.
Walking conversations and research
This is a developing project and I am lending this page for building the network...there are so many questions and much to learn. Hopefully leading towards some kind of recognition and respect shown.
If you would like to be involved, help network, fund raise or research or have information to add come along for Walking the Names and /or use the contact form below...become a friend of the Workhouse Burial Ground? ( it needs some!)
Walking the Names in the time of the virus
April 2020, as Covid-19 closed us down to isolation and social distancing, Walking the Names went online. 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 a set of names from the Register of Burials at the Bath Union Workhouse burial ground.
Our first virtual Walking the Names on Sunday April 5th was the day in which the government announced 708 dead from the virus. In May as the UK deathtoll from the virus officially reached 30000 the project continued. The June walks took place as the death toll exceeded 40,000. Many of the deaths were in carehomes, the modern homes of the old and the vulnerable, many of the deaths are of careworkers. There are resonances with those who died of poverty in the Victorian Workhouse and we reflect on contemporary responsibilities. Every names was a life. Every death a local tragedy. Walking and reading the names, recorded or not, breathes a momentary presence to that life.
As we walk and read, connections emerge.
Walkers have discovered ancestors buried in the field.
Tragic local stories, snap shots of brutal poverty and brief lives before the welfare state, glimpses of the punitive regime of the workhouse.
Please get in touch if you would like to help discover the stories behind the names. .
John Payne's research on Bath Workhouse is available to download below
Click to the button for the virtual walk produced for
Sound Walk September 2020
As you walk in this space, listen..... Below your feet are the bodies of more than 3000 people who died of poverty in the Bath Union Workhouse between 1858 and 1899. There are layered readings from the Burial Register made during the virus lockdown, poetry from John Payne and perhaps some more. Let it go quiet, move to trigger the next Echo.
An app on the Echoesxyz platform
This column of the page records the individual walks and readings taken in our permitted moments of exercise, I have assembled them with imagery from the walks and layered the voices to produce short audio-visual memorials.
These assemblies of readings retain the noises, distortions and reader stumbles as sound echoes of our reaching out through time, shame and the Burial Register to real lives lived long and others so sadly cut short.
A walker shared a poem....
WALKING THE LOST
I walk in circles on the lawn
just as I’ve walked the distant hidden burial ground.
I read my list of names
just twenty of the twenty four hundred
hidden from history below the soil there.
they have vanished,
as tears vanish,
into the earth.
with life spans varying from
twelve hours to eighty six years.
The world around me is locked down
But would we let those dying now
disappear without trace?
I read the names with pride
proud to help them resonate
even quietly and quickly
across this earth,
once their earth.
Able Lawrence 5th April 2020
The garden of Westfield House, built in 1721, looking across the valley to the city of Bath. I often think of what this house and all the people who have lived here, have borne witness to - the times they lived in - the lives they lived here.
Other walkers are trying to discover some more about the names, their stories and how their lives ended hidden from sight, buried in an unmarked grave. In the absence of photographs others are trying to imagine their faces. More readings and information to follow. In the time of the virus this is a way of connecting, bearing witness, walking and asking questions. Do join us.
Walkers shared images of where they walked, where they read; contributions came from far and wide, from Denmark and Frome and the Burial ground itself. Walking in witness and with solidarity, spring time in the year of the virus.
John Payne shared a story from his family:
My great-grandfather Charles Payne was born in 1829 in Chewton Mendip, one of a family of 9 brothers and sisters. In about 1850 he went off to Bath to make his fortune, marrying Ann Phipps there in 1853. He worked as a gardener, but was unable to make provision for his old age. Both he and his wife died in the workhouse and are buried beneath the field at Odd Down. There are records. Their names are there in the list of burials carefully preserved and transcribed in the Bath Record Office in the vaults of the Bath Guildhall. And there is some interesting medical material too.
It appears that Charles Payne was one of the noisier inmates of the Bath Workhouse. In fact he was raving. On 1 July 1891 he was admitted to the Mendip Asylum at Wells. His medical certificate from the workhouse reported: ‘he has delusions, viz that he has a million of money in Chancery and 40 acres of land at Highbridge which is not correct. He is very destructive, tears up the bed clothes and is very noisy. History – has been in the workhouse for some years but his mind has only been affected for about 3 months. No personal history available.’
To have ‘money in Chancery’ implies some kind of unclaimed inheritance, and this sense of having been badly done by may well relate to the decline of the Chewton Mendip family from tenant farmer to farm labourer status in the first half of the nineteenth century. Charles’ occupation on admission is ‘farm labourer’. There is no record of any connection with Highbridge, a town on the Somerset Levels, well distant from Chewton.
John Payne, A West Country Odyssey, Hobnob Press, 2020 (forthcoming)
Another walker was working on the recording day in April, he wrote,
By chance I'm on duty today so this was recorded on a break walking the grounds of Dorothy House Hospice: to me there is a contrasting continuity there.
I needed to update my team on a few things today and talking about your project as a way of highlighting how important it is we keep going at this time. By keeping this history alive it has reached into the present day corona virus response in a way that would have been impossible without your efforts so thank you!
Return to the Burial Ground
Some walkers have continued the regular walk in the burial ground. In July a small group tested a socially distanced walk reading the names to the sound of the Workhouse Bell. This proved to be a moving and powerful experience reading and walking together, sometimes just listening,
walking and moving
sometimes just being in the space.
Regular mowing of the entire site by the Parks Department had slowly been erasing the remains of an old memorial. Each time we walked we left flowers and finally the memory space has begun to gather some respect. In July the mowers left the space allowing our 'poor' memorial to evolve and emerge.
On Sunday 6 September, walkers were joined by Bath City Jubilee Waits. Their set included some sad tunes and some more cheerful sounds that might have been heard at a village wake.
See the video at the top of the page or view it directly here
The Bath City Jubilee Waits originated in the 18th century. The original City Waits provided music on civic occasions. The Jubilee Waits were set up in the jubilee year of 2012 with the patronage of the Mayor of Bath to do the same. The Waits play music in the traditional English style, and are dedicated to the idea that such music should be lively, spontaneous, and enjoyable both to play and to listen to. Find out more about the Waits here
Reflections and Research
Aileen Thompson is a regular walker and contributor to the research. She has been digging in the archives getting beyond the names and dates in the burial register. She has discovered countless local tragedies and mysteries such as the story of Luke Shewring in the right hand column.
Aileen began trying to track down some of the many children buried under the Workhouse field. Many only a few days or weeks old, she found very little but other names caught her eye, Luke's story is just one of them.
Somewhere near here Luke's body and on some days several bodies would have been trundled on a trolley though a tunnel under the road towards the workhouse fields and the burial ground. Once inside the Workhouse inmates lived in a world surrounded be grim dark walls, effectively they were disappeared.
Stories of the names:
In August we walked with and read the name of those who were buried in 1871. Walkers have started to bring small flags with the names of one of those buried. I read the name of a boy who was the youngest buried that year, Henry Wilcox, buried on the 27 May 1871 aged but two days, I wondered how few times his name would have been called out in his short life.
Aileen called out the name of Jane Dunk the oldest to have been buried that year on the 10 April 1871, she was eighty nine years old. Aileen had done some research to find a bit about Jane's back story. Jane was married at 20 and a single parent within a couple of years as her husband died. The next twenty years of her life are a mystery but life must have been very hard bringing up her daughter. She married again in her late forties but her new husband a quarry worker was not to accompany her into old age. He died and Jane went into the workhouse where the continued to work in the laundry and as a servant. Worn out she died and was buried in the burial ground.
WALKING THE NAMES - 2 - LUKE SHEWRING
My house is built where part of the Workhouse used to be, every day I see the remaining Workhouse buildings, now turned into flats, or part of St. Martins Hospital. It is hard to imagine
what life must have been like for the inmates of the grim Workhouse.
Luke Shewring was one of these people, his name mis-spelled on the Workhouse Burial Register as Luck, precious little of that in his life. Luke was born in Lacock in 1803. He was a labourer, moved to Bath to find work and, in September 1827, married Ann Rice in Walcot. They had six children, moving house every two years, a good indicator of poverty.
In the 1841 Census they lived at 10 Hat and Feather Court, Walcot. After this Luke disappears for the next thirty years, although his family are in the 1851 and 1861 censuses, Ann claiming to be married.
Where was Luke during this time?
Had he abandoned his family?
None of these explain why he is missing from those two Censuses, he should be there somewhere.
Perhaps he was there, living with his family, hiding on Census Day so as not to be counted.
Was there a financial benefit in doing so?
Luke reappears in the 1871 Census, taken 2 April, as an inmate of the Workhouse, claiming to be married. Ann is also there, still living in Walcot, for the first time claiming to be a widow. Luke did die that year, but not until July.
He is just one of the forgotten people who have become almost as real to me as my own ancestors. When I “Walk the Names” on the first Sunday of each month, the names resonate in my mind. Who lies under the grass on which I stand?
They deserve to be known, my part is to try to raise awareness of their existence.
Aileen Thompson June 2020
More details on Jane Dunk below, as Aileen says,
The story of this family is a sad reminder of how poverty can continue from one generation to the next, and how men, desperate to feed their families, can be pushed into a criminal act, and have to pay the price. I had wondered why none of the children had helped their parents when they needed it. The simple fact is they couldn’t. They were either in the same desperate condition themselves or they were living too far away to have knowledge of what was happening back in Bath.
View more of this research on the stories behind the names here