Richard White

explorations in place and time

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Workhouse Walk 1

Workhouse Walk 1… a reflectionFront of workhouse

We gathered outside the imposing entrance to Bath’s former Workhouse, above us the old clock permanently stopped at twenty past six. What time was that? A time when the the arms finally rusted up and jammed. A time when the old spring ran out of energy. Wound down. Dead time. A clock that now no-one needs to wind again now that we carry precision digital time with us. The clock face dark and the gilt if it ever was, peeling from hands pulled down, pointing down as if with no further strength to even resist gravity.

The Workhouse bell rang.

A digital recording. W:house Exhib bell

The bell now permanently displayed in its wooden heritage case. The stub of clapper, an amputated tongue, deep inside. The museum crane held the bell and as it released from the wooden form it began to breath and ring and resonate. A ring from the past, a bring out your dead ring, not a school bell ring, not really an angelus ring, no peal of bells, no joy in the sound of that single struck note.  This was the ring of Workhouse time echoing down the painful years not from the chapel but down the corridors and across the yards from that central all-seeing all-hearing panopticon.

The Workhouse bell rang

And we heard it soaking into the hard flat stone walls, around the yards where women shredded rope and men broke stones. A sound once heard from the top of the hill, a warning, a structure. The day divided. The new routine signed by sound and policed with fear. Within these walls Bath’s poor were packed by the Poor Law Guardian, those forced off the land and drawn to the enchanted city where time was increasingly unified and measured in ticks, tocks and chimes rather than sun, moon, tide and pulse.

The Workhouse bell rang again

For perhaps the first time in seventy years in the corridors and hard walled yards the sound of the bell tolling. This time it was me and it cast out the sound in my head of the Summer Time Blues. The rock n rollers demise, mangled outside Chippenham he finished up on the old Workhouse then like now renamed more gently as St Martin’s Hospital. Eddie Cochrane died in Bath’s former Workhouse and like many famous and wealthy visitors to the city he got a plaque. This is where he died. The bell rings for him and all those who died in Bath’s Union Workhouse.


We walked on, through grim workyards, along rough hewn stone walls and roaring road out to the burial ground off the Wellsway. In the centre of the field we gathered and John talked about the 3000 dead buried there, Bath’s poor who had no one to claim their bodies or the wherewithall to bury them. The field undulates, slow ripples of former lives. In the centre a slight mound, the mowers can’t decide whether to circle or skim. In the past there have been stones here, now these again moved to the side but standing there we saw more stones forcing themselves to the surface chipped by the mower blades. Something is coming to the surface, is there a DIY memorial being made, cleared and remade here?

Bearing witness

The Workhouse bell rings for the Workhouse dead

As it never did, only ever ringing to mark the hours of the working day. Eddie Cochrane gets a plaque, he died there but no memorial no plaque for more than 3000 dead in Bath’s Workhouse Burial Ground. The field is not even marked on the map.

We walk on.The boundary markers and lines of Wansdyke. Retracing old walks and cross country short cuts to the bridge over the railway line. The arrival of railway time. Work time. Factory time. Cold dead regular systematic clock in clock out industry time. A new time that had to be internalised by those who had for all generations lived with the time of the seasons, the time that connects with life. Ring out the dead indeed.

Cross country short cuts

We walked down through the trees following the Lyncombe brook, John washed his face in the gush of a cold water spa. Through Widcombe where once Workhouse schoolmaster Mr Winkworth walked his boys. We were retracing his steps, preparing for the long walk in July. Onto the canal where once perhaps there was work but now there is leisure. Spat out into the city under the great black modernist bridge.

The bell rings for the penultimate time on this short Workhouse Walk

Site of the Offices

At the site of the Poor Law Guardian’s office. Here the bearded Victorian patriarchs of the enchanted City sat in judgment over the poor, deserving and undeserving. Their offices, prone to warm water flooding, were finally demolished to reveal the Roman Baths “in all its splendour” . A city built on slavery, built by slaves, rediscovered. And in a country still basking in the wealth generated by  empire and slavery, the Victorian poor? Some fought back, resisted, but many worn out, injured, disabled, too old, too young, were hidden from view, warehoused in the Workhouse until they died. Today they remain hidden from view.

…and finally to the Museum of Bath at Work, the enchanted City of leisure appropriately has a museum of Work. Here temporarily the Workhouse Bell sits in its wooden form, silenced.

W:house Exhib openingbell and bust

The bell rings again for the last time today.

Workhouse walks continue. Do join us!

More details here:


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The Finest View in Europe.

“The road from the little village of Bath to the Fountain of the Medicinal Spring, is most horribly romantic, and partakes very much of those anticipations of the sublime of Nature, which, in his progress through particular vallies, the traveller cannot fail to have frequently experienced. The narrowness of the path, and the precipices upon one side, are to strangers somewhat alarming; but the beautiful scenery with which the journey is rewarded, affords some consolation.”

(Beckford W:  A descriptive account of the Island of Jamaica)

Join me on foot or online Saturday 28 May

Saturday, May 28 Bath School of Art and Design Sion Hill, Lansdown   BA1 5SF

Open the conversation. Meet at reception 11.00. Approx 3 mile walk. Return approx 13.00.

ud stepped logo small versionin conversation

Opening and closing on foot. Walk and talk. Listen. Sense. Consider the views.

A free and open conversation in which artists, writers, thinkers and anyone else who wants to join in can engage with themes that correspond with the best of our aspirations and the worst of our nightmares.

11.00 Open the conversation, stretch minds and legs on a networked walk to

The Finest View in Europe (but it may cost you to get in! Please fill in the contact form if you are coming and we can get a group discount)

Out of the enchanted city, over the fields, up the hill and back again down the road. Disenchanted.


1330 for 1400 – 1700   Lecture Theatre

Utopia, Dystopia and Catastrophe

Guest speakers include:

  • Kate Rigby, the newly appointed Professor of Environmental Humanities at Bath Spa University and author of Changing the Climate: Utopia, Dystopia and Catastrophe;
  • Linda Williams, a specialist on human-animal relations, climate change and mass species extinction; and
  • Rachel Withers, writer and critic, focussing on art and ideas.

17.00 Wayfaring in the Enchanted City

The conversation continues in the café, online and on foot walking through the heart of utopian Bath, approx 19.00 arriving at “Bath’s Artisan Quarter” for exhibitions and the utopian/dystopian pub, The Bell, in Walcot Street.

In the two walks opening and closing the day I hope you will join us, share thoughts and generate resonances on utopian/dystopian aspects of the city. Follow and contribute @walknowlive and #walknow #utopiadystopiaSomerly Beckford book title

more from this book by William Beckford of Somerly (our man’s cousin) here:

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a disenchanted May Day walk out and over the Avon

Sense-ing the legacies of slavery and slaveownership
Join me recceing a section of the River Avon up from Avonmouth to Bristol Temple Meads  Sunday 1 May.
Meet at Avonmouth train station at 10.00.
Its about 10 miles up the gorge, towards Bristol, under the Clifton suspension bridge… an all day walk.
Should be spectacular but maybe not for those who suffer from vertigo as the walk begins crossing the Avonmouth bridge!

Its always good on these things to travel with companions on foot and/or online. On this walk I am beginning to think about how this would work as a return journey to Bath…what came up the river as legacies of slavery and slaveownership.

Lots of ideas bubbling away from the rotting worm eaten boats that had to be clad with copper to ward off the Caribbean worms, the sweet stuff and tobbacco leaves to fuel the addictions and all kinds of wealth. Eels? Ill gotten gains, ideas of justice and human rights.

How will this be expressed in what we make of what we see? Do join me, share what you know and we’ll start to find out…
twitter @walknowlive

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Going down the river

First steps today exploring a bigger project developing the work on Bath’s Last Legal Slaveowners and getting into larger legacy of slavery.Bath start

Those boats did not set off to West Africa empty. They carried goods some of which must have been made and transported down the River Avon to Bristol. River energy used in the manufacturing process as well as its flow harnessed for transportation.

Brass. Brass goods. Cloth. What else?

What else went down river to Bristol and on to West Africa to be traded for human beings?
Saltford lock1
Thinking of the people who worked in those mills in the cold wet banging deafening stone built brass mills where the water turned hammers beating the metal into bowls, incessant trundling of stone rollers, roar of the furnace  and in the cloth mill the nimble fingered children and women on the clattering looms. This was a valley of working noise and smoke.

The coal mines are long gone, the scars in the hillside landscaped away. The mills survive as street or house names romantically converted. Mill owners long gone to big houses or next speculation bankruptcy. Salford Brass Mill water wheel occasionally turns as evidence of work once. The product of the labour less well documented.

Twerton Mills bridgeIs my history all messed up or could it be that the products made by the sweat and labour of Wiltshire and Somerset men and women was used to trade for their enslaved brother and sisters along the coast of Africa. What kind of legacy does that give us?

Bath River alley

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Honouring Esther on line

How to follow and join the walk.


without walking!

  1. if you have a twitter account log in… if not,no worries!
  2. go to Social Hiking
  3. Social Hiking will ask you to log in in via twitter so click the log in with twitter button. …. thats all you have to do, if you dont have a twitter account it still looks the same but you wont be able to interact so easily:
    1. you will see 3 columns
  4. on the left column, Latest Maps, when the walk is live on 4 and 5 Feb, you will see the current walk with the WalkNow icon and the word LIVE on it, probably at the top of the column
  5. click on the name of the walk and you will see a new green screen showing the line of the walk with little blue icons if you click on them they will show tweets and links to other social media!
  6. Logged into Viewranger via twitter, the map will update and you will see the walk grow over each day, it may do that without being logged in. It will appear as two separate maps, day 1 and day 2. There will be peaks of activity mainly in the mornings, see times below. Please tweet/retweet/comment and encourage others to do so!
  7.  Check out this direct link to the walk on Thursday and this one for Friday

We will be using @walknowlive and @forcedwalks for the main twitter feed

Facebook: forcedwalks

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

draft route map:

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Following the red line in February in Germany

Final preparations underway….following the red line in FebruaryFW routes and stations

Forced Walks: Honouring Esther

Days away from the walk in Germany, unlike Esther we have had the luxury of planning in advance and sorting out good shoes and thermals. We are starting to get a strong interest from the contacts and networks we have alerted in Germany. Powerful and moving  stories and connections are emerging

From Winsen-an-der-Aller we have had news of how a local family hid escapees from a death march. We will visit the memorial there. We have discovered another horrific story known as the Celle Hare Hunt where escapees from a bombed trains were hunted down in the nearby woods by Gestapo, SS and local people. Out of 4000 people on the trains just over 400 were forced to walk to Belsen, probably on the same route we will walk. There are memorials, this is about retelling the stories, repatriating the memory and connecting with the present.

At the end of the first day of walking we will be met by the Mayor of Winsen, his 1945 predecessor was one of the Mayors rounded up by the British to ritually witness the mass burials taking place at Belsen. At the end of WW2 this whole area was criss-crossed by refugees from the newly carved up Europe, that experience runs deep and through it we may make sense of the welcome extended to, and difficulties experienced by, contemporary refugees from Syria, Libya and elsewhere.

Lorna Brunstein and I had a really useful ‘in conversation’ with artist Jon England  at 44AD in Bath last week, part of process of focussing on the work we are making…the idea that in some way we are giving some form to the intangible in what we experience on the walk is strong. Much new work may come out of it but in the meantime it is about catching a live experience and propagating as far as we can and seeing what happens. Amplifying the resonances. For at least the next few weeks and specifically on 4 and 5 February this will be on social media.

The principal links are:
twitter @forcedwalks
facebook: forcedwalks
You will also be able to follow the walk live on
Viewranger look out for the live notification on Richard White
Social Hiking …look out for the live notification on walknow

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Hamish Fulton. Walk On. Plymouth

Walking in Plymouth city centre. With Lorna Brunstein, visiting Walk On exhibition over 4 different venues. From Francis Alys’s lost guardsmen walking the City of London and activating each other like daleks to tightrope walkers and Sarah Cullen’s automatic drawing pencil suspended in a box, held like a miners canary. Took part in a walk choreographed by Hamish Fulton, perfect timing for a mass silent communal walk,  it filled the pavement for an intense hour as Plymouth’s Christmas Market ground into gear with the pop canon full blast.

Hamish Fulton

Hamish Fulton explains Plymouth City Centre walk

Hamish Fulton walk steward

Steward gets walkers organised

Two lines of walkers about 50 in each line, facing each other alternatively on the cold grey square concrete paving slabs. We were to follow the lines of the paving, to choose and maintain our pace for exactly one hour walking back and forth across the narrow space. Without a call to start the line broke at 11.00. We walked back and forth. Some walked fast, some barely moved. I chose to walk methodically and not to tread on the cracks. 9 steps then turn, sometime 10 when I messed up on the annoying half stone at the green grass end. In front of me one way decaying 1970s corporation building with modernist reflecting pool and the other way official green space and the court.  Up the line, the Christmas market and diesel throbbing fund fair blasted out the songs of the seasonal spectacle. I drifted in and out. I counted 9 steps then turn, only 10 if I messed up on that annoying half stone. I breathed on each pace. I breathed for in for a whole crossing and out for the return.

9 steps then turn, only 10 if I messed up

I focused on my breath.

I focused on my feet.

I focused on the lines in the pavement.

It became a meditation.

I listened to my breath.

…..beyond the hissing in my ears I heard:

Christmas Songs:
John Lennon and Yoko still declaring that War is Over now from the funfair PA, made me feel sad, distant and alone.

Slade belting out their eternal Christmas song, once such a refreshing ripost to Bing and Dean now merging with them into the seasonal till ringing repertoire.

Over the roar of the generators I heard Hi ho Silver Lining and was thrown into long ago discos when walking was what you did to get anywhere, mainly to get back home. Then Mona Mona and I was back into bands and dances when rock and roll was not such a distant memory and even though I didn’t have a clue who Eddie Cochrane was I knew about the United Nations.

9 steps then turn, only 10  if I messed up

music fades and earliest memories float

The larch lap wall. Dark overlapped wood. Maybe moving along a path. Larch lap, I know it now.

9 steps then turn

Perfect walk, can’t mess up. Quality control
Don’t tread on the cracks. only 10 if I messed up
9 steps then turn

I could feel my body. I became my body with no sense of time. I could hear my breath. Aches in my back. Look up and forward and down to check those cracks at my toes.

 9 steps then turn, only 10 if I messed up

We were watched, I heard comments in the air:
“They could have picked a better space”
“Better if they took their clothes off”
“What’s this all about then”

I wanted to say where I was in all this and share but the pavement slabs were my discipline and its lines my control: my feet, my movement, my focus. Occasional furtive glances up the line, disappointed that it lacked the communal grace of other Fulton walks. Annoyed at a walker’s shoe crossing the edge line. Brushing shoulders with a fellow walker at the turn, brief moment of solidarity and then on, alone, as our chosen pace separated us again. Back into the measured space between my lines.

 9 steps then turn, only 10 if I messed up

Suddenly a shopper, a different kind of walker interrupts the line, I resent breaking my step.
Then another and this time aggressive presence, he bumps my shoulder, deliberate? A provocation? The space responds. Questions of purpose….

 9 steps then turn, only 10  if I messed up
Pacing like a caged beast in the spectacle.

The short walk of the internment cell. Ai Wei Wei. Stan
Prison cell walk. Smashing into the wall. Walking away.
9 steps.

I was so far away.

At 12.00 on the command of our iPhones the walking came to a halt. We turned and stood in silence for a moment. Acknowledging each other.  We connect from across the now shrinking space. Big smiles. Applause ripples up the line.