My Lady of the Cut

A force is pulling me to seek the source of my blood, to rediscover the earth from which my bones were carved. A face appears from the stack of old photographs my Uncle passes to me.

Elizabeth Barnes, Lady of the Cut, Bargee, Boat-person, narrowboat dweller, Mercian, East Midlander.
My Great Great Grandmother.

I stare at the photo. Her clothes are so old fashioned, so typical of boat folk. Simple. Plain. Hardworking, rough around the edges, no messing, survivors. I remember a tale that my Nan once told me about borrowing her own Nan’s bargees bonnet for a play at school. She had pride in her voice as she told me, but there was sadness there too, perhaps the sadness that I feel now. Its our history. These moments have been banished to memory. We cannot go back. But they are calling me to remember them. And that I will for as long as I am able.



Bone, Earth, Blood

Back in May I had the opportunity to do something that I had longed to do for a while. I was up in Nottinghamshire for the weekend and on the return journey there was the possibly of stopping off in Hinckley, Leicestershire. It was about half way point so ideal for a rest break.

Thanks to my friend Naomi who was driving she agreed and it happened. I looked up the address and off we went. Through twisty country lanes,  B roads and motorway, a landscape that was all new but yet so very very old. Naomi parked up in a nearby residential side street. She and our friend Sally stayed in the car. I sensed they knew this was a personal matter, not that i would have minded their company, on the contrary. Thanks to Google streetview this all looked so familiar. The magic of these times!

So began my procession on foot.

I stood on Ashby Road outside the Cemetery, A place I had literally dreamed of visiting.

It didn’t at all seem real. These were the gates my Great Nan had been carried through back in the August of 1937. The lady that had given birth to my wonderful Nan who I loved and still love so very much. The lady that died at 37 years old leaving her two daughters to have only memories of her for the rest of their lives. I had to visit her. I know to some it may sound ridiculous and I get that, but for me it means the world. This is my history. I had to thank her for my Nan and in turn her Grandson (my Father) and of course  –  me. My life.

I had researched the plot in advance with Hinckley and Bosworth Council, Google maps had helped me no end and I knew exactly where I was heading. I walked through the graveyard, two identical chapels stood next to each to other like reflections with just a carriage distance between them. Her place of goodbye, the final rite.

What I found didn’t shock me but it did upset me. Of course there is no one left here to remember her. What is the point of a memorial when there is no one left to remember? There is a fair distance between me and her. Hinckley is not somewhere I ever go, its completely out of the way. The Second World War had brought my Nan down to London, she had trained as a motorbike mechanic at Nuneaton College and was selected for her skills to join the war effort. She never returned to Leicestershire, settling in East Acton, London where she lived up until her death in 2008. We are Londoners now.

IMG_3349No name plaque remains. 37 years of life, anonymous. Just the generic stonework slowly decaying just like the memory.

Maybe nothing else could be afforded. My Great Grandfather, Arthur, now had to two daughters to look after by himself as a single father. This was pre-war. My family have always been working class people – Brick stokers, coal miners, framework fitters and knitters, boat people, hosiery workers, lace makers. Doers. Sentiment might have been a luxury too far. I will never know.

I fall to my knees. I feel the earth, its strangely warm although its one of those overcast days. “This is where you are.” I whisper. I can feel the emotion erupting within me. I well up. “I loved her so much, thank you for her thank you”  As I say these words I wonder what she was like as a person, as Grace, not just as mother, wife, sister, daughter.   “I am your great grand daughter, your blood runs through me”  I look into the earth, a mass of grass and weeds with balding patches. The surface is still uneven, the burial earth. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to leave. I get closer to the earth, resting my head upon the soil as if listening for the universal heartbeat from withing the mass of upturned earth that all those years ago covered her up, that buried her to forever remain unseen.

I feel guilt. I have brought her nothing, no flowers. Just my tears. I was definitely not going to leave anything non bio degradable. I tell myself it was an off chance visit. There will be opportunities again I am sure. Sometimes the being there is enough.

The Graveyard has a few people walking through it. I guess its a shortcut of some kind. A few teenage girls pass by. I wonder how their reaction will be. An upset 30 year old woman resting on a scruffy looking grave. I prop myself up. Surprisingly they smile at me. I smile back – how refreshing was that? I think. My hands still rooted to the spot.

I take in the surroundings, the trees she has for company,  the sparrows and the robins. There is life amongst the dead. That is the magic of graveyards they never sleep as such, there is always life here. I ask for a memory, I take a handful of grass from her grave. To me this is such a powerful thing worth more worth then gold.

I return to Naomi and Sally. It happened. And I am forever grateful.

I placed a piece of the grave grass into a vial that i wear around my neck. It contains other such symbolic, emotive organic materials. Ancestors and family :  Bone, Earth and Blood.

At the end of the day isn’t that all we are?



gracelilianGrace Lilian Payne (nee Groocock) 1900 – 1937

b. Sapcote, Leicestershire. d. Hinckley, Leicestershire.

Thank you

Love, Always.