About Me

Wells, BC, Canada
Richard is a working photographer and writer in B.C. His camera focuses on natural history. archeology, travel, and documentary photography. His photography blog may be found at: http://richardtwright.blogspot.com/

Saturday, March 8, 2014

History and Photography - The Florence Wilson story

History, as well as photography, is one of my passions. I can't travel without wanting to dig out the story behind the image. Editing photos takes me forever as I dig deeper and deeper in fleshing out the caption and story.  Such is the case now as I edit photos of Malta and find stories and songs behind the images.

But today I found a link on CNN's page about a new find of a Mississippi cemetery with 2000 unmarked graves. It turns out they are likely linked to an asylum that was on the site many years ago.
It is not a new story.
http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/08/us/mississippi-unmarked-graves/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

As I try to find the resting places of folks who are related to the stories of Barkerville I find similar tales.  In nearby Stanley gravestones have been stolen. In Cameronton, next to Barkerville, many graves are unmarked, particularly those of people on the edge of society - the prostitutes, or those who had no friends to buy a headstone.
Tracking one family I found that the cemetery in San Deigo had been bulldozed into a gully where headstones still lie. In Scotland the marker for James Anderson's wife Lucy is still missing. In Boothill, Tombstone, Arizona the marker of a murdered Cariboo miner is scantly marked. Many others are missing and scattered literally around the world and I've been there; trying to track them down.

On my recent trip to London (February 2014) I spent a couple of days in the National Archives and  walking the streets of the Bloomsbury district of London, just north of the City of London, photographing the haunts of an elusive resident of Barkerville, Florence Wilson - an enigmatic character who is only now stepping forward to tell her full story - and that is another post.

But, I did find where her mother Margaret Baron Wilson lived, was married, died and where she was buried. All the events center around the Bloomsbury community of artists and St. Pancras Old Church. And there, is the story of these photos.

St. Pancras old church, behind the modern St. Pancras rail/subway station. Richard Wright photo.

St. Pancras and what is left of the churchyard. This has been a site of worship for centuries, through rebuilt time and again. Richard Wright photo.


Florence's mother Margaret Baron Wilson, nee Harries, died in 1846, just a few blocks to the south, and was buried in the St. Pancras old church graveyard. So, we can take from that, that she likely worshipped at St. Pancras. So as Barkerville curator Mandy Kilsby says, I "stood where Florence stood."
Standing where Florence Wilson stood in St. Pancras old church. Richard Wright photo

However, while I found Margaret's death certificate I was unable to find the church records (though they likely exist) nor the plot number, nor grave location. I kept digging, and that was when I stumbled on the familiar story of desecrated graves and the Hardy Tree.

In the oft-told story of expansion London needed to expand its railways and subways and Kings Cross and St. Pancras was to become the area of a massive station and converging rail lines. The churchyard was in the way.

Just a small part of the St. Pancras station interior. Richard Wright photo.

The Meeting Place, a 9 metre (29.53 feet) tall bronze statue in
St Pancras railway station. Sculptor Paul Day. Richard Wright photo.

The St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel is the frontispiece of St Pancras railway station. It opened in 2011, but occupies much of the former Midland Grand Hotel designed by George Gilbert Scott in 1873 and closed in 1935.  Richard Wright photo.

During the 1860s, just a decade after Margaret was buried here, the Midland Railway was routed over the churchyard. Architect Arthur Blomfield was commissioned to supervise the exhumation of graves and dismantling of tombs. Not surprisingly he passed this unenviable task to his junior, an architect named Thomas Hardy. During this task Hardy placed dozens of headstones around a small ash tree, the great stones stacked back to back in rows, a cone of grey rising from below the ground to the base of the tree - covered in moss, buried in litter.
Thomas Hardy later turned to writing novels for which he is better known.
The ash tree has since grown around, between and under the stones, burying some in years of leaf compost, wrapping roots around others, and with the passing century the names have spalled off. We are left with stones that read: "In Memory of ....", "Sacred to the Memory of...". As I walk the circumference I imagine that Margaret Baron Wilson's stone is one of these.

The Hardy Tree with St. Pancras Old Church on the right.
The brick wall partially hidden on the left is the Midland Railway line.  Richard Wright photo

The Hardy Tree cone of monuments. Richard Wright photo.

A hedgerow and iron fence crowded the markers and the tree, making photography difficult. The light was dull and rainy, the fields soggy. Southern England was flooding - sinking one might say.
I kept shooting from every angle.

Then I saw the rose, scattering its petals of blood red over the dark stones.
For me, that is where Margaret lies. Another soul's resting place lost to progress.

"In Memory of...." Rose petals mark the grave of one of history's forgotten souls.
Richard Wright photo.

All photos taken on a Nikon D800 with a 16-35mm f4 Nikkor lens.

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Copyright: Richard Wright 2014.

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